How to Position Yourself to Change Careers

Here’s how to prepare for a successful job transition.

By + More

Unhappy with your job? Want to find work that's more fulfilling, better paying, or more family-friendly?

More people than ever, it seems, want to change jobs or switch industries. That's partly a result of the lifting of the recession; as the economy improves, employees who have long wanted an out now feel more confident about finding a new position. It might also have to do with our constant quest to find the perfect career. We increasingly expect our jobs to not only pay the bills, but also offer fulfillment, which, ironically, can leave us forever dissatisfied.

"There's a pent-up demand [for new jobs]," says Nancy Collamer, a career coach who focuses on lifestyle-friendly careers. "There are a lot of people out there who are now unhappy, [who] are feeling overworked and under-appreciated."

[See Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance.]

Take Alison Hoffman, for example, who worked in the corporate world for more than 25 years, most recently in mergers and acquisitions. When the company she worked for was sold in 2007, she was squeezed out of a job. At first she looked for other opportunities, but few firms were hiring. "That made me think, do I really want to be doing this?" says Hoffman, who lives outside Chicago.

After consulting for a few years to pay the bills, Hoffman started her own garden design business, Every Green Plant, turning her hobby into a job. "It's not like I'm replacing the income I had before," she says, "but I'm totally turned on by what I'm doing."

Not everyone changes jobs because they want to. Some workers find their skills simply aren't needed anymore, and that their industry has changed, likely because of advances in technology, and they need to transition to earn a paycheck. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 60 percent of workers who were laid off during the last year and found a new job are working in a new field. "[That] reflect[s] a growing trend where workers are re-educating and/or re-packaging skill sets to appeal to a broader set of employers," according to CareerBuilder's survey summary.

If you're considering changing careers, the first step is to figure out what you want to do—and for some job seekers, that's the hardest part. Once you have a vision for your next career, here are some smart ways to position yourself to make the transition:

Introduce yourself with where you're going, not where you've been. When someone asks you what you do, tell them what you're passionate about and the job you're looking to transition into—then tell them where you work now, says Jodi Glickman, communications expert and author of Great on the Job. Start with what you want them to remember you for, so when a relevant opportunity arises, they'll think of you.

[See The Smarter Way to Change Careers.]

Focus on your transferable skills. Your expertise may be in one industry, but the skills you've gained there likely are applicable to other fields. So rather than focusing on your knowledge, which may or may not transfer, showcase the skills you used in that industry and how they'll benefit you—and the company that hires you—in your sequel career. You're more likely to succeed at this if you think outside of the box. What are your strengths, and how can they be applied elsewhere?

Tailor your resume for the job you want, not the job you have. Your resume should tell the story you want to tell; don't make the mistake of thinking it has to be an all-inclusive employment history. Once you've identified your transferable skills and experiences, weave that into a document that markets you to the industry you want to work in. That may mean leaving out an experience simply because it's not relevant. Figure out how your background and experience makes you qualified for the job you're applying for, and emphasize those pieces on your resume.

Find ways to showcase (and improve) the skills you'll use in your ideal job. Volunteer for an organization that needs someone with those skills, then feature that position prominently on your resume. Also look to showcase your skills virtually; consider blogging or tweeting about topics you want to be considered an expert on, which will help you establish credibility.