If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been considering a career change for a while. Taking risks (especially in your career) doesn’t come easy for anyone, which is why some people stay in the same career for years, knowing that it isn’t a good fit but staying because A) it’s better than NOT having a job and B) starting over is scary. There’s also the compounding issue of time—the longer you’ve spent investing in your career between your education and years of experience, the less likely it is that you’ll leave. Just when you start to think, “I’m only 20 years away from retirement, I can stick this out,” you hear about THAT person. You know, that person who did a career 180 at 35+ years old and is now successfully entering the next phase of their career. Suddenly the impossible seems more possible, and you dust off that idea that maybe, just maybe, you could pull off the same thing.

Here at Executive Drafts, we’ve seen countless clients make successful career transitions. Sure, part of this success is that these individuals were simply ready to take a risk. That’s half of the battle. However, they have also taken certain steps to make their career change a reality. We’ve outlined these steps below to help you take the plunge:

1. Make a realistic plan. You might be in the first step of the process and not realize it yet. All of that daydreaming you do at your desk about a different position? That’s not a plan, but it’s where one starts. It’s time to turn that daydreaming into some brainstorming and research to find out how feasible your career change is. You’ll need to ask yourself some important questions:

What are you willing to accept in terms of pay? Can you (and your family, if you have one) afford the pay cut that might come with a new career?

You can’t know the exact amount you’ll be offered until later in the process, but you can do your research to figure out a ballpark salary range you can expect. This is an important part of brainstorming, because if you need to do some financial planning to help you swing the transition, now is the time. Some people find after doing their research that the answer is “not right now,” but that doesn’t mean you take it off the table entirely. If you find yourself in that boat, create a financial plan that allows you to save the money you need and set a goal for yourself based on the amount of time you need to save.

Are you willing to take an entry-level position and work your way up?

Besides the money, you have to be prepared for your status to take a hit. You might be a mid-level to upper management professional now but transitioning into a new career might mean starting at the bottom.  If you’ve developed skills that align with the roles you’re looking at, like moving from classroom teaching to something in corporate training/instruction, or perhaps a sales professional wanting to transition into a sales position in a different industry, you’ll have a better shot at making a more lateral move. On the other hand, if you’re going to have to learn an entirely new set of skills, like moving from marketing into software engineering, be prepared to start over in that field.

How do your skills match up? What gaps will you need to address on your resume, cover letter, and during the interview?

If you don’t have a resume now, it’s time to sit down and get your experience down on paper. It doesn’t have to be perfect (yet), but for brainstorming, you need to identify what about your experience makes you a natural fit for your new career and what skills you’re missing. As you look at potential positions, this will allow you to evaluate which ones might be a better match for you based on your current skills, so you don’t waste time during the application process.

Doing some brainstorming might also help you identify areas for career development either by taking on additional tasks in your current role or volunteer work that can help you build skills in the career field you’re considering. Let’s say, for example, your experience is in retail, but you want to go into event planning. Hiring managers in this field are going to be looking for someone with hands-on experience, so you might consider volunteering for a local organization where you can develop the skills they’ll be looking for on your resume.

2. Get some help. Our clients are successful because they know when to ask for help. If writing isn’t your forte, it’s time to ask someone to step in. If you have a family member or friend that is a strong writer, that’s a good place to start. They may not know much about the specific field you’re looking at, but they can at least give you an idea of how to format your resume correctly and offer some feedback regarding what you already have.

Of course, this doesn’t always work, which is why resume writing companies like ours exist. You might feel foolish hiring a professional to write your resume/cover letter because, after all, you should be the expert on your own experience, right? While that’s true, many people just don’t know how to communicate their expertise on paper. That’s where we step in. Many clients have told us how helpful it is to have a professional unpack their current resume with them, talk about their career goals, identify some weak points in their existing resume, and sort through what should be included in their cover letter. A professional resume writer may not be THE expert on your work experience (you are, after all), but they can help by asking the right questions that pinpoint the direction your materials need to take to align your skills with your career aspirations.

3. Make connections. You’ve probably heard time and time again that networking matters, but it’s even more critical when you’re trying to break into a new field. According to a survey by Performance-Based Hiring Learning Systems, as many as 85% of jobs are found through networking. But where to start? Many open positions are never even posted on job search sites, so you can start by identifying some companies you’d like to work for, then figure out how to reach out to them. Do some research on LinkedIn and see if any connections work at any of these organizations. If so, great! It’s time to do some networking via LinkedIn.

Then there’s the good, old-fashioned type of networking. Start by asking family and friends whether they have any connections that could talk to you more about opportunities in that field. This opens up the conversation without starting with “I want a job, can you help me?” There’s nothing wrong with asking them to share your resume if there’s an open position at their company, but keep in mind sometimes networking isn’t always fruitful right away. The whole point is building a network of individuals in the field you’re looking at, so when something does come available; you’re the first person they think of.

Attending networking events in your area can be an overwhelming prospect, especially if you’re planning on staying in your current position until you find the right fit. How do you juggle applying for jobs and networking at the same time? Either one of those things alone can feel like a full-time job! However, when we keep the importance of networking in mind, the best place to focus your efforts first is on networking. Start by attending one event a month. You can apply to jobs you find online in the meantime, but instead of thinking of networking as secondary to online applications, give networking a fair shot, first. Our clients tend to have much better success making the transition into a new career when they have a personal connection who can advocate for their character and willingness to learn, even if they don’t have the experience.

4. Remind recruiters why you’re relevant. Your work isn’t finished once you’ve applied. Our most successful clients take the time to follow up via email a week or so after submitting their application so that their resume stays fresh on a recruiter’s mind. You may not be the most obvious fit for the role, which is why it’s important to remind them of the relevant skills you possess and that you’re willing to learn anything you don’t already know. If you’re already working towards gaining experience in that field through volunteer work or courses, reiterate that in your follow up. Most candidates overlook the importance of following up, which is a big mistake. You have to assume there’s a chance your resume has been tossed to the side, especially if you’re trying to break into a new field. A quick follow-up email might be the thing that gives your resume a second chance.

5. Be prepared to give yourself a pep talk. You may not be successful the first time applying, or the second, or the tenth time, which means Journey’s “Don’t stop believin’” should undoubtedly be on your playlist during this time. Transitioning into a new career requires both healthy amounts of faithful optimism and harsh realism. In other words, don’t quit your daydream, but also be willing to acknowledge that it might take some time before it becomes a reality. In the meantime, dust yourself off, re-evaluate your plan, keep networking, and don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself by reminding recruiters that you exist.

If you’re ready to step into a new career, then we’re here to help with the resume writing, career consulting, LinkedIn optimization, and interview coaching resources you need to make it happen. Not quite ready to commit? Start by submitting your resume for a complimentary critique on our website, and we’ll give you a few pointers to get you started!