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Build Your Career Get Ahead

5 Tips for Making a Big Career Change

Credit: Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock

If you're feeling dissatisfied at your job, it can be tempting to consider changing careers altogether. Maybe the job you thought would make you happy causes you nothing but stress, and you're dreaming of taking on a new career path.

The problem is, making a complete career change, especially going from one industry to another, can be a huge challenge. It can be even harder to get to the interview stage when you have work experience but no industry experience, and starting over could mean taking a pay cut as well.

So how can you make sure a major career transition is right for you? Here are five important tips from career coaches and experts to help you make a major career change the right way.

"Test the waters first. Before taking the leap to change careers and risk getting into a career that is no more suited to you than your previous career, do some reality testing by conducting informational interviews with people in the field that you are considering. Also, you can take this a step further by volunteering in the field that you are interested in or shadowing someone for a day to find out what the profession is like on a day-to-day basis. You will have a much better idea of whether or not this is a good fit for you by trying a field out first." – Cheryl Palmer, certified career coach and president, Call to Career

"Switching careers can be stressful and high-risk. Ensure your financials allow for the time of transition and that you are making the move when the rest of your life is relatively stable and calm. For example, it probably would not serve you well to make a major career change while you are going through a divorce or you have a very ill family member. Be prepared to allocate the mental energy necessary to handle the transition smoothly and successfully." – Leigh Ann Errico, founder and principal, LA Errico & Partners [Navigating Your Career Path: How to Map It Out ]

"The best tip for making a complete career change is to utilize your network. You will benefit from personal introductions from people who can vouch for your character, work ethic and skill to someone who probably wonders why they should hire someone who has no industry experience. Additionally, getting access to the hidden job market via your network is invaluable." – Jessica Sweet, career coach, Wishingwell Coaching

"A career change is simply an opportunity to repackage existing skills and abilities for use in a new and exciting way. While you may clearly see how your experience will help you in your new career, you may have to lead others through a conversation to help them understand why you are making the change. One effective way to do this is to articulate with clarity what your past experience has meant to you and how it adds specific value in your new career." – Erica B. McCurdy, managing member, McCurdy Solutions

"If you're having trouble with a major transition — say, from accountant to fashion designer — consider doing the two-step. Find an accounting job in the fashion industry, preferably with a small firm. After a year, when they are comfortable with you, begin applying for openings as a fashion designer within the same company. Employers are much more likely to take a chance on someone they already know. This can actually be faster than trying to do the entire change in one great leap, because career growth is often incremental rather than transformational." – Joni Holderman, founder, Thrive! Resumes