Career Change: A Comprehensive Guide to Switching Careers

Posted by Paul Talbot
On 27/06

i 3 In This Article

Career change graphic showing a woman and two men in a work setting.

Introduction to Career Change

Young people leaving university today can expect to have between 5 and 7 different careers in their professional life – so a structured, well-planned approach to career change is more important than ever. This guide delves into everything you need to know on how to change your path effectively.

Preparation is key – in fact most people get stuck with changing careers because they’re trying to jump in at the deep end without evaluating their current work and environment.

So we begin by outlining how to prepare to change career, before building a deep understanding of your own values and interests and leveraging your existing skills to provide a strong foundation. You’ll learn how to explore your options thoughtfully and perform deep research on potential new paths, before crafting a motivating and achievable action plan.

Finally, by highlighting common obstacles and addressing your professional brand, this comprehensive guide will empower you with the knowledge and tools to make a confident and successful transition.

Before You Begin

Changing careers doesn’t have many rules, but here’s one: wherever possible, don’t commit to significant, long-term life changes if you’re not basically OK. For some people, it will be important to work with a therapist or other qualified professional, either before exploring a new direction or in parallel.

Equally, if you find yourself under lots of pressure – for example, if you’re out of work, expecting redundancy, or feeling highly stressed and overworked – it can be essential to build a stable platform before exploring suitable careers. Otherwise, your options may be limited and your decision-making skewed by the need for urgent change. Building self-esteem is crucial in this phase, as it helps to gain the confidence and self-trust needed to pursue new professional paths.

Adopt the Right Mindset

Whatever your situation, adopting a growth mindset is essential. When it comes to career transitions, someone with a growth mindset:

  • understands that skills can be gained

  • is willing to develop themselves over time

  • doesn’t reject ideas immediately because they seem impractical

  • accepts that some compromise is likely to be necessary

  • wants to understand the available options in order to make an informed decision

The Key Question to Ask Yourself

To help adopt this mindset, keep sight of this key question:

“What would I love to do, and how could I make that happen?”

Asking this specific question embraces a range of potential transition scenarios and makes it much more likely that you’ll identify a fulfilling and achievable future path.

Preparing to Explore New Career Paths

To find relevant and interesting careers, you’ll need to leverage your unique background, individual experiences and skills.

In particular, you’ll need to know your:

  • Values: Try to identify what’s really important for you in life. Focus on the values that are likely to be true even after your present challenges are resolved.

  • Motivations and interests: Reflect on what motivates you and what you’re passionate about. This could be in multiple ways: if you’re interested in music, for example, that doesn’t mean you need to become a performing musician. It could be that working in another music-related role would provide enough motivation.

  • Positive impact or legacy: Do you want to make a positive difference? If so, try to define what impact means to you – whether that’s solving world hunger or helping your colleagues become more effective.

  • Specific and transferable skills: Conducting a skills assessment is a practical step in preparing for a career change. Identify specific skills related to your current field and transferable skills that can be applied to new areas.

  • Natural strengths: According to positive psychology, your strengths are things you’re naturally good and enjoy. As such, they can be one of the most important factors as you navigate in a new professional direction.

  • Job satisfaction factors: Reflect on the aspects of your current and past jobs that you have enjoyed the most (and least). Try to pinpoint when you’ve been in a ‘flow state’ – those occasions where you were really lost in the moment, in your element and absorbed by what you were doing.

  • Practical needs: Take this opportunity to define your needs and preferences – including things like minimum salary, location, work-life balance, pension and so forth – but be willing to reassess them later. We can’t know if a compromise would be worthwhile unless we discover potentially exciting options first, so don’t let practicalities affect your exploration.

Explore Your Career Options

Review all the factors you identified above and highlight all those you are interested in from a career perspective. 

Now play around with different ways these ‘fulfilment factors’ could be combined. What if you could combine your top strength with an area of interest (say, critical thinking with climate change)? Or your most enjoyable flow state with an impact area (say, working with your hands and tackling youth violence)?

Every combination forms a distinct career idea – not a specific role, but a label that could describe a range of roles.

