Changing careers can be traumatic depending upon the reason for the change.

Some workers find themselves needing to make a switch because the market for their current line of work has eroded. That's something many longtime retail professionals have had to deal with as many brick-and-mortar chains shrink or go out out of business.

Of course, sometimes people like to change up their career by choice. They want to pursue a passion, or just do something different. Whatever the reason for your change, it's important to take a methodical approach to making the switch.

Whether you need a new career, or just want one, the steps are the same. You can make a big leap, but it's best to not do so blindly. Follow the steps below, and you can have the new career you need -- or even just the one you want.

A man stands at a fork in the road.

Changing careers is possible, but it's not easy. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Do your research

After you identify the field you hope to move into, learn as much about it as you can. Specifically try to identify the skills that make someone successful in the space. If there's a skill you can gain in a timely manner -- like a specific certification -- pursue it. If not, be prepared to address your shortfalls in your cover letter and during interviews by pointing out the edge your alternative experience gives you.

2. Do a reality check

If you drive a truck for a living, it may not be realistic to think you can make the leap into brain surgery. That field, along with many others, requires specific certifications.

That's an extreme example, but you would be surprised by how many people fail to temper their dreams with reality. That truck driver may be able to move into the medical space -- perhaps in sales or distribution -- but his not having gone to medical school makes some paths off limits.

It's great to want to work in sports and switch from your current job in marketing to selling tickets for your local pro team. That's a path that can lead to a top-tier marketing job in sports, but it's not one that will lead you to becoming starting shortstop for the Yankees. It's good to dream, but better to balance your dreams with a reality check.

3. Make contacts

Before you try to make a career change, try to meet some people in your chosen field. Use the internet to identify people in the position you hope to hold and the ones that hire for that position. Reach out and ask your future peers for an informal meeting or an informational interview.

This can have multiple benefits. First, you may learn invaluable things that help you in the interview and application process. Second -- and perhaps most importantly -- you have made an ally. People like to be heroes and if you befriend someone, he or she will generally make an effort to put your name forward if an opportunity comes up -- not just to help you, but also to solve a problem for the person doing the hiring. 

4. Package your materials

Work with a professional with experience in the career space you hope to occupy to make sure your resume and cover letter are appropriate. That does not mean you will use the same cover letter or resume for each application. Of course, you need to make tweaks to address the specific job ad, but make sure your starter materials are in good shape, and industry appropriate, before you start applying.

5. Be persistent

Making a career switch is harder than getting a job in a field you have worked in for a long time. That means you need to work harder. Set aside time each day to look for openings to apply for and to send unsolicited materials and requests for informational interviews.

Make an effort to attend job fairs, industry events, and to basically do anything that might put you on someone's radar. Treat your job search as a job and make sure that anyone who might hire you knows not only who you are, but also why you make a good candidate even if you have never worked in the space before.