There are many reasons to make a career change, for example:

  • You need a new challenge
  • Your values have changed
  • You want to focus on other things
  • Your passion lies elsewhere
  • You’re not happy

While the reason will be different for every person, there’s one thing that stays the same: the need to evolve during this transition. This is the perfect time to hone your skills and prepare for the new career ahead of you. You’re not merely transferring to a slightly better employment situation, but pushing yourself forward in a professional trajectory that requires you to up-level from where you are now.

Use these five simple tips to make sure you’re evolving during your career change, allowing you to land your next big gig, regardless of where you came from before this.

 A woman does restoration work on a bronze statue.

Image source: Art Institute of Chicago.

1. Make an actionable plan

Before you take a massive leap into a new career, take time to make an actionable plan. But don’t outline your five- or 10-year plan -- while this is important, right now, you want to be thinking in more immediate terms. Consider where you want to be this year, and what small, yet actionable steps you can take to achieve that objective.

For example, if want to make the move from salesperson to marketing specialist, there are a few actions you might take, including:

  • Shadow a marketing specialist at my current job this month.
  • Write a list of ways my sales skills apply to marketing so I can be prepared for interviews by next month.

Notice how each of these actions are specific and paired with a time limit. Brush up on what SMART goals are (hint: time-bound is one important element) so you can make sure you’re being as actionable as possible.

2. Continue learning and training  

Once you know what you want to do, find out which credentials are either necessary or beneficial for your career evolution. While some positions might require credentials, others may consider certain certifications as "nice to have" -- which means you’ll get a leg up if you have it.

Continuing your training and education is paramount, especially in the tech industry. In fact, more than 55% of developers seek out training to meet current or upcoming needs or to advance their careers, according to the 2017 Developer Learning Survey. In this case, for example with a software engineer, it may be required that you have certain credentials thanks to the fast-evolving world of technology.

In other cases, like the example of moving from sales to marketing, a credential you likely don’t need is a Google Analytics Certification. However, it will look great on your resume and is free to take. Not to mention, knowing how to navigate Google Analytics is a skill most marketers need to have to be successful, whether you learn on the job or come into a new position with the knowledge already.

3. Explore freelance projects

In 2018, 56.7 million Americans did some type of freelance work, according to the Freelancing in America Report. There’s a reason freelancing is increasingly popular in the current workforce: It allows for flexible learning and makes it easier to advance your career. Freelance gigs allow you to gain valuable experience that will bolster your chances of getting the job you want.

It also allows you to dip your toes into a new career without leaving your full-time job. If you feel passionate about a new career path but aren’t ready to take the leap, freelance and contract-based projects will let you try it on for size. It’s better to take on one project and realize you aren’t cut out for the work than to accept a full-time position.

4. Network and build relationships

Networking within your desired industry will give you valuable insights during your career transition. When you meet people within your desired field, you can learn about what you need to do be successful and what you need to avoid. You may even land an interview.

In certain careers, this network can also be the reason you get a job. HR veteran and Forbes contributor Steve Cadigan explains: “Your network is part of your value proposition. Organizations today are increasingly looking for candidates who bring a strong network to work with them.”

Consider this an extension of your resume if you work in HR (knowing great people to hire), business development (knowing great people to partner with) or sales (knowing great people who want to buy).

5. Develop your personal brand online

Your personal brand is your outward appearance to the professional world. We live in a digital world, so your brand extends far past the clothes you wear or the job history on your resume. As you consider building your personal brand online, remember to update your profiles on:

  • Social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter, or any other social profile that isn’t private
  • Your portfolio or website
  • Job boards or industry-specific professional websites (think StackOverflow)

If you’re actively applying for jobs, do an audit of your online presence and get rid of anything that’s nonprofessional, because hiring managers will search for you. According to SHRM, 43% of organizations use social media and online presence to screen applicants, and 36% have disqualified candidates based on public information found. Don’t let one bad photo be the reason you don’t land your next big gig.

With your profiles cleaned up, consider what your personal brand is and isn’t. If you’re not sure where to start, take this Glassdoor Quiz to find out what your personal brand is. Then, let that shine through your LinkedIn headline, Twitter bio, website "about" page, etc.

Continue evolving during your career change

Transitioning in your career can be challenging, but it’s not impossible, especially if you focus on these five ways to evolve and grow during this time. Make time to learn, get clear on what action steps you need to take, make time for networking, and don’t forget that your brand extends to the online world, too -- find out what that brand is and let it shine through so recruiters and hiring managers see the very best version of you: someone who’s willing to do what it takes to make a change.

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