photo by Leo ReynoldsWe move from one career to another by choice and because we have to.  Perhaps we’ve become bored with what we’re doing or we realize we never liked doing it in the first place – “I just fell into it” or “my parent did it, so I followed that example.”  Or maybe the work we’ve been doing is no longer in demand, we can’t find a job, and we have to figure out what to do next.

Whatever the reason, transitioning can be mystifying.  It takes a combination of self-knowledge, research, action and tenacity.  Here are 11 steps for how to proceed:

1) Do a self-inventory to identify the skills you have and the skills you enjoy using (not necessarily the same thing). Look at all your experience, paid, volunteer and even hobbies.  Think back to school and what you gravitated toward.  Then look at the impact you had, small and big.  What was satisfying about it?  How did you go about accomplishing those things?  This is the raw material you need to gather before you can reposition yourself for a new career.

2) Think about what motivates you, what you do when you don’t have to work.  Think about the causes you care about.  Think about the gadgets you use, the products you buy, the things you recommend to friends because you’re enthusiastic about them.  Maybe it’s a great movie, or a laundry product, or a piece of software or an app.  Your enthusiasms give you clues about the kind of field you may want to go into.

3) Retire the cynic in your mind. We’ve just started!  Naysaying is not helpful at this point.

4) Identify jobs that can use your skills, in the field(s) you want to work in.  Prioritize the skills you most want to use.  Using your top 3 to 5 skills as keywords, go onto sites like Indeed.com (an aggregator of job postings from many, many job boards) and Idealist.org (for non-profit jobs) and find jobs that use those skills.  At this point, look through job descriptions to see if the jobs are in fact appealing to you.  Keep a list of position titles that use your top 3 to 5 skills, and a list of the industries where the openings are.  You may come up with several possible paths.  If you can narrow it down to 5 or fewer potential position titles, it will help you focus your subsequent job search journey.

5) Do a “gap analysis.”  What skills, education and experience do these jobs require?  Do you have all of them?  What do you need to get?  Perhaps you’ll find that you need to transition into an equal or lower level position in the new career, in order to learn the ropes.  You may need to take some courses, or get another degree.  You’ll decide if it’s worth it to get a new degree, but probably you can afford to take courses offered on-line or through new institutions such as General Assembly and Coursera.  Is there experience you can gain by doing pro bono work for a company? Keep at it until you find the opportunities and education that will position you most effectively.

6) Research your desired field and position.  Search for industry associations, media coverage, key players (companies and people), and read as much as you can.  Go to Glassdoor.com and Vault.com to read about major industry players and get a sense of both the job titles and compensation levels at those companies. Search for people on LinkedIn who work in the industry and at key companies.  Who are you connected to through your immediate connections?  Can you get an introduction to have an informational interview?  Or you may want to send an InMail or do a cold call/email asking for an informational interview.  You’re interested in switching fields, admire the person so much, wonder if they can give you 20 minutes of their time to give you some insight into the field and what someone like you needs to do to get into the new field.  You never know!  In-person discussions are best, followed by phone.

7) Find the right key words to start revising your resume.  Gather up 5 or so appealing job descriptions, copying and pasting their content into a Word or txt document.  Then go to http://tagcrowd.com, enter the copy into the text box, and generate a word cloud that will show the most common key words.  This will help you craft a resume that contains the most common keywords, so you can make it successfully through the Applicant Tracking System.  Once you’ve found the common key words, find corollary skills within your work and volunteer experience, so that you can back up your assertion that you have the right skills to get into the new field.

8) Build a resume based on impact you’ve had that’s similar to what is required in the new field.  Resume preparation requires more attention that I can give in this post (I have several posts on it already).  It is the key document, however.  You may benefit from working with someone who prepares resumes that will market you to get the position you want.

9) Practice a “marketing cover letter” to make the case for your career change. Cover letters are your only chance to tell your story to a prospective employer.  You need to state the obvious – how your skills and experience match what the job description says is needed, and why you are the right person to fill the job.  Use key words from the job description to show you read it and that you are speaking their language.  If you don’t include a cover letter that explains why you are switching fields and how your experience is relevant – well, the employer will see only that you don’t have experience in their field and you won’t make it past the initial screening or through the ATS.  Also, make sure you say why you want both the job and to work for the specific company.  Enthusiasm is now required for all applicants.  Use terms like “excited to apply” and “I want to work for x because you guys rock and do important work.”

9a) Keep the focus on the employer.  Remember:  employers only care about how you will meet their needs.  At this stage, they do not care nor do they want to hear about your needs.  They do want to hear about your passion for the field, and that’s about it.

10) Start applying for jobs.  If you apply for jobs through on-line portals (company website, Indeed.com, Idealist.org, Monster.com, Careerbuilder.com, Dice.com, LinkedIn.com, The Ladders, and all the other sites out there), see if you can find someone you know at the company who will put in a good word for you or even walk your resume over to HR.  You still need a cover letter!

11) Manage your expectations.  Switching into a new field will take time, perseverance and probably at best a lateral move if not a slight decrease in position and compensation.  How much do you want to make this move?  That’s what this phase of the search will reveal.  Being frustrated may be a natural part of the process, so by all means vent that frustration.  Once you’ve vented, move into action.  More research.  More informational interviews.  More volunteering.  More posting on LinkedIn about your new area of interest.  More classes.  There is always action to take.

This is only an overview.  You’ll find more detailed information on almost all of these steps in this blog, as well as on many other career advice sites.  Good luck!