Applying your growth mindset, select the most intriguing career ideas for further research.

Initial Career Research

Without question, LinkedIn is the best single tool for career research. With over 300 million active users, the chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to find relevant and interesting roles. So use its various searches and filters to explore your career ideas in more depth.

Still, there are entire sectors that hardly use LinkedIn at all. So consider broadening your search to other sources such as career directories, Facebook groups, industry forums, regulating bodies, company career subdomains, Subreddits…

Tap into your Network

Research can cover a lot of ground, but talking to the right person can shortcut that very effectively and identify additional possibilities.

Most likely, you will already have people in your network who know more about some of your career ideas than you do. Reach out and offer them a coffee. What roles can they think of? Who can they introduce you to?

Create a Career Long List

As you search, keep a list of careers that interest you. Be careful not to limit your list by any assumptions you may have about whether the careers are practical or not – that’s the next step. Writing about personal experiences and insights during your exploration can also be invaluable for reflection and research.

Narrow Down Your Options

Once you have a long list, use any practical needs that are actually set in stone to refine your choices. Try not to overdo this. At this stage, you’re not committing to change career in any particular direction, but deciding which specific careers it’s worth taking into deep research.

Deep Research for Your Shortlisted Careers

It’s very common for people to leap into a new career headfirst, only to find it’s not what they’d anticipated. As a result, they find themselves back at square one. So follow the guidance below to do your homework.

What Do You Actually Need to Know?

You can’t know everything about any career. Luckily, not everything is going to affect your decision-making.

So write a list of the factors that are actually going to swing it for you. For example, whether a role involves much task variety could be critical for one person, irrelevant for the next person and just something to consider for someone else.

Going Beyond Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are often full of jargon and fluff. If we don’t understand the role, how can we know if it’s a good move?

This is where alternative sources are key. Look at Glassdoor, forums and social media. In particular, try to set up a few informational interviews where you quiz a current or previous post-holder on what the role is actually like. This deeper insight helps ensure your expectations align with reality.

Identify Your Gaps

Identify any gaps in your knowledge about the career or role you are exploring. What’s it like day to day? What skills, qualifications and experience do you need? 

And what don’t you know about yourself – if you’ve never done something, how do you know it would suit you? Often, the only way to find out – other than leaping headfirst into a risky career change – is to conduct some career experiments.

Engaging in brief, targeted career experiments allows you to learn from your own experience and make adjustments based on what you discover. This could be volunteering, shadowing, taking a course, or similar. Whatever you do, keep your experiments fast, low-stakes and low-cost.

Map Your Practical and Financial Transition

Why Scenario Mapping is So Important

In practice, most career transitions are technically possible for most people. The question is this:

Is the destination worth the journey?

Scenario mapping can help you decide. For example:

  • Scenario A: Involves full-time retraining, needs significant lifestyle changes, but gets you to a great career in less time

  • Scenario B: Part-time retraining in the evenings, able to maintain current lifestyle, but takes longer and need to stay in current role for a year or two at least

  • Scenario C: Work-based retraining, able to quite current job tomorrow and move straight into chosen industry, but paid less and needs lifestyle changes for a number of years before arriving at a certain salary

… and so on. Each of us would assess these scenarios differently – so scenario mapping helps us determine the full range of choices and their implications.

Strategies to Finance Your Career Shift

The affordability of switching careers is key for most people. For instance, direct costs of education and credentials, as well as the potential reduced salary while transitioning, are common financial considerations.

Areas for planning may include:

  • A detailed budget to make sure you’re working from fact, not fear

  • Cost-cutting opportunities to reduce your outgoings

  • Other adjustments to free up funds, whether that’s using savings, cashing in pensions or investments, starting a side hustle or a second job, or even moving house

  • Explore external funding options, such as career development loans

Seek qualified financial advice for tailored recommendations and ensure your plans are responsible and sustainable.

Embrace compromise

As we’ve already outlined, embracing compromise can be vital in opening up your possibilities as well as controlling the financial realities of career change. If the destination is worth the journey, great. If not, so be it – own the choice you’re making. 

