Dare to Do Something New: Preparing for a Career Change

How many jobs do you think the average person has in his/her first 25 years of working? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the answer is 10 to 12 jobs, and this number is expected to grow even more for the millennial generation (those born around 1980 through 2000).  Based on this expectation, it is anticipated that many in today’s economy will face a career change at some point in their working lives.  

If you are considering a career change, here are four steps to help you be successful with this transition:

Step #1: Identify why you want to switch careers.
A common interview question is, “Why did you leave your last job?” This question can be even more challenging to answer if you are switching careers. You will need to answer this question in both your cover letter, during a job interview, and when you are networking, so it’s important to construct a brief statement to explain this change.

You should also start identifying transferable skills: those that are relevant to both your current job and what you hope to do next. Compare the job descriptions for your current role and desired role to help you identify responsibilities, qualifications, and skills that relate to both. Consider writing these on a table so you can easily compare and identify those skills that transfer. This will help you draft your statement.

Be sure to talk about your desire for a career change with your family, friends, and others who know you well and can provide an objective second opinion. Your decision to switch careers is a major one that might affect more than just you. Prepare yourself financially by increasing your emergency fund and researching starting salaries in your target job. The Department of Labor’s Wages by Occupation and Local Area resource and Glassdoor can provide some helpful information about salaries in your target location and at your target organization.

Step #2: Get “resume-able” experience.
Today’s employers want to hire candidates who have both the education and some practical work experience—even for an entry-level job. Internships are one way to get experience, but completing an internship may not be feasible for many UMUC students, which is why InternPLUS was created.  InternPLUS is dedicated to helping UMUC students and alumni identify ways to obtain “resume-able” experience to be more competitive for their target job and industry. InternPLUS opportunities may include:

  • Projects
  • Virtual internships
  • Part-time jobs
  • Volunteering

To find resources to help you identify these opportunities, regardless of where you are located, check out the InternPLUS resources in CareerQuest.

Step 3: Rethink your resume.
Your resume is a marketing document and often the first opportunity for you to sell your skills, qualifications, and experiences to your target employer. Here are a few ideas for how to adapt your resume if you want to switch careers:

  • Include all relevant experience that you have such as class projects, relevant coursework, and volunteering.
  • Consider moving your “Education” section to the top of your resume so it appears before your “Experience” section. This is a good idea if you do not have any (or much) experience, but you do have the education required for your desired job.
  • If you do have some experience, then consider creating several “Experience” sections on your resume. For example, if you are relatively new to IT, but this is your target field, then create a separate section called “IT Experience” on your resume. Then, put your non-IT experience into a separate section called “Additional Professional Experience.”

Make sure you checkout all of the tools available to you in CareerQuest to help you edit your resume (try using the tool VMock) and customize it for a particular position (use the tool Resunate). And when your resume is ready, make sure you upload it into CareerQuest and make it public by sliding the green circle under the word “Public” to the right.

Step 4: Grow your network.
Last, but certainly not least, be sure you are constantly growing your network particularly in your target career field. Keep in mind that everyone you know could be useful for your job search, so be sure to collect the business cards and follow up with all new contacts. To help expand your network, consider participating in networking events like those through professional associations or UMUC Alumni events.  

UMUC’s Career Mentor Program is another great way to expand your network. Open to all students and alumni, this program allows mentees to choose the right mentor from a variety of available filters and specify if they wish to pursue a speed mentorship (one-time, 30-minute meeting) or a long-term mentorship (six-month mentoring relationship with specific goals and milestones).

Daring to do something new by switching careers is a bold move, and one that should not be pursued without a lot of careful consideration and planning. Know that throughout your career change, UMUC Career Services is here to help whether you need to talk over the pros and cons of one career or another, or if you need an impartial set of eyes to help you adjust your resume.

Visit CareerQuest today to explore UMUC’s career tools and resources available to assist in your career progression. To speak with UMUC’s Office of Career Services, please call 240-684-2720 or email careerservices@umuc.edu.

Kristin Schrader is the Assistant Director of InternPLUS at University of Maryland University College. She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities. Most recently, she was the Lead Trainer in Europe for the Department of Labor Employment Workshop teaching transitioning U.S. servicemembers about the civilian job search. She is very passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.