Seven years ago, Donna Lubrano was a personal fitness trainer. Today, she teaches business courses for Northeastern University in Massachusetts in the US — but moving to a completely different career certainly wasn't easy.
It wasn't the first time she'd changed careers. Lubrano, 59, had always loved fitness, and after becoming disillusioned with her desk job in real estate portfolio management, she jumped at the chance to become certified to teach at her local gym.
But she also had a master's degree in international business, so she knew personal training wouldn't be her career forever. "There comes a time in your life when it's time to move on," she said.
She knew she wanted to teach, but that it might take a few years to realise her goal, so she started with what she knew — developing seminars for personal trainers in health and wellness and marketing and sales.
Then, Lubrano leveraged her teaching experience into a job in corporate training. She had to learn a new subject, but her personal training experience had given her relevant skills, such as developing a curriculum and working with clients.
She also took a pay cut and had to build a new reputation — but it worked. She eventually got her first academic teaching job at a small local college, and after gaining enough experience, she landed her current teaching spot.
Craving a professional change isn't unusual. Forty-eight percent of US workers feel ready for a career switch, according to a survey1 by consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison, and another 13% feel they are almost ready. In the UK, 47% of professionals felt the same way, according to a report2 by the London School of Business and Finance.
But taking steps to make a significant career change can be overwhelming. "One of the mistakes people make when starting a new career is assuming they can just walk into it, that it won't be a slog," said Nic Paton, author of The Complete Career Makeover. "Changing careers isn't easy. It's much easier not to. It will be a graft and a gamble."
If you're looking for a career renovation, here's your five-year plan.
Five Years To Go
Often, you know what you don't want to do, but are unsure what's next. So, initially, try to focus on the skills you most enjoy using and what kind of environment you thrive in, said Phyllis Mufson, a career coach in Florida.
"Some people are willing to invest in being completely retrained, and for other people that's really not an option," Mufson said. "How much money do you need to make? Consider aspirational things like what your interests and passions are, but also, what are the practical constraints that you're working with?"
Reading books such as What Color Is Your Parachute? or The Encore Career Handbook can help, as can spending some time on self-assessment tests, such as the VIA Character Strengths Test or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
If you have a spouse and children, they'll be affected by your choices, so discuss your plans with them. "Most career changes are going to cause disruption and a reduction of income — hopefully only temporarily, but perhaps permanently," Paton said.
Next, map out achievable steps. Will you save a buffer fund for the lean beginner years in your new field? Will you need additional education? What will that take and cost? And, when is it likely you'll get another job? Creating a timeline sets the process in motion because you establish concrete goals. "Nine times out of 10, it's not when you start that's important, it's that you start at all," Paton said.
Checklist: Five years before
- Perform a self-audit
- Check in with your loved ones
- Make a timeline
Four Years To Go
Once you've targeted a new career or industry, make sure it's the right one for you. Find people who work in the field and ask them for information.
"How did they get started?" Mufson said. "What is a day like? What are the trends in this industry?"
Not sure how to find them? "Search LinkedIn to find somebody that's doing the exact job that you want in the exact company you'd like to do it in, and ask them if they'd be willing to tell you a little bit about what they do," said Abby Kohut, a US career expert and author of Absolutely Abby's 101 Job Search Secrets.
Ask for feedback on your resume — where are the gaps? What additional training would you need? And, what personality traits do you need to be successful?
"It's the beginning of building your network in your new area. And also, get referrals to other people who would be interesting to talk to," Mufson said.
Consider shadowing someone in your chosen career or volunteering to get first-hand experience. The job may sound great on paper, but in practice, you're bored to tears. "There is no substitute for having the actual experience," Mufson said.
Checklist: Four years before
- Conduct informational interviews
- Start networking
- Get some hands-on experience in the field
Two-To-Three Years To Go
Now is the time to pick up the skills and experience you need to move into the role you want.
This could be formal training, such as the education you'd need to become a nurse or physical therapist, or a less structured series of classes or certificate programme.
Training may not take long, or it might require five years of education or more. But, if you have a full-time job and a family, and your new role requires formal education, this stage will require some financial planning.
Before jumping into a degree programme, calculate the cost, including interest if you borrow money to fund study and the loss of income if you go full-time, and compare it with your likely wages in your new field.
Confirm whether an academic credential is even required. "Possibly you can get hired with skills learned in other ways," Mufson said. "Look at other jobs in the field that don't require as much education to get started and that you'd enjoy."
You may be able to get the education you need online — although it's not every employer's ideal credential. "But if that's the only way you can do it because you're working, then you just have to do it. It's becoming more prevalent," Kohut said.
Or, get creative. "One client wanted to train as a software engineer but didn't have the money for training," Mufson said. "She got a job as a receptionist at a computer company with liberal education benefits and her company paid for her education."
This is also a good time to attend conferences related to your new profession and meet potential new employers. "They need to see that you're serious and really working on it," Kohut said.
You may need to take a short-term career step back to get where you're going. That's what worked for May Tran, who took three years to move from a role in finance to a job in digital marketing. "To make the switch, I took on junior marketing roles, starting at the bottom," said Tran, 34, who lives in Dubai.
Checklist: Two-to-three years before
- Start schooling or other training
- Attend industry events
- Take an interim career step if necessary
One Year To Go
It's job search time, which might take a while.
"It took a year to find a teaching job," Lubrano said. "It was tough, because they had to see the big picture of everything I'd done and how that would transfer into the classroom."
How will you present the new you? Begin by rethinking your resume and online presence, such as your LinkedIn profile or professional website. "What you're going to be doing is presenting the parts of your background that are still a fit for your new direction," Mufson said. "And as much as you can, present it as a credential, stressing your school or volunteer work that you're doing."
The same goes for interviews. "What are the aspects of your personality that make you a good fit?" Mufson said. "What have you learned through your training?" Practise responses to common interview questions and find stories that illustrate the kinds of problems you can solve.
Whatever you do, don't go into this process thinking your past achievements will land you the corner office. "Many people believe that because they've been successful in one career, that the world owes them a job in their new career," Kohut said.
With enough dedication, however, it is possible to do a career 180. Just ask Stephanie David, 35, who left a government career in Washington DC to launch PopNod, a social good online shopping site. "My previous 11 years in corporate strategy, business development and sales were directly applicable to growing my own business," David said. "Never underestimate the skills you already have and the power of passion."
Checklist: One year before
- Watch for job opportunities
- Retool your resume
- Hone your interview patter
- Don't get cocky