Updated: Jul 19
Tired of asking yourself ‘What’s next’ every few years in a new job? Prepare in advance for a major career change to make it less daunting.
Are you not happy with your current job? Did you not like your last one, either? Are you tired of asking yourself, ‘What’s next’ every few years?
If you are currently considering a change of career path, you are not alone. 95% of employees are considering a job change, according to a recent survey by career site Monster. Experts call this mass exodus the Great Resignation, directly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. After working remotely for two years, many of us are looking for greater flexibility.
Why do People Change their Career Paths?
A change of career path is a personal decision with many factors involved. As per Joblist’s Midlife Career Crisis survey report, the top five reasons for people to change careers are:
Better Pay: 47%
Too Stressful: 39%
Better Work-Life Balance: 37%
Wanted a New Challenge: 25%
No Longer Passionate About Field: 23%
There is nothing fun about doing a job you hate or slowly realising that your career leaves you numb and bored. People, including celebrities, are no longer willing to pay the high costs of being unhappy at work. Further, studies have found a strong correlation between dissatisfaction at work and unintended weight gain, greater risk of illness, depression, anxiety and sleep loss. Being unhappy in your career also affects your personal life, confidence, and self-worth.
Before sending that resignation on mail, you need to prepare for the career change. It is important for you to take the time to evaluate your present situation, explore career options, decide if your career needs making over, and choose a job that will be more satisfying for you when you have your full-time day job before taking that leap.
How to make a successful career change: The Six-Step Approach
I was one of those going for a career change more than a year ago. It has been a period of highs and lows, along with one of tremendous learning and growth. Read the post on the personal learnings from my career pivot here.
As a Personal Empowerment Life Coach, I have also enabled many clients and prepared them for a career change during this period. The ensuing six steps approach encompassing a twenty-eight point action plan is a culmination of my personal and professional experiences. Consider this as the ultimate guide for a successful career change.
The Six-Step Approach to a Successful Career Transition
What to do before quitting your job?
Step I: Evaluate and Think through your choices
1. Do a Quick Gut Check to Determine Why You Want to Resign
Before quitting your job, reflect on the prime driver behind your thought. Are you unhappy with your current organisation, see better opportunities elsewhere or want to pursue another line of work? A job change would be a better option in the case of the first two drivers, while you will have to look at a career change if you want the last one. On the other hand, if your desire is more flexibility or higher compensation, that may be possible without switching employers. Make sure that you are leaving for the right reasons.
The nagging feeling that a job might not be for you is not necessarily negative, provided you make an informed decision before taking a significant step. If you are finding it difficult to determine whether your current job is the right one for you, read 22 Questions to Ask Yourself before starting that Job Search to arrive at the answer.
2. Make sure you have exhausted all the internal options
It is possible that after reflection, you discover that you largely like your role, but for the unavailability of remote work options or permanent work from home arrangements. Then talk to your manager about your requirements. Make it easier for him to address your concerns by presenting examples of your productivity while working from home during the pandemic and how continuing with the same arrangement will benefit the organisation.
If stress or burnout is playing a role in your decision, going on a short vacation or long-term sabbatical might be some of the options available to you. Also, if you are sure about changing roles, your employer might be willing to offer you that opportunity within the same organisation.
These solutions entail fewer efforts than quitting while still allowing you to find the satisfaction you seek from leaving your role. Familiarise yourself with your organisation’s policies before ruling that nothing less than a career change will work for you. After evaluating your options, you will also be more self-assured about your choice.
3. Reach out to a mentor or trusted adviser
Take advantage of other people’s mistakes to reduce your own. Talking to a trusted friend or adviser who has taken a similar decision in the past will provide more insight and clarity to you. A third person often gives an honest perspective and all the sides of the experience that you may not be able to determine for yourself.
4. Assess Career Change vs Year Off as the right path for you
It is very important for you to take a step back and answer this to yourself before you send that resignation letter, especially if you are a mid-career professional.