Alternative Strategies to Change Careers

Iterative Change

A ‘plan and execute’ approach to changing careers won’t always work.

Iterative change is a dynamic process where you continuously adjust and refine your career path based on experimentation, experience and feedback. Studies have shown this can lead to a high degree of career satisfaction. Yes, it takes longer, but for some people it could be the only way to make a fulfilling and achievable career change.

Portfolio Careers

For many career changers, a single permanent role isn’t actually the best outcome. This might be because one role doesn’t give us everything we’re looking for, or because we want greater flexibility and variety.

In this situation, consider combining multiple streams of income through varied roles or projects. Portfolio careers offer flexibility, autonomy, and the opportunity to align your work with personal interests and values. You can not only diversify your income but develop a unique blend of skills and experiences, enhancing your adaptability and resilience in the job market.

Create a Motivating and Achievable Action Plan

To give your career change a higher chance of success, construct your plan as a SMARRT goal, which is:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Resourced and Relevant

  • Time-based

Aim to create a SMARRT goal that’s largely based within your control. For example, there’s an important difference between “Start a new career in music and be appointed CEO of a major label in 15 years” and “Apply for a business development role in the music industry in 12 to 18 months”.

Where Career Changers Get Stuck

  • Fear of Change
    Embracing a new career often triggers a fear of the unknown. To combat this, follow this article and gather as much information as possible, reach out to existing post-holders and people who’ve already changed careers, and attend relevant events to build confidence in your decision.

  • Risk Aversion
    Positive change always involves risk, and career moves are no different. By working with information and fact, not assumption, we can minimise much of that risk – and identify what risks we’re willing to accept. For some people, risk aversion has deeper roots and working with a therapist could be key to unblocking the path.

  • Wanting to Know Everything
    The desire for complete certainty can paralyse decision-making. Try to accept that some uncertainty is inevitable and focus on continuous learning and adaptation.

  • Lacking Confidence
    Doubts about our abilities and the fear of not excelling in a new field can be daunting. To build confidence, follow the steps above and watch how your options align with your abilities in a transferable way. Beyond this, consider working with a coach or therapist who could guide you through techniques such as cognitive behavioural models.

  • Unwilling to Retrain
    If you’re not willing to fill skills gaps, your options will be drastically limited – even without factoring in your practical needs. Approach this with an open mind and consider retraining as an investment in your future – it will help enhance both your marketability and your job satisfaction.

  • Age Worries
    Concerns about age can affect career change decisions. It’s a hard truth that age prejudice does exist, whatever the law may say – but there are good hiring managers out there! To correct the balance, ensure your professional brand is well honed before making applications.

Refresh Your Professional Brand

Particularly where there are skills gaps, crafting a compelling narrative can be crucial for your career pivot – and can even help you land roles when you’re lacking qualifications or experience. Your narrative should allow potential employers to see the unique value you offer.

Equally, maintaining consistency across all platforms is essential to reinforce your professional brand. You’ll need to tailor your CV each time, but every version must be consistent with your online profiles. You’ll need to spin a few plates!

To update and refresh your brand, begin by focusing on your:

  • CVs / resumes and cover letters

  • LinkedIn and social profiles

  • Network relevance

  • Thought leadership and reputation


Whether you aim to find the perfect single role, explore a portfolio career or embark on an iterative journey, a career shift is a significant life event that encompasses personal growth, self-exploration, and strategic action.

In this article, we’ve guided you through assessing your readiness and mindset for a transition. By building self-knowledge, including recognising your values, interests, natural strengths, and transferable skills, you’re well-equipped to identify relevant career options.

Creating a detailed exploration strategy, leveraging LinkedIn and personal networks and conducting thorough research to narrow down your choices will help ensuring you make positive, informed decisions about your future career.

As you move forward, remember this is a process. It’s not done overnight, and in some cases can take much longer. But whichever tools and strategies you use, if you keep a growth mindset, embrace compromise and explore a range of scenarios, a fulfilling career change is well within your reach.