This is the third and final part of our series on changing careers as an executive or high-stakes professional. For more career-change advice, read Part 1 and Part 2.
If you’ve been following this series, you’ve already analyzed a career change’s practical pros and cons. You’ve also explored your feelings on the subject and incorporated them into the decision-making process. After all that, are you still interested in transitioning to a new career? If so, it’s time to translate your interest into action.
Practical advice for career-changers is available through many online resources, but most fail to address the psychological aspect of a career transition. Changing careers is scary, and there are many psychological obstacles you’re likely to encounter, including burnout, isolation, and self-doubt. By familiarizing yourself with these obstacles, you can prevent them from sabotaging your progress.
The following steps provide a basic overview of how to change careers as an executive or other high-stakes professional, along with examples of common mental health challenges. If you’d like personalized help while changing careers, we recommend working with an experienced executive coach.
Step 1: Make a plan
Now that you’ve uncovered a promising new career path, it’s time to iron out the details. Using your research notes from the decision-making process, you’ll need to decide on things like how long the transition will take, what new skills you’ll need, and how long you’ll continue working in your current job.
To ensure you have all the info needed to make a solid plan, you may need to conduct a bit more research. For example, you could do a few more informational interviews to ensure the classes you’re planning to take will adequately prepare you for your new role. However, we caution against spending too much time on research. Even though changing careers is scary, you won’t make the transition any less frightening with endless procrastination.
Another thing to watch out for during this stage is unintentionally setting yourself up for anxiety and burnout. If you’re miserable in your current job, you might be determined to make your career transition as quickly as possible. For example, you might plan to take evening classes five nights a week while still working a full-time job, but is that really feasible given your personal commitments? Or will you end up stressed and burned out?
Step 2: Temper your expectations
Many of our executive clients struggle with perfectionism, which can spell disaster if things don’t go according to plan. For example, what if the classes you signed up for end up requiring more of your time than you originally accounted for? Or you discover that the income potential is less than you’d believed? Instead of expecting your career transition to go precisely as planned, we recommend cultivating internal flexibility and an attitude of expecting the unexpected.
Try to view your career transition plan as a work in progress since you’ll likely have to adjust and customize it along the way. You might even decide to abandon the new career and start the career decision-making process from scratch once you get more exposure to the industry. If you can try to think of each role along your career path as an opportunity to explore, you’ll be more resilient to change.
You should also temper your expectations for your performance in the new industry, especially if you’re struggling with mental health issues. For example, perhaps you’re autistic or dealing with generalized anxiety. If you fail to address these issues before diving into a new industry, some of the things you hated about your old career may come back to haunt you.
Step 3: Expand your skillset
You’ll likely bring many transferable skills to your new job. Even so, you must take steps to learn new skills that will help you succeed. You can achieve this through many avenues, including higher education, volunteer work, temp/gig work, online training, conferences, and job shadowing. Expanding your skillset will help you overcome one of the most common (and destructive) mental health risk factors associated with changing careers: fear of the unknown.
The more exposure you get to a new field, the more confident and less fearful you’ll be. That said, there’s no way to predict the future. There will always be some risk involved with changing careers. A million things could come between you and your future career plans, but you can’t let that stop you from trying. Taking on some risk is still better than sticking around in a career you hate! Just be aware that you may need to develop your ability to tolerate fear and uncertainty to keep moving forward.
Step 4: Build new connections
Changing careers later in life can be really isolating for a variety of reasons. Most career advice articles cater to young adults, ignoring people who are wondering how to change careers at 30, 40, or 50. There are fewer scholarships and other support programs for career changers. Worse yet, many hiring managers for entry-level jobs will overlook your application in favor of recent grads who are half your age and likely cost less than you.
To ensure you always have someone to share your concerns with, we recommend building a reliable support network, both professionally and personally. For example, you can look for people in the field who would be willing to mentor you. You can also build online or in-person connections with other career changers who can empathize with your experience.
Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum; you’ll need advice, reassurance, and support. Connect with like-minded peers, family, or an experienced executive coach to help you survive the ups and downs of changing careers.
Step 5: Start applying
There are many things you can do on your resume that will increase your chances of landing a new position. For example, you can highlight your transferable skills, include an objective statement, and choose a resume format that lands your most relevant skills at the top. That resume—combined with a cover letter that expresses your sincere interest in the company—will help you get a foot in the door.
The applications process can be pretty discouraging, though. You’re used to being at the top of your field. Now you’re back towards the bottom of the totem pole. If you don’t initially get a lot of responses, you could end up doubting yourself and your new career path. Even when you do get that first interview, you might feel like a fraud or outsider if your background is untraditional for that industry. Keep an eye out for feelings of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and discouragement during this time so you can deal with them proactively.
Get Support in Your Career Change Journey
Working with psychologists who provide executive coaching can help you manage the potentially overwhelming feelings that bubble up during your career transition. We can provide practice career change advice along with emotional and mental health support, especially if you’re neurodivergent or struggle with your emotional wellbeing. Send us a message to see how we can help or book a free 20 minute consultation call with Dr. Lee or Dr. Barajas.