The relentless work pressure does take a toll, and if you are one of those who have been working without breaks, with minimal interests outside work, you have to be sure that you are not mistaking work fatigue or burnout with career disillusionment. The former is a temporary problem that can be addressed, while the latter is a permanent step or action with longer-term consequences.
Figure out what you really want to do in your life. If your desire to resign is driven by wanting to travel, taking up more volunteering activities or spending more time with family for medical emergencies or otherwise, taking a year off work can be a great way to recharge without going for an altogether new career. You can also use this opportunity to prepare for a new career by taking up training or shadow work opportunities at companies in the line of work that you are contemplating as your new career. This is the best option for you, provided your organisation has this policy and you are eligible for it, especially if you are not confident about your choice.
Other cases where taking a year off will work out better for you are:
Needing to recharge: If your job requires large amounts of energy or brainpower, you might take a year off to rest and reexamine your abilities
Looking for opportunities to volunteer: You might take a year off work if you want to volunteer or give back to the community you live in or those in need
Improving yourself: Taking a year off work allows you to devote time to improving yourself in whatever way you desire, such as developing your skills or enhancing your health.
You will do well to keep in mind that a year off will be expensive and, without careful planning for the gap year, you could lose your pace, study skills and focus. Many of the subsequent points of this six-step process will also be applicable for the gap year, with an additional cushion for you to fall back upon if things don’t work out as per plan.
5. Make a list of what you will have vs what you will leave
Apart from the regular take-home salary — which is the most tangible benefit of a job— quitting your job also entails giving up on other benefits, like health insurance for self and family, which are highly subsidised by some organisations. As you consider changing your career path, reflect on things you will have and those you would be walking away from by leaving your current position.
Start by creating two-by-two lists: One for what you like and dislike in your current career and another for what you want in a new career but don’t have in your current one, along with what cons the new career will entail. Organise the items in both lists in their order of importance to you.
As an illustration, your two lists might look like this:
What I am walking away from
Long hours and low pay
Little opportunity for advancement
No support for additional training
What will I also give up on
Health and life insurance benefits
What will I gain
Opportunity for travel
What will that also entail
Uncertainty of income
Working from a small home every day
This exercise will highlight your most important non-negotiables and help you assess your professional needs and what you hope to accomplish by leaving your role. As you are making your list, try to include only items that are true of your position or career in general, not those that might be specific to your current employer. Additionally, keep in mind which qualities on your new career list are most important for your lifestyle and long-term goals.
6. Craft your ideal career description
If, after the previous exercise, you decide it’s in your best interest to change jobs, keep the big picture in mind as you plot your next move. A strategic and successful career pivot always starts with an end goal. Before resigning from your job, frame an outline of what you want to do next. Getting clear on what you don’t want is as important as what you want. Envision the life you want and think about the activities you enjoy and are good at. Then write down your ideal career description. Once you complete this exercise, you will take the first step to realise your future vision.
Step II: Get all the money you can from your current job before sending that resignation on mail
7. Use Your Accrued Paid Time Off
Some organisations pay employees for unused personal time or sick days when they leave a job. However, these policies may have caps on how much is paid, and not every firm offers this perk. If you have paid time off accrued, utilise it before resigning.
In addition to using paid time off or leave without pay to your advantage, it is also essential to understand your retirement savings or pension benefits before walking away from them. After resignation, you may be able to retain some but transfer or forgo most of them. Are you eligible for a lump sum gratuity payment in another six months? There is no reason to leave that money behind on the table, and it will be best to wait this period out.
8. Revisit your contractual obligations to determine the right timing for resignation
Remember all that paperwork that you got when you started the job? It likely includes information about any potential financial impacts of quitting.
Review your original offer letter, compensation arrangements and the employee manual before sending that resignation mail. Sometimes benefits are awarded based on how long you have been with the employer, and offers could also include non-compete clauses or return of signing bonuses or other incentives if you resign before a certain period of time. Leaving could also mean potentially losing out on performance bonuses.
