How to Make a Successful Career Change.

My Career Change Rollercoaster

In the spring of 2010, amidst the Great Recession, I decided to leave my civil engineering career and undergo an unofficial career change. I knew when I was a junior in college, it wasn’t going to be my life’s work, and after seven years in the industry, I picked the middle of a terrible economy to jump ship and find a new career.

I did not have a [well-thought-out] plan.

Let’s just admit it: I took the first job that came my way and got me out of an industry that I found boring and stagnant. I knew I wanted to be in a more creative and communicative environment,  gallery director of a single artists’ gallery. There are many things to consider when finding a new career.

To say I experienced baptism-by-fire in my new career journey is the understatement of the century from the superstructure of a giant worldwide engineering firm to a solopreneur’s business and was quite a shock. 

How to Think About Finding a New Career.

Uprooting everything you’ve ever done and everything you know is a hard way to go about finding a new career because it basically leaves you untethered – floating out in space and flailing around trying to find a foothold when you’re not using any real-world experience.

That lack of leverage can make this a very painful process.

From my perspective, there are two options to streamline the process:

  1. Consider a two-step process where you jump halfway over the chasm using a component of your experience, stay there for a hot minute, and then use that experience to go the rest of the way.
  1. Otherwise, if you’re hellbent on making that entire leap in one fell swoop, you’ll need to identify some connection or commonality where overlapping experience can give you an advantage – or at least a basis for the story! 

Consider this visual: the Venn diagram (how’s that for a throwback to elementary school?)

I look at everyone’s professional marketability as having two circles on a Venn diagram. One circle represents your industry experience (education, nonprofits, technology, manufacturing), and the other is your functional skillset (sales, coding, teaching, operations). This is your KEY tool to help you find a new career.

Where the two circles overlap, the center of the diagram is your strongest marketability because you’re using both your skillset and your industry experience to craft your brand and job search strategy to help find your new career and make the career change.

An interim step – jumping halfway across the universe – can happen when you choose to root one area to pivot the other. Stick with your industry to change functions, for instance, or vice versa.


Here’s a video that’ll be helpful to understand how this idea of functional skillset versus subject matter knowledge can help you in finding a new career.

Now that you’ve gotten the gist of creating a Venn diagram, I challenge you to create your own. A good place to start is by identifying your transferrable skills.

What’s a transferable skill?

Transferrable skills are functional capabilities you can use to do a job differently than what you’re doing now. Here are some common skills to help you brainstorm your own:

  • Relationship Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Public Speaking or Presenting
  • Project Management
  • Writing (Technical or Creative)

Here’s a list of additional transferrable skills to add to your tool belt. 

Now you can articulate these skills in the function “bucket” of your Venn diagram to see how they can translate into other types of positions requiring similar skillsets. Boom! You’ve just defined a pivot point in your process of finding a new career.

Examples of Starting a New Career

Let’s look at some case studies to help you get even further out of the box in the process of finding a new career.

We’ll use Mary as an example. Mary is a marketing professional who has worked in the nonprofit sector for the majority of her career, but she’s ready to shift into the private sector. She roots her marketing skills but shifts her industry or subject matter of expertise to help with her career change.

Now let’s look at the opposite.

If you’re looking to make a bigger career change, leveraging pockets of knowledge or experience can be the key to traction. In the example above, Nate’s subject matter expertise in EdTech adds more marketability in finding a new career. Hyper focusing on these kinds of companies will be a strong play as he moves from sales to a different role in the industry. Reference the Venn diagram video below to understand better how to use transferable skills to pivot industries in your career change.

Volunteer experience, personal interests, and hobbies, or even specialty studies can provide an additional platform for these kinds of changes. Don’t discount your transferable skills, your subject expertise, or even your personal interests as you find these small overlaps. They become the glue that holds the story together and resonates with the target audience as you weave the common thread through your resume and new professional brand for finding a new career.

Next Steps: Where to Start

Finding a new career is no small feat, and even considering the change puts you in a small percentage of people who rarely take the risk to step into something new and more fulfilling. Congratulations on taking the first move to explore the possibilities of finding a new career!

If you are overwhelmed by the idea of a career change, I encourage you to revisit the Venn diagram exercise, above, so that you can begin to identify and articulate what you have to offer. Also, here are some additional resources to prep you for finding a new career, and some additional career change motivation.

Want some 1-on-1 help. I’d say it’s time to book a free strategy session, so we can figure out how to find you a new career!

THe No-BS Blueprint for a successful job search

Award-winning career coach Angie Callen covers everything you need to know about job searching in the current market. 

No more trolling job boards and free advice for hours on end, just outcomes-based strategies to maximize your career. Click the link below to grab your copy today! 

Get the guidance you need to land your next great role. 

  • Strategies to make your search efficient and effective.
  • Resources to create a resume that resonates.
  • Ideas on how to remove the ick from networking
  • Proven framework to help you nail your next interview.

Angie’s resume guidance transformed my job search. I used her feedback to revamp my resume, responded to a rejection, and within a month, I landed the job of my dreams! – Will, Netflix Engineer

Angie Callen, Founder

I created Career Benders to inspire confident professionals. In just three years, we have helped nearly 500 professionals navigate job searches, nail interviews, and find satisfaction in their careers. We’re here for you!

Recent Posts