How to successfully switch career paths

Whether you’re unhappy in your chosen profession or you’re considering a second act after a long time in a particular field or role, changing career can feel daunting.

But there are three guiding principles that can help you plan a route to the career you dream of, and make a successful switch, no matter what your age or experience.

The first principle is a perspective. It might change the way you progress towards your goal.

The second principle is an approach. It will help you create feel-good momentum. 

The third principle relates to a set of specific actions. These will help position you for the role you really want.

Principle 1: Treat it like a transition, not a jump

One of the biggest mistakes people make when considering a change is assuming they’ll step out of one career and into another in a seamless, linear fashion.

It’s easy to imagine making a clean break, with a clear stop and start, leaving one role and industry for another. 

But in most cases life doesn’t work like that.

The reality is that it’s much more likely to be a transition rather than a jump.

This means that whilst you continue to work at the job you’re in, you’ll be running numerous activities in relation to your ideal career in parallel.

This might involve testing things out, potentially up-skilling, and trialling different ideas and routes to the job you want until you land on something that works – all in your spare time.

Treating the process like a transition has two specific benefits.

Firstly, by removing the unrealistic expectations on how a change will work, it helps you to view it as a trial and error journey.

That way, if and when things don’t work out immediately you’ll be less inclined to label your career change ambition as impossible and give up.

Instead, you’ll likely find it easier to view any rejections as feedback, using the learnings to adapt your approach and come back stronger next time.  

Secondly, it enables you to approach your desired change in a time-frame that suits your personal circumstances; one that doesn’t impact your immediate financial stability.

This means you avoid inflicting unnecessary pressure and stress on yourself.

Principle 2: Create a baby-steps plan

One of the biggest temptations you’re likely to face as you start working towards a career change is over commitment.

Because the new role you want feels exciting, it’s easy to set the bar extremely high on what you will achieve and assign yourself an impractical time-frame for achieving it.

But while it showcases great intentions, over commitment will very quickly make a career goal feel onerous, miserable, overwhelming and impossible, and encourage you to give up after a short time.

Outsmarting this pitfall requires a different approach; one that breaks down the end goal into small steps.

And I mean seriously small steps. 

Tiny steps require less discipline, lower the mental barrier to change and importantly, feel good as you start to build momentum at the right pace for you.

It actually prevents your mind from fighting you on moving towards the career you want because it takes the big deal out of it.

So whatever your career change goal is, consider how you could break down the route to it into the smallest possible activities.

Make those activities so small that each step barely feels like an action.

For example, rather than having ‘update my social media skills’ as an action, perhaps you might break it down into smaller steps such as:

  1. Consider which of my friends might have the skills and be willing to teach me the basics in return for something I can help them with
  2. Explore YouTube and watch free ‘How-To’ videos about Twitter
  3. Research for free courses on enhanced LinkedIn skills

You get the picture.

If your smallest step still feels a bit tough then you haven’t gone far enough. Break it down again and again until you know you could action it without any resistance.

Then choose the step that feels the easiest and most fun and start with that one. Once it’s complete, choose the next easiest one.

Taking this approach will help you build real momentum, but in a way that feels fun and do-able. 

Principle 3: Research and reflect what the job requires

There are five practical steps that successful career changers take to secure the position they seek.

They all revolve around researching and reflecting what your ideal role requires, so that you look and feel like a fit for the job, embodying the qualities, skills and knowledge that a recruiter is searching for.  

Step one involves truly understanding the industry and role you want to move into.

I’m talking about more than a quick bit of desk research here.

Spend as much time as you can delving into job descriptions to dissect what hiring managers are specifically seeking and how they talk about the role.

Join industry forums or attend events to talk to the people who have real experience of it. Ask them questions to get an inside view of the challenges and opportunities, both for the job itself and the industry.

Watch videos and listen to podcasts delivered by well-known industry experts for insight into the latest trends and the bigger picture.

Use your network to connect you to anyone who is in the industry or who has the specific job you want, offer to buy them a coffee and ask them insightful questions about the reality of the role – good and bad.

Pay attention to the language used and any industry terminology.

Invest more time than you think in this fundamental research step. The more you do the better equipped you’ll be to present yourself with authenticity and impact, whether on paper or during interviews.

Step two involves identifying your relevant transferable skills, and matching them to the hiring criteria discovered in step one.

For help on how to do this, check out this article.  

Step three covers plugging any skills gaps.

Based on your current work experience and what you know about your ideal career criteria, are there any areas where you need to enhance your skill set by undertaking courses or qualifications?

These could just as easily be free courses or how-to videos on, Udemy or YouTube, as paid courses or academic qualifications.

Consider what you need to brush up on or learn and take steps to fill in any gaps that you know are deal breakers for recruiters.

Step four involves re-writing your CV to reflect your research learnings.

For starters, ensure that you reflect the way the role and industry describe particular skills and experience, using matching language and terminology.

Aim to highlight your skills, strengths, qualifications and proof points that speak directly to the hiring criteria.

Challenge yourself to be succinct. Make the most of your relevant skills and experience, but cut back on the data that doesn’t really matter or have any bearing on the role you’re applying for.

Lastly, design it so that it stands out. CVs today are much more visual so aim to develop an attractive résumé that packs a visual punch.

Free CV design software can make the job easier if you aren’t a natural designer yourself.  

Step five is optional but it can really help if having some real-life experience is key.

It involves volunteering or doing some pro-bono work in the field you want to get into.

While it’s unpaid, you’ll benefit from a deeper understanding of the job and industry; build skills and competence that set you up for longer term success; and potentially make useful contacts that could help make introductions or provide references.

Depending on your chosen career path, you might be able to fit this in during your spare time, or it might require you taking holiday time out to do this.

Either way, gaining experience can make all the difference.

Not only will it give you enhanced knowledge and additional proof points for your CV and any interviews, but it will also give you first-hand experience of the job itself so that you can be sure it’s the right path to pursue.

Give it a go

So there you have it. If you’ve been dreaming about a career change but have been unsure about where to start, have a go at applying these principles and steps to see where they take you.

They might just help you make a successful switch.

Originally written for, and published by

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