If you are about to hit the end of the year, it may make sense to wait it out for a few more months to get that end-of-year bonus. While you may be tempted to make a change as fast as possible, think of the amount as something that can help you make a transition when leaving your job.
9. Take advantage of all the useful resources your current organisation offers
Take advantage of learning and development resources in your day job before you leave. Access the training and assessments you are legitimately eligible for and on-the-job opportunities that can help you in your next move. Even if your current job isn’t everything you want, you can mine for the gold you can take when you leave.
Step III: Financially Prepare to Quit Your Job
10. Build Up Your Savings
Since you will resign without another job lined up, don’t assume you will immediately start getting regular, predictable cash flows. It will be a few months, not a few weeks before the money begins to flow to your bank account. Practically, you will need to prepare for a few years.
Estimate how long your savings will last before you might be forced to look for work again. You will need to have a substantial cash reserve before taking the leap. Make sure you have at least twelve months of your expenditure stashed in an emergency fund to cover your expenses.
11. Make a Personal Household Budget
Before walking away from a regular income, create a budget that details your monthly cash inflow and spending. List all your non-discretionary living expenses, including housing, transportation, groceries, taxes, utility bills and any debts that would still need to be covered without your salary. Evaluate any debts that you may have – especially credit card debts. You need to clear those unsecured debts of higher interest rates that are not helping you build your assets before leaving the job.
Make a separate budget for additional endeavours like travelling or new courses you plan to pursue during this period. You will need to save for this outside of your emergency fund.
Step IV: Start to Outline Your New Career Path
12. Assess your current experience and skills
It is not enough to have the ideal career description noted down somewhere. You need to think of the path you will take to realise that vision. What courses to join, what volunteering or internships you will take up and who are the people you will ask for help – are some of the questions for which you will need a broad outline. The best time to do this activity is before sending that resignation letter.
While your new career might not precisely align with your experience, you may have specific relevant, transferable skills that would be in demand in other fields. To organise your thoughts, create a list of your hard and soft skills. Hard skills are acquired through training and practice, such as knowledge of specific software or speaking a foreign language. Your personality, creativity, the ability to work as part of a team, and timeliness will be included in soft skills.
As an example, here is what a list of your hard and soft skills might look like if you are looking to transfer from a customer service career:
Excellent verbal communication skills
Significant product knowledge
Knowledge of Python and HTML
Advanced WordPress skills
Excellent writing and grammar skills
To make your list exhaustive, think about specific accomplishments in your career or personal life and what qualities and/or skills helped you achieve them. You may also want to list any technology platforms you have used in your current career, such as CRMs, point-of-sale systems or workflow and customer support ticket applications. Even if the next field you pursue uses different technology, there may be similarities in its use.
13. Align your current skills with your career options
Create three separate sections for different career options. Write down which of your hard skills can be transferred to those careers, and add any skills that will need to be learned. Here is a breakdown of the three different sections:
Transferable skills: Careers that don’t require any new knowledge or training (i.e., jobs where your current hard skills transfer immediately)
Some training needed: Careers that may require a small amount of additional knowledge or training (i.e., jobs where some, but not all, of your current hard skills transfer immediately)
Advanced skills required: Careers that may require a moderate or significant amount of new skills or further education (i.e., jobs where few, if any, of your current hard skills transfer)
Soft skills tend to be transferable to most career paths, so it is up to you how much those factor into your selection of a new career. Consider which soft skills you would like to use in your next career. The most important ones can become part of your selection criteria.
14. Research new careers
Use google and specific job search engines to search by type of job and specific keywords. The latter is an excellent method to find new career opportunities that align with your current hard skills.
For example, if you are knowledgeable in WordPress, enter “WordPress” in the search engine. You will see a long list of openings ranging from WordPress Developer to Graphic Designer. You can refine your search by typing in multiple words. If you put those words in quotation marks, such as “WordPress” and “HTML,” you can further refine your search to only get results that have those exact sets of keywords.
