Characteristics of the Successful Career Changer

Clipboard with blank resume next to open laptop

A career choice is one of the most important decisions you'll make in your lifetime. It can impact every aspect of your life. 

Along the way it’s perfectly understandable that a person may want a career change, even a complete change to something entirely different. And, while possible, it’s more complicated. The fact is that the further away your target job is from your current career path, the more challenging it will be to get hired. As a career counselor, people often share with me their excitement and hopes but also their frustration with changing careers. They speak of their confusion, self-doubts, and, all too often, their lack of success. As a result, obstacles seem to grow, motivation dwindles, and the job search fizzles. On a more positive note, I've also listened to stories from people who have successfully changed careers, sometimes even more than once. Here are some of common characteristics and strategies of Successful Career Changers (SCCs).  

1. Proactivity. SCCs have done their homework by thoroughly assessing their skills, interests, and values, along with researching the job market to determine a suitable career fit. They effectively re-frame their experiences to make the connection from their previous work to their new job target.

Venn diagram of interests, skills, values, and market

2. Confidence. SCCs are confident in their experience and abilities. They know their strengths and can influence hiring managers. They take pride in articulating how their career journey has prepared them for their next role.

3. Growth mindset. In previous jobs, SCCs sought out opportunities to build on their skills and pursue continuous learning. Individuals with a growth mindset often have an internal locus of control and a belief that events that happen to them are greatly affected by their capabilities and actions.

4. Realistic. SCCs realize that not all hiring managers will see beyond the traditional candidate who has the direct experience and education required by the employer. Successful job changers accept that they may need to make concessions and may not exactly get what they want. They seek out opportunities where they can apply their transferrable skills.

5. Resilience. Let's face it, a job search can be anxiety-provoking. SCCs are willing to go outside their comfort zone and adapt to the stress and adversity of a job search. They have the inner strength that helps them bounce back from challenges, such as rejection.

6. Persistence. SCCs persevere even when the road gets rocky. They persist, staying the course, but adjusting strategy when necessary and drawing on their motivation to keep moving forward.

7. Support System. SCCs have cultivated a network of people eager to provide a reference to confirm a person's abilities and/or are willing to provide emotional support when the going gets rough. 

Even the best candidate often competes with dozens, even hundreds, of other applicants. To successfully change careers, you may need to defeat stereotypes and outdated hiring practices. To get noticed, consider the following strategies:

  • Go for quality, not quantity. Apply only for jobs that fit your qualifications. You don't need to meet all qualifications, but you certainly want to meet most to be considered a good candidate.
  • Create targeted resumes to match relevant qualifications and personalize your cover letter. It's not just about you, let the employer know why you're interested in working for them.
  • Leverage your networking connections via platforms such as LinkedIn. Strategize your brand and optimize your online persona to ensure your brand tells a consistent story and showcases what you have to offer an employer.
  • Prepare for the interview. Anticipate questions. Think about specific anecdotes that provide examples of the skills and qualifications you want to demonstrate. Be sure you’re able to connect the dots from where you are to where you want to be.

With preparation, career savviness, and an effective job search strategy, career changers can successfully make the transition.

Written by: Barbara Van Dyk

November 18, 2021

Barbara Van Dyk

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Barbara is an experienced career counselor with a Master’s Degree in Counseling & Guidance from New York University, an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, and more than 20 years’ experience in the academic and corporate worlds.