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

Written by Coursera • Updated on

If you're one of more than half of Americans planning to change careers, it's important to plan carefully.

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Roughly half of Americans are changing careers, and they do so for a variety of reasons, from wanting flexible schedules and the ability to work from anywhere to craving new challenges and more fulfillment [1]. And with positions opening up as a result of the Great Resignation of 2021, many employers are making efforts to attract and retain talent [2]. This may suggest that conditions are favorable for considering a career change [3].

No matter what career you’re considering transitioning into, it’s important to plan carefully. 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 

Grab a notebook or open an electronic document and set aside time to complete the following steps (detailed instructions below): 

  1. Assess your current career.

  2. Clarify your career goals.

  3. Research potential careers.

  4. Research job listings.

  5. Define your course of action. 

1. Assess your current career. 

Taking a good look at where you are can help you determine the next steps in your career change. Use these questions to 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?

2. Clarify your career goals. 

Getting clear on the details of what you’d like to experience in a new career can help you focus your efforts. Answering these questions can help you describe your ideal career scenario: 

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

  • What skills do you have that you’d like to transfer to another career?

  • 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?

3. Research potential careers to shift into. 

Based on the goals you described in Step 2, identify two or three potential careers that seem to match your passions and interests and may contribute to the lifestyle you want. 

Start by scouring resources such as Glassdoor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to gather general information about these careers, including the average salary and projected job growth. With this information, you can determine whether a career path meets your salary expectations and is in demand. Here are two examples: 

Marketing Manager

Average US salary: $104,295 [4] Projected job growth: 10 percent by 2020 (about average) [5]

Cybersecurity analyst

Average US salary: $81,744 [6] Projected job growth: 33 percent by 2030 (faster than average) [7]

After getting this basic information at your fingertips, set up informational interviews with professionals in the career fields you’re interested in. Doing so can help you build your network and learn first-hand what it’s like to work in a particular industry.

Taking courses in fields you are interested in can be a great way to build your own skills and get hands-on experience in projects or tasks related to a career. 

4. Research job listings. 

Building upon the general career information you gathered in Step 3, research job listings to get a sense of the kind of jobs that are available in your field of interest and what 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 great way to focus your career change efforts going forward. 

Jot down as many details as possible on the following:  

  • What kinds of companies have job openings in your desired career? 

  • What are the required skills, education, experience, and other qualifications?

  • Which of your skills transfer to these jobs and what skills gaps will you need to fill?

  • What tasks, projects, and initiatives would you be involved in? 

  • What work-life balance will this career offer?

  • How will this career help you enjoy the lifestyle you want?

5. Define your course of action 

With these insights, your next step is to determine a course of action. These questions can help you identify tasks to complete as you explore your new career path:

  • What’s your target date for transitioning into a new career?

  • What training or degree programs do you need to prioritize? 

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

  • Who in your network might you ask to offer advice? 

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

  • 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?

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.

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.  

Start building the skills needed for in-demand careers with a Professional Certificate from industry leaders at companies like Meta, Google, and IBM.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources

1. CNBC. “The ‘Great Resignation’ is Likely To Continue, As 55% of Americans Anticipate Looking For a New Job, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/25/great-resignation-55-percent-are-looking-to-change-jobs-over-the-next-year-.html.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

2. Future Forum. “The Great Executive-Employee Disconnect, https://futureforum.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Future-Forum-Pulse-Report-October-2021.pdf.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

4. Glassdoor. “Marketing Manager Overview, https://www.glassdoor.com/Career/marketing-manager-career_KO0,17.htm.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/advertising-promotions-and-marketing-managers.htm.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

6. Glassdoor. “Cybersecurity Analyst Overview, https://www.glassdoor.com/Career/cybersecurity-analyst-career_KO0,21.htm.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

7. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Information Security Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

8. US Career Institute. “80 Jobs That Pay Over $50K and Don’t Require a Degree. https://www.uscareerinstitute.edu/blog/80-Jobs-that-pay-over-50k-without-a-degree.” Accessed December 20, 2021.

9. American Institute for Economic Research. “New Careers for Older Workers, https://www.aier.org/new-careers-for-older-workers-2/. Accessed December 20, 2021.

10. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Fastest Growing Occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm.” Accessed December 20, 2021. 

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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