Be creative and thorough in your career search. For now, you are not looking for a specific job but a career change, so quantity matters more than quality. Hopefully, you will learn what additional skills may be required for new careers you didn’t know existed or immediately find careers you qualify for.
When completed, your list of potential new careers may look something like this:
Remote Work Potential
Opportunity to advance
Remote working potential
Opportunity to write
May need more training
Much higher pay
Marketable for future jobs
More training needed
Python skills advantageous
Once you have a list of careers you want to explore, reach out to friends and family working in those fields. Search for industry groups in your area, online forums and social media. Ask people in the field whether your current skills are easily transferable to that career and what other skills you might need to acquire before taking the plunge.
Tip: Confused about what type of jobs you will excel at? Take the Free ‘Are You in The Right Career Assessment’ to uncover the answers to a successful career change.
15. Identify the skills you need to master
If you really want to successfully change your career path, you will most likely need to master some new skills. The more drastic the career change, the steeper the learning curve, so make sure you know exactly what you are in for before quitting your job.
Find out the must-haves and nice-to-haves in your dream role, and identify where your skill gaps lie. Again, job descriptions are a great place to start. Browse your desired job title on job sites like Naukri and Monster, and make a list of all the skills, qualifications and qualities that frequently crop up.
Depending on the field, you might need to study for a whole new qualification. This might require additional financial and time commitments, which is why you need to undertake this step parallel to your financial preparation.
The more prepared you are in skills and qualifications, the easier it will be to make a dramatic career transition, so start upskilling as soon as possible. If you discover that you need to take up an expensive course to upskill for your new career, you may decide that it is better to pursue this with your day job. The results of this step will impact the timing of your resignation.
16. Talk to Your Current Employer
Once you have decided that a career change is the way to go, talk to your boss about your reasons. If you are sure about your role change but open-minded about staying in your organisation, you don’t necessarily have to say you are thinking about quitting to discuss remote work, greater flexibility or more travelling with your employer. Employers are flexible and receptive to employee requirements because they want to retain their talent amid The Great Resignation.
Also, be prepared to answer questions about what you plan to do next. If your boss offers you a raise or promotion, be ready with what you would be willing to accept to stay, if anything.
17. Give Appropriate Notice in your letter of resignation
Once you have decided it’s time to resign, end your employment on a high note by providing written notice to your direct manager well in advance of your anticipated end date. In many organisations, the departing employees are bound by a formal notice period that they are bound to serve. Unless there is an emergency, you will do well to go by that.
An employer will hate nothing more than a resignation letter that states that I am leaving tomorrow.
What is the best way to quit your job?
Step V: Utilise your notice period well for your career transition
18. Quit Your Job on Good Terms
Once you have given notice and tendered your official resignation, the best way to quit your job is by ensuring a graceful transition before you head out the office door or sign off from your computer for the last time. While you may think you have nothing to lose by simply walking out the door, your reputation is irreplaceable and everybody talks. How you leave is a significant part of how you will be remembered.
Avoid any criticism of your company. Thank your boss for the opportunity to work with him before taking the time to thank everyone who has helped you be productive in your role. Single people out and express your gratitude for their support at any going-away parties.
During your last day at work, send a goodbye email to the people you have worked with, including co-workers, clients, and vendors. Share your personal contact info with beloved office mates, and write down any emails or phone numbers you may need in your life after this role.
You may never want to work there again, but you never know who might. As a mentor or friend, you may still be able to refer others to their dream job. Or you may need a reference. Even entrepreneurs might find themselves in consulting or contracting positions in the same circles.
Further, you may discover the grass isn’t greener on the other side and decide you want to go back to your previous job. Leave the door open for the future; as long as you resign the right way, you will be welcomed back if your new career doesn’t go as expected. You would also not want a negative departure from a company to affect your ability to get a job or reference in the future.
19. Document your achievements
Many of my clients have gotten bogged down with their day-to-day work, only to emerge years later without any documentation of their numerous achievements. After a point, it won’t be easy to recall all your past accomplishments. So make it a point to track your professional successes throughout the year. Some suggestions of items to document include financial goals you reached, cost savings, positive feedback from peers or superiors, complex situations that you resolved, awards and any certifications or courses you completed. Don’t be shy. Document everything—no item is too small.
