How to Prepare for a Career Change: Step-By-Step Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Start moving toward your dream career with clarity by defining your goals and building your action plan.

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Changing careers can take many forms. You can change your role, shift your function, move departments, enter a new industry, or a combination of these. Regardless of the type of change you want to make (and whether you know what that change may be) the first step is knowing that change is possible and that it's possible for you.

Because there are so many ways to define a career change, it can be hard to quantify how many people go through this process, but we can be confident that many people do. Change is a byproduct of growth, and people are constantly striving to grow in their careers.

Similarly, you've likely already experienced change at some point in your career. Perhaps you've been promoted, found a job at a new company, or feel that your college major doesn't directly align with your current role. If you've gone through a change before—even a seemingly minor change—chances are, you have the tools to do it again.

However, the belief alone won't be enough to make change happen. You'll need to actively encourage the change you want to see. Here, we’ve put together a detailed list of steps that take you from identifying the motives that drive you, to researching your options, to forming a concrete action plan. By following these steps, you can streamline your process, feel confident in your abilities, and consider multiple career paths with enthusiasm. 

How to plan a career change: 5 steps 

A successful career change relies on more than a masterful resume and clear cover letter (though those can help). If you want to settle into a career path that feels more aligned with your interests and preferences, it's important to deeply understand your career aspirations and values. We break this discovery and planning process down into five broad steps:

  1. Assess your current career.

  2. Clarify your career goals.

  3. Research potential careers.

  4. Read job descriptions.

  5. Define your course of action. 

Let's take a closer look at each step.

1. Assess your current career. 

Sometimes, your desire for change can show up before your understanding of what you want to change. With honest self-reflection, you can determine the type of changes that are right for you.

Think specifically about what you like about your current position and the aspects you feel ready to leave behind. With this type of assessment, you can start to piece together a more exact picture of what a better path might look like for you.

Here are a few questions that may help you gain clarity: 

  • How satisfied do you feel in your current role? For example, you may enjoy the daily tasks, but see no room for advancement. 

  • What are your values, and how does your current job align with those? For example, you may value creativity and free expression and seek more opportunities to explore these in a new role. 

  • What is leading you to make a career change? For example, you might crave new challenges, opportunities to pursue your passions, or more flexibility. 

  • What are your concerns? For example, will you need special training or education to qualify for a new career? Would you have to give up some perks you’re used to in your current job?

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2. Clarify your career goals. 

Getting clear on the details of what you’d like to experience in this next stage of your career can help you focus your efforts. Think broadly about the type of life you'd like to live. Picture, step-by-step, what your perfect day would look like. What would you do? How would you feel? Where would you go? Who would you see?

Your professional life is part of your life. The values and goals that guide your daily movements are likely connected to the values and goals that you hold in other areas of your life. Consider how your career can fit into or enable your desired life.

Here are some questions that can help you imagine a more optimal career scenario: 

  • What kind of lifestyle, flexibility, and work-life balance would you like to experience?

  • What skills do you have that you’d like to continue using?

  • What kind of tasks, projects, and initiatives would you like to be involved in?

  • What kind of company would you like to work for? What are the qualities you’re looking for, including size, values, culture, products, and services? 

  • What kind of leadership or advancement opportunities would you like to be considered for?  

  • What are your salary goals?

If you want additional support during the reflection process or at any point during your career transition, consider working with a career coach. Career coaches are trained professionals who help people assess their career options and figure out the best way to move forward.

Learn more: 6 Common Career Goals + Examples

3. Research potential careers to shift into. 

Next, begin researching careers that align with your goals. It may help to create a checklist with your ideal career criteria to quickly compare potential career paths to your desired outcomes.

Start by scouring resources such as Glassdoor and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to gather general information about new careers, such as the average salary, projected job growth, typical educational background, and so on. Try to identify two or three potential careers that seem to match your passions and interests and may contribute to the lifestyle you want. 

Tapping into your professional network

After getting this basic information, use your network to deepen your understanding of these careers, and learn how to bridge the gap between your current position and your future one. Ask people you know if they know anyone in your desired field, and set up informational interviews with professionals in the career fields you’re interested in.

Your network can be a highly valuable resource as you move through a career transition. Hearing personal accounts from people in the roles you are considering can help you further identify how well a path aligns with your goals and refine your search parameters. Additionally, when you are ready to formally begin your job search, you may learn about opportunities or receive references from people in your network.

Learn more: 9 Networking Tips to Expand and Strengthen Your Network

4. Read job descriptions. 

Building upon the information you gathered in Step 3, research job listings to get a sense of the experiences and skills employers are currently looking for. While you might not be ready to apply for the jobs that come up in your search, think of this step as a way to focus your efforts.

Take special note of the requirements and expectations that repeatedly show up in job descriptions. These are the tools, skills, and experiences you'll want to highlight in your job application materials and during interviews. In listing out these items, you can create an outline of the ideal candidate for your desired role.

Think about the ways your current resume fits with this ideal candidate. The pieces that match are your transferable skills, or the skills that you already have that you can continue to use in your future role. The remaining items on your list will become your roadmap as you define your course of action and move into your future role.

Before moving onto Step 5, it may be a good idea to do a quick check-in with yourself: how do you feel about the job skills and responsibilities on this list? If your overall sentiment is positive, it's a good sign that this could be the right path for you. If not, you may be better off continuing your search in related roles, fields, or industries. Often, job titles may seem closely related, but the daily actions associated with the roles are drastically different. For example, data analysts, data scientists, and data engineers may all work with the same data, but their job functions can vary greatly.

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5. Define your course of action.

With these insights, your next step is to determine a course of action. Look over the requirements for your desired role that you don't satisfy with your transferable skills. As you prepare for your job search, these are your priority growth areas. You can consider this your career change to-do list.

Consider what steps you'll need to take in order to learn and demonstrate your expertise in these growth areas. Ideally, you'll be able to add these actions to your resume, cover letter, or portfolio so that potential employers and hiring managers can see the initiative you've taken.

These questions can help you identify tasks to complete as you explore your new career path:

  • How can you optimize your current schedule to make time for your career change efforts?

  • What volunteer or job shadowing opportunities can you set up to gain experience in the career field you want to enter?

  • What projects can you do to demonstrate your expertise and add to your portfolio?

  • How can you update your resume to reflect the new skills and qualifications you’re building? 

  • How can you start preparing now for interviews with potential employers and expressing your excitement about the career field you’re entering?

You may find it helpful to map out your course of action using a career development plan, which is a document to organize your goals and the steps you'll take to achieve them. (See what we mean with this free template. Simply log into your Google account and select 'Make a copy' when prompted.)

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Next steps

Remember that shifting into a new career can take time. With consistent self-reflection and diligent research, you can discover many new opportunities. For additional tips on finding an alternative career path at different points in your journey, check out these articles:

Start exploring your next career move with Coursera. Through Career Academy, you can learn about several roles in business, data analytics, software engineering, and more. See how you can become job-ready for your desired role by earning a Professional Certificate from industry leaders like Google, Meta, and IBM.

Hear from Stevenson Benoit, a Coursera learner who went from working in a call center to landing a job as an IT support specialist:

 The Google IT Support Professional Certificate helped give me the confidence to apply for IT roles. I don't have the traditional instructional background in the field but my hands-on learning and what I've gained from the Google program propelled me forward. The program introduced me to active directory, cloud technology, and other topics that have proven to be beneficial in my role as an IT Support Specialist.

Read about other Coursera learners who’ve successfully changed their careers here: Asmita Meshram and Emma S

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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