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Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Change Careers?

Real advice on how to land the career you want

Woman leaping into a career change

The majority of women are unhappy in their careers. So it must be time for a change.

In a 2019 survey, InHerSight found that 73 percent of women want to change careers, and they want to do so for a variety of reasons: the need for more pay, the desire to work in an industry they care about, burnout, the glass ceiling

We called up one of our favorite recruiters, Megan Lipera, who works at Merritt Group (4.4 stars), for her take on career change: Is it possible? Where do you even start? How do you build connections in a completely unknown industry? How do you get a recruiter’s attention when you’re trying to change careers? Is taking a pay cut part of the deal?

Here’s what Megan has to say.

Let's start from the top. Is it possible to change careers? 

Absolutely. Don’t be afraid. I have done it multiple times. It is never too late or too early to make a change. Sometimes finding what makes you happy requires trial and error. 

Keep in mind that you may have to work your way up from the bottom again, which can be uncomfortable or even disheartening. This is only temporary. Work hard, do your best and nothing can stop you. The reward could be a new career that you are in love with

If you want to change careers, where do you even begin?

Come up with a plan. This is not a situation where you can get away with “winging it.” This should be a clear cut plan for a transition. Are you going to need a certification or training? Do you need to find a mentor? This should be addressed and outlined in your plan. You might find that you need to do this in stages. Keep your eye on the end goal and know that you will get there! 

In a 2019 survey, InHerSight found that the top three reasons women want to change are 1) the need for more pay, 2) the desire for a career with a mission they believe in, and 3) and burnout. 

No surprises here. Personally, numbers two and three are why I have switched careers more than a few times. When I worked as a recruiter for a local health system, I interviewed a lot of women that were looking to change careers. I would ask them why they were looking to make this change and the majority of the answers were some version of these three. 

I want to mention here that there is nothing wrong with the need for more pay to be your reasoning for making a change. Link this answer to your ambitious drive to be successful and your desire to work hard. I appreciate honesty. 

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Find a Job That Makes You Happy?

The number-one obstacle to career change identified by the women we surveyed is a lack of connections in the field they hope to work in. What advice do you have for women who don’t yet have a foot in the door?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You know people and they know people and so on. Reach out to your contacts, send them your resume and be open to whatever they can give you. Also, be persistent. Opportunities will not always come knocking at your door. 

A good old cold reach out is not off the table. It has worked for me! If you don’t hear from someone the first time then follow up with them. If you need help crafting something to send, connect with me on LinkedIn. I can help! 

Read more: How to Get Positive Responses to Cold Outreach on LinkedIn

Another major obstacle is the inability to afford education necessary for a career change. Do you believe going back to school is always necessary for someone who wants to change careers?

You do not have to go back to school to change careers. Do your research before spending a bunch of money on school. Talk to people in the field. You may just need to do a certification or maybe the experience and skills you have will translate. Don’t sign up for something because the internet said you have to. There are often multiple paths to a career change and what worked for one person might not work for you. Know all of your options before making a decision. 

Read more: Top Companies That Offer Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Should you expect to take a pay cut when you change careers? Should you expect to start at the very bottom?

You have to understand that this is a very realistic possibility. Obviously that can then present challenges to your career change. Mainly, there could be financial concerns. While I so badly want you to go for what you want I also want you to be smart about it. If it is possible that you might have to take a pay cut then sit down and crunch the numbers. Is this something you can really do and still make a living? If the answer is no, don’t then automatically think you have to give up. You may need to take this career change in stages. 

Before you leave your current position you could get some experience by volunteering, working part-time or as needed in the field you are trying to get in to. A word of advice: Don’t stick your nose up at any opportunity, whether small or large. 

What if you have zero experience in the field you hope to work in? Does that change how someone should go about making the switch?

It is okay if you have zero experience in the field you hope to work in. Do not let that deter you from going for it. 

I don’t think this specifically should change how someone should go about making the switch because it depends on the situation. This circles back to the need for a plan. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Do things not always go as planned? Yes. Is that okay? Yes. As long as you have already established goals and priorities then you can let that guide this process. 

How do you get a recruiter’s attention on paper—your cover letter, a resume—if you’re applying for a job outside your current industry? What kinds of things do you look for?

Let me first take this opportunity to say please make sure your resume is clean, clear, and concise. I want to see something that I can scan quickly and get the gist of in about 30 seconds. 

If you are applying for a job outside your current industry, make sure your objective statement or professional summary reflects that. You can expound on this in your cover letter. This is also a great place to show your enthusiasm for your new venture. The resume should show everything that you have done and accomplished but also show that you are