20. Get References Before You Leave the Company
References are a critical part of any job hunt, even if it is a career change. The time to ask for references isn’t when you have both feet out the door. Get references from your current boss and other colleagues before your final day. Once you leave, it may be easier for managers to put off writing a letter. Besides, if your supervisor too subsequently leaves the company, no one may be available to provide a reference.
21. Write Some Recommendations
Compose LinkedIn recommendations for supervisors, colleagues, and key people. People love receiving recommendations, and it will help you get some of your own.
22. Ask for recommendations
Ask for LinkedIn recommendations before your last day at work. Ideally, you will want to approach people who know your work well and can speak intelligently about your capabilities. LinkedIn will default to a generic request message, so personalise it to get the best response. Also, try to space out your requests, so you don’t ask too many people at once.
23. Create a plan of action for post your last day at the day job
A goal without a plan is a dream. To make that dream a reality, you will need to devise a concrete set of milestones with target dates to hold yourself accountable. Remember the outline of the new career path you created in the previous phase? Now is the time to detail the roadmap that will get you from point A to point B. Establish your short-term objectives (those that will take 12 months or less) as well as long-term ones that will take longer to achieve. Also, identify whether any barriers may interfere with your ability to reach your goals in the stated timeframe. For example, if your goal is to be a web developer, but you don’t have the training, it’s time to start researching educational programs.
The most important thing is to write down your plan. Writing down your plan in detail will increase the odds that you will actually accomplish it.
Write your plan in a journal, not on a computer or phone. As Tony Robbins says, “there is something that happens when you write your plan down.”
Break your journey down into mini goalposts to make your objectives more manageable and achievable. This will keep you on track and help you see the plan through.
What to do after quitting your job?
Step VI: Put a Structure to Your Day
24. Undertake additional training/certifications/courses
If you have followed all the steps until now, you will have decided on the training and courses you need to take for forging a successful new career path. Depending on the type of skills you need to acquire, the list may contain:
Self-taught online courses
Virtual live online courses
Volunteering at organisations to develop necessary skills
Regardless of which route you take to acquire those skills, now is the time to undergo these courses and prepare yourself for a successful transition.
Remember that you don’t need to master a new skill or complete your training before starting a new career. On-the-job learning will always be there.
For instance, if you are taking a Life Coach Certification, you can always start your coaching practice while commencing the course, rather than towards its end. You will be able to implement the theory and learnings faster in this case and become more confident in your new abilities.
25. Update Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile
Make sure you update your resume to reflect the new skills you have learned and highlight the transferable soft and hard skills that make you a valuable person in your new career. The same goes for your LinkedIn profile. You are shifting your professional brand in the process by ensuring that your connections start identifying you with your new career and come up with new opportunities for you. It also enables you to move into a new job search mode quickly. It is easier to update these during the start of your certifications/courses/internships when the details would be fresh in your mind.
It might be appropriate to develop more than one version of your resume, depending on the positions you will be applying for. For example, you may have content writing skills on your current resume in a secondary role. If you are applying for jobs as a content writer, you might consider including a link to your publications in the first section of your resume that highlights the extent of your writing skills and abilities. You will also want to include more details about your content writing certifications and internships in your resume.
Repeat those steps to tailor your resume to each of the new careers you are opting for (if you have zeroed on more than one option). For clues, look to the job postings for relevant skills, experience and qualities the employer is looking for. Tailoring your resume to each career will quickly help your resume stand out over those more general applications.
26. Start connecting the dots
Some career changes are pretty self-explanatory; others seem random and out-of-the-blue. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing now or what you want to do next, as long as you can tell a convincing story.
Start to relate your previous experience to your new field by weaving a flowing narrative. This means connecting the dots and highlighting all the transferable skills and experiences that have led you down this new path.
Why is this important?
It’s all about how you sell yourself. Eventually, you will need to convince employers that you are the right man for the job—a tricky task if you’ve spent the last ten years doing something completely unrelated. However, if you can highlight the similarities and focus on all the transferable skills and knowledge you have gathered, you can showcase this new career path as a natural and logical progression.
Before you reach the interview stage, get to work on your narrative. Know precisely what you’re bringing to the table and be ready to tackle that tricky “But why the sudden change from X to Y!?” question.
27. Crush your inner demons
Career change is tough, so prepare yourself to tackle some doubts and demons. The key is to anticipate these moments of uncertainty and be ready to confront them as soon as they arise.
So what are some typical “inner demons”, and how can you tackle them?
One of the most common career-change doubts is based on age. “You’re too old/too young to change careers now!” protests that annoying little inner voice. World Number 1 ranked female tennis player Ashleigh Barty’s retirement at the age of 25 shows that there is no right age to change careers. It is never too early, or too late, to seek happiness and fulfilment, so why put an age limit on a career change?
Delving into a brand new field can be daunting, and you might struggle to believe that it’s possible or that you are really good enough to make it work. If you are scared of failure, there are many strategies you can use to overcome this fear:
Set up a job shadow (or two). Shadow professionals in fields of primary interest to observe work first-hand. Spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days job shadowing people who have jobs that interest you. Your college alumni network is an excellent source to find alumni volunteers willing to host job shadowers.
Try it out. Identify volunteer and freelance activities related to your target field to test your interest, e.g. if you are thinking of publishing as a career, try freelance editing. If you are interested in working with animals, volunteer at your local shelter.
Remember, it’s a process. A career change is a process, not a destination. Remember that success doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t get discouraged. The key is to celebrate small wins along the way. If you don’t remember to give yourself credit for your accomplishments, you will lose the motivation and drive to continue. Tie the feelings not to your long-term goal but to the progress that you are making. The better you feel about your progress, the more likely you will continue to put in the work that will help make your dreams a reality.
28. Track Your Efforts
Respect yourself enough to track your progress against your plan of action. Monitor how you are doing and what you need to be doing next. Set up reminders, so you follow up on things when you need to. If you’re going to invest time and energy to make this happen, invest the time and energy to track your progress.
A simple Excel spreadsheet will do you wonders. If you are not an Excel person, use the tool that makes the most sense to you so that you don’t abandon this step.
Will a Career Change Make Me Happy? What Career Will Make Me Happy?
These are some of the questions that might be going in your mind. Having experienced the emotional ups and downs of navigating career changes myself, I am now focused on understanding what it takes to successfully reinvent yourself.
Since you are reading this, you are probably already thinking about changing careers. However, maybe you are unsure or just don’t know how to go about it. Perhaps you are scared of failure or are considering if it is financially viable. Or just confused.
Take the Free ‘Are You in The Right Career Assessment’ to identify whether you are in the right job and discover what type of jobs you will excel at. The results of this test will be your guide towards a successful career change.
Career pivots involve more friction, disruption, and risk than staying on a more linear, traditional career path. Once you’ve made up your mind to take action, set yourself a career-change deadline based on the hours you can commit to learning new skills and how long it will take you to finance any courses or qualifications.
A successful career change is a long and arduous process; it will not happen overnight.
Smita D Jain is a Certified Personal Empowerment Life Coach, Executive Coach and NLP Practitioner. Smita’s ‘Empower Yourself’ Coaching Programs enable busy professionals unhappy in their jobs find time to transform their passions into pursuits so that they work because they want to, not because they have to. Prior to her journey as a coach, Smita had extensive experience of 14 years as a corporate and business strategy professional with Fortune 500 companies. She is also a speaker at various public forums, a published writer, and an Amazon bestselling author. You can learn more about Smita’s ‘Empower Yourself’ Coaching Programs by visiting www.lifecoachsmitadjain.com and book your complimentary strategy session at https://www.lifecoachsmitadjain.com/booking.