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Career Success

How to Make a Career Change (The Complete Guide)

Written by Makeda Waterman
An experienced online media journalist blogs about work and career development.
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Are you challenged at work? Do you regret your career decisions? Do you feel content getting out of bed and thinking about the day of work ahead? If the answers to these questions lead to a negative feeling, it may be time to consider a career change.

Settling for a job to pay bills and maintain a lifestyle is stagnation. You can redirect the journey of a career with confidence by taking control of future decisions. After all, you deserve to live a happy life that will offer a work-life balance.

Let’s look at the reasons why you need a career switch and how to choose a career for a more fulfilling life.

How to Know If You Need a Career Change

The challenges of dissatisfaction in a career can have a negative impact on our mental health. This can lead to the obvious appearance of stress, aging, weight gain, and internal health issues. But more importantly, everyone deserves to be happy.

You deserve a career that will fulfill the inner desire for true happiness. One that utilizes your talents and passions but doesn’t make you uncomfortable or depressed.

It’s not just about how tired you are of your job. You can be exhausted but still be happy in your career. But if you’re exhausted, unfulfilled and sad? It might be time to change careers. Here are some common signs that it is time for you to consider career decision making and seek out your dream job.


Physical Signs

Have you aged more since you started your job? Do you have day-to-day anxiety? What about work-related injuries? Take note of these things. The stress on your mind may manifest in your body.

It feels amazing to receive a paycheck, but you deserve to work in an environment that brings out the best in you. If the work environment is hazardous, speak to your boss about alternative options.

In the case that your colleagues or boss takes advantage of your kindness, feeling anxiety due to the fear of losing your job because of a high-stress environment may not be right for you. The fact that you don’t feel safe approaching your colleagues or employers may be a warning sign.

Mental Signs

One out of five Americans has mental health issues.[1] In most cases, it is related to stress.

Here is a list of mental signs of workplace unhappiness:

  • Neck tension
  • Difficulties with sleeping
  • Unable to concentrate
  • High anxiety
  • Depression

If you start to feel that your self-esteem is diminishing, it is time to consider if working in that industry is for you. Your career woes don’t just start and end with you. This negative energy will be transferred to people in your life, such as friends and family.

Making some career decisions could alleviate all of this, so long as you are being smart on how to make a career change.


Emotional Signs

Is your work making you feel numb and apathetic to everything around you? Just because you’re not explicitly angry or distressed, does not mean you’re in an emotionally healthy state.

Having an unfulfilling and stressful career can affect even your personal life. Things that you used to be excited about may seem boring to you now. You may even seem less empathetic to your friends and family.

If you feel like you’ve lost the ability to feel anything – whether that be happiness, anger or even jealousy – your work may be the root cause and it might be time to change careers.

Other Symptoms

In addition to the above signs, you may also be experiencing some of these too:

Your Current Career Does not Allow You to Focus on Your Priorities

What truly matters to you? What do you really want to accomplish in your life? How do you want to spend your time? It’s absolutely crucial to consider what your priorities are and build a life that allows you to focus on what matters most to you.

As a doctor of physical therapy, I see people every day who have had their lives change drastically in the blink of an eye. From traumatic brain injuries to strokes to motor vehicle accidents… these people’s lives have been forever changed instantly.

I’ve had many wonderful patients, men and women, weep as they tell me about how they have saved their big dreams for retirement and now they’ll never get to live those dreams. Taking care of these patients on a regular basis has reminded me of the importance of focusing my life on what matters most right now.


Saving your biggest dreams for retirement is a risky move. If your current career path doesn’t allow you to focus your life on what truly matters to you, it’s time to seriously consider how to make a career change.

You Want to Make a Different Impact in the World than Your Job Allows

You are here to make a mark on the world. What will your mark be? Thinking about the impact you want to make can help guide your career choice.

To need a career change is to be looking at what that mark is and considering whether the work you’re doing now is enough to fulfil that. If not, finding something else can help you get ready for a career change.

Every Friday, You Wildly Exclaim, “TGIF!”

Fridays are great, but it’s possible to have a job where almost every day is just as wonderful as Friday. It’s truly possible to do work you love so much, that you actually look forward to Mondays.

If you’re the one in the office every single week excitedly proclaiming the arrival of the weekend, you might want to think about how to make a career change into something better than your current one.

You’re Envious of People in Other Careers

Pay attention to how you feel when other people talk about their jobs. If you are envious of other people’s careers, pinpoint what you’re jealous about. Is it their work hours, or their specific work duties? Is it the company they work for? Is it their lifestyle? If you find yourself thinking, “must be nice…” when people talk about their jobs, it might be time for you to consider how to start a new career.

You’re Feeling Restless

Perhaps you’ve enjoyed your job for many years, and you appreciate the wonderful career you’ve had, but now you’d love to try something new. Pay attention to that restless feeling. Is there something tugging at your heart that you’d love to try? Life is short, and if you’re feeling stir-crazy, you may want to consider a career change.

If you’re feeling restless and not sure how to make a career change, start learning about subjects that interest you. Dive deeper into subjects you’re excited about. Clarity comes from taking action. Sign up for a community education class that entices you, or learn a new skill you’ve always wanted to learn.


Another way to deal with feeling restless is to consider how you could add value in your current career field while changing your job duties. Could you specialize in something you like at your current job? Could you start your own business? Could you coordinate a meaningful project at work? Or maybe you can apply your current skills and talents to other duties?

We spend many hours of our lives at work. It’s important that our work is meaningful to us, and allows us to shine. If your current job doesn’t allow you to be the best version of yourself, it’s time to consider making a career switch.

Are You Sure You’re Not Changing for the Wrong Reason?

Most people that feel they need a career change are frustrated with their situation at work. Do you really understand your current situation at work?

It is important to think about the work situation because some people decide to change careers for factors that are insignificant or have viable solutions—factors that can potentially change if the person works in a different department or new organization.


Here are some elements to consider before you decide to make a career change:

1. The Desire for a Higher Salary

The desire for a higher income can persuade some to believe that they are in the wrong career. The issue with this is more money requires more time in the office or taking on several positions at a time.

At times, pursuing a high-income role can be the complete opposite of what one expects. Instead of leaving your current position to look for a higher-paying one, you can talk with your boss to see if there is any possibility of a raise—now or in a couple of years. You can even see if you can re-negotiate your contract to include more benefits.

2. A High-Stress Moment

While long-term stress is unhealthy and should ultimately be avoided in order to preserve your health, moments of stress at a job are natural. For example, you may be working on a big presentation for a new client; this will inevitably lead to some stress, but the reward may be worth it. Don’t make the mistake of confusing long-term and short-term stress.

Make sure you think carefully before leaving a job during a temporary moment of high stress. Look at the bigger picture. Is this something that repeatedly happens or a one-time situation? Is the stress coming from outside pressure or just your own expectations?

3. Rejected for a Promotion

I have heard stories of managers that applied ten times for a position throughout a 5-year period. Yes, it sounds like a lengthy process, but, at times, a promotion requires time. Try not to jump the gun and change careers just because you got rejected for promotion once[2]. Consider giving it time; the situation may change in a year or two.

This is also a good time to reflect on the reason you were rejected. It’s an opportunity for growth. Ask the HR team or your supervisors for feedback and they may give you advise that could help you improve and reach greater heights.


4. Bored at Work

Think deeply about this point. If you work a repetitive job, it is normal to feel bored.

You can spice it up by changing the appearance of your desk, socializing with new employees in a different department, joining a leadership committee at work, or coming to work with enthusiasm. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of perspective.

5. Consider Your Other Passions

When you’re thinking about making a career change, the advice of following your passion is one of the most common pieces of advice. However, there is no doubt you have multiple passions and picking just one and going for it isn’t always the best decision.

For example, some people may drop everything that they’re doing just to be their own boss. The issue with that is that their old job – even if they weren’t excited about it – did provide financial stability for them.

You may not be starting up a business in this instance, but don’t let your passion in another field overtake you and you decide to drop everything for it. Take your time to explore, apply for some jobs, take some other courses, or start a side hustle first while using your main job to support yourself financially.

6. Maybe You’re Not Liking Only Parts Of The Job

Just like understanding your passions, it’s important to know what you like and don’t like too. Maybe you want to change careers all because there are a few parts of the job you’re not big on.

That or maybe you bought into the hype of the work and the reality is different from what you thought it would be.


Take your time and explore those feelings and come up with solutions. Now that reality has sunk in, perhaps keep working at that job for a few more weeks first.

If there are parts of the job you really don’t like, talk to your boss about them or find a way to delegate those tasks to someone else who enjoys them.

7. Maybe It’s The Workplace That’s The Problem

Getting family and friends involved is also a step on how to make a career change for several reasons. The biggest is that they may provide more insight to problems.

For example, maybe a friend or family member has seen your boss or has interacted with them in the past and thought this would be a terrible person to work under.

In those events it might just be the boss – or even the business you’re working in – that is the problem and not so much the industry.


One bad experience doesn’t mean that the entire industry is bad.

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making a Final Decision

A career switch can take time; networking, education, and the job search process can be a journey. Here is a list of things to consider before making a final decision:

  • How long have you worked in your career?
  • What is the problem at work?
  • Do you work well with the team?
  • Do you receive recognition?
  • Are you excited by the prospect of advancing in your current career?
  • Can you consider working in a new department?
  • Can you change your situation without needing to leave your work?
  • Are your struggles caused by internal or external factors?
  • Are you willing to make changes to improve your situation?
  • When was the last time you were excited to come to work?

If after reviewing your work situation and none of the above recommendations help, then it’s time to make a career switch.

How a Career Change Will Change Your Life

A career switch can fulfill a lifelong dream, increase one’s self-esteem, or revive the excitement for one’s work.

You may be ready for a career change if you experience one or all of these:

A Negative Workplace

If negativity greets you at the door each time you arrive to work, moving to a new business or organization (or industry) may be the right decision in order to preserve your mental health.

A Difficult Boss

You likely won’t get along with your boss 100% of the time, but they should, at the very least, be respectful of you and your time. If that’s not the case, address the issue directly with them. If that doesn’t work, it may be time for a career switch.

Feeling Lost

Most people stay at their jobs and settle for mediocrity because of the fear of failure or the unknown. The rise to success often comes with working a tedious role or stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. If you fear the idea of being involved in new activities, remember that life is short, and mediocrity will only continue to make you feel as if life is passing you by.

Company Culture

Every workplace has a culture in place, one that’s stated in their website, and another that’s actually the truth. The thing is your personality may not jive with the company culture, and it’s neither your fault nor the companies. Perhaps you thrive on high pressure and stringent rules, but your company is more laid back and spontaneous. It may not work for you, but it works for everyone else. Ask yourself if the culture is something you can adjust to or even embrace. And if not, it might be time to make a career switch or change businesses.

How to Make a Career Change Successfully

The ultimate key to success is to go through a career transition step-by-step to avoid making the wrong decision.

1. Write a Career Plan

A career plan has a deadline for action steps that includes taking new courses, learning a new language, networking, or improving issues at work, among other career goals. [3] A career plan should be kept in sight because it will motivate you to keep pursuing the role.

You can learn how to set your career plan here.

2. Weigh Your Options

If you have a degree in accounting, write down five positions in this industry of interest to you. The good news is diplomas and degrees can be used for a variety of roles or career paths.

You don’t have to stick to what society holds as a top job. In the end, choosing the right role that will make you happy is priceless.


3. Be Real About the Pros and Cons

It is time to be honest about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the job market that are impacting the current situation.

A SWOT Analysis of a career can include:[4]

  • Economic factors: Does the career path meet your financial expectations and needs?
  • Direct competition: Is this role in high demand?
  • Location: Will you need to move to a new position? Are you willing to relocate?
  • Achievements: To stand out from the competition, achievements like awards, committee involvement, freelance work, or volunteering is a recipe for success.
  • Education: Do you need to go back to school? Education can be expensive. However, online courses, webinars, or self-study are all options.

SWOT Analysis for Career Change

    A career blueprint is the first step to creating realistic goals. A person without goals will be disappointed without a clear direction of what to do next.

    4. Find a Mentor or Career Coach

    A mentor or a career coach that works in the desired position can share the pros and cons of working in the role. Here is a list of questions to ask a mentor:

    • What is required to be successful in the role?
    • What certification or educational development is needed?
    • What are the challenges of the role?
    • Is there potential for career advancement?

    A chat at a coffee shop with a mentor can change your mind about your desire for a career switch.

    Find out how to pick a good mentor for yourself in this article: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

    5. Research Salary

    Some people decide to change careers for a role that pays less or for extra benefits to make up for the difference.

    Just because a position pays more, doesn’t mean it will improve your quality of life. If you would need to move to a new location, you might want to check the cost of living in that new city.

    It can reveal the cities throughout the country that offer a higher salary for those that have an interest in relocating for work.

    6. Be Realistic

    If your goal is to move up into an executive position, it is time, to be honest about where you are in your career.

    For example, if boardroom meetings, high-level discussions about financials, or attending weekly networking events are boring, an executive role may not be right for you. If you are an introvert and working with people every day is nerve-wracking, you need to reconsider a job in sales.

    Ask yourself if you can work in this role for the next five years of your life. If other benefits that come with the role are enticing, there are other roles that will make you happy. You may need to take small steps as you switch careers in order to get into the position you really want.

    7. Volunteer First

    A person who wants to become a manager should take on volunteer opportunities to experience the reality of the position.

    Becoming a committee member to pursue a presidential opportunity can provide a perspective on leadership, maintaining a budget, and public speaking.

    Volunteer in a role until you are certain that it is the right opportunity. It’s also a great opportunity to learn new skills and gain experience. It’ll look great in your resume when you’re ready to apply for that position.

    8. Prepare Your Career Tools

    I recommend asking a boss, colleague, or mentor for career tools. If you prefer professional assistance, you can seek out resume writing assistance.

    Here is a list of things to consider when preparing career tools:

    Online Search

    Search your name online to see what shows up. I recommend searching for images that are on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or other sites on a personal account. The last thing you want to realize is the job search is unsuccessful because there is unprofessional content you posted online.

    Prepare Your LinkedIn

    Recruiters conduct a LinkedIn search to see if the work experience is the same on a resume. In many instances, recruiters actually make first contact with potential employees on LinkedIn. Make sure your LinkedIn profile highlights skills and experiences that are relevant to the career or industry you want to get into. Remember to change the wording on LinkedIn from the resume, or it will appear there was no effort put into creating the profile.


    A portfolio of work is recommended for people that work in the arts, writing, graphic design, and other fields. I recommend a portfolio online and one that is available in hand when attending job interviews or networking meetups.

    Cover Letter

    A good cover writer will always impress your potential employers. Here’s how to write a killer cover letter that stands out from others.

    Bottom Line

    It takes time to move towards a new career. Pay attention to the physical and mental signs to maintain your health. You deserve to work in happiness and come home stress-free. If you avoid the common mistakes people make, you will find a job and discover a role in a career field that is the best fit for your skillset.

    Master these action steps to complete a career change on your terms, so you can make the best decision for your future.

    Featured photo credit: Bethany Legg via unsplash.com


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