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How to Find a New Career That's Right for You

Rhoda Smackum
By Rhoda Smackum

Most of us have had the feeling that it is time for a career change. Maybe you’ve realized you aren’t following your passion, are dissatisfied with your profession, or have lost a job and needed to reevaluate your professional life. The thought of a career change can be exciting, but it can also lead to a lot of questions. How do you switch from one career to another? How do you make sure your new career is fulfilling? How do you even know if a career change is the right choice? 

Ask Yourself Why You Want a New Career 

Before jumping into a new career, it is important to evaluate where you are and what kind of career might fit you better. Take the time to ask yourself these important questions: 

  • What do I value most in life? 

  • What interests me? 

  • What kind of work environment fits my personality? 

  • What kind of people do I like to be around? 

  • What future am I trying to build? 

  • Are there needs that my current work isn’t fulfilling (these can be material, like higher salary, or mental/emotional, like feeling capable and challenged)? 

  • Is it really a career change I need, or just a new role or different employer? 

Some of these questions can be hard. Fortunately,  plenty of support is available. You can read books like “What Color Is Your Parachute” by Richard Nelson Bolles, which has helped generations of career-changers find their way. You can also take assessments that reveal your personality type and indicate which kinds of careers fit you best, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Holland Code. 

Find Out What Your Preferred Career Is Really Like 

Once you have an idea of the career you want and why, it’s time to do a little research. You want to make sure that dream job matches your real-life requirements. Consider the following: 

  • What are the qualifications for this job and can I acquire them? 

  • Do I already have some transferable skills? 

  • Do I have to start at the entry-level and am I prepared for that? 

  • What salary will I start at and how much can I ultimately make? 

  • Is the field growing or are jobs limited? 

  • Can I handle the typical work hours and demands? 

  • Will I have to relocate? 

Plenty of resources can help you answer these questions, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. This handbook includes thousands of job titles and provides information on each field’s median level of pay, typical education for employees, number of jobs, rate of employment growth in the field, and more. 

You can also learn from a mentor or friend who is already in your dream field and from resources like webinars and online videos discussing the profession.  

Write a Career Change Résumé and Cover Letter 

Even if you have a foot in the door through a personal or professional connection, many employers decide who to interview based on a cover letter and strong résumé. Ensure that your résumé highlights the following: 

  • Your education, including career-relevant certificates, degrees, and skills you’ve acquired 

  • Transferable skills you learned in your prior career, such as adaptability and critical thinking 

  • Tasks from prior job experience that complement the tasks associated with your preferred job  

  • Volunteer work you’ve completed in your desired field 

The cover letter is your opportunity to not only demonstrate your written communication skills, but also to indicate you understand the career for which you are applying.  

Your cover letter should be one side of one page and include  

  • How you learned about the opportunity  

  • What this career change means to you 

  • All relevant qualifications you have that make you the best candidate 

  • Examples of successful experiences you have had demonstrating the skills they are looking for 

  • Exact terminology that the potential employer has used in the job description. (This is important to not only address specifics they are looking for, but it is also vital to automated cover letter searches) 

  • How you provide added value 

  • Referrals or contacts that may give you an upper hand  

  • Your interest in their industry, the company, and its products and/or services  

If you are in the process of getting a degree, mention your field of study and projected graduation date. Let them know that what you are currently learning can help with their goals and mission. Make sure you mention if you have earned a certificate or certification while reaching for a higher degree, and how this helps you qualify.  

Network with People in Your New Profession 

While many organizations post job openings online, you can expand your search—and your chances of landing a job—through networking. 

If a mentor provided guidance when you were researching a new career, they can often help you meet others in your new profession and discover the job opportunities that fit you best. If you pursue higher education for your new career path, you could also take advantage of your school’s alumni network. You can also join and/or attend meetings of professional organizations in your new career, which are a great way to network with others. Plus, many professional organizations have exclusive job boards that you can access. 

Consider Education Options

Most careers require some form of education or training, but not all jobs require years of schooling or even a degree. You may be able to gain the knowledge required through noncredit courses, certificates, or certifications. Certificates require fewer credits than degrees and thus typically take less time. Certifications are credentials that demonstrate training in a particular occupation or industry. At University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), you can choose from a variety of programs to best fit your career goals. You can also take advantage of free,  lifetime career services to support students and alumni in making career changes with tools such as resume writing support and job fairs.

You also need to consider how much education do you need to enter your new career at the level you want. For instance, a Master of Business Administration could help you earn a managerial job, but a bachelor’s degree in business administration could allow you to enter the field at a lower level and work your way up. 

Another thing to consider is how much flexibility you need as you make the career change. If you need to continue working in your current field while you train for your new one, you’ll want to consider studying online or in a hybrid environment to fit your work and personal schedule. How much time do you want to spend learning? Some people have no problem being in school for years while others want to get started on a new career quickly. Pick the career and education that works with your timetable.  

Whether you need or want a change, or a change has been forced upon you, a new career could offer many opportunities. Knowing the resources available to you and ensuring you are well-informed can make all the difference. If you set yourself on the right path today, you can transform your future.  

Reference on this webpage to any third-party entity or product does not constitute or imply endorsement by UMGC nor does it constitute or imply endorsement of UMGC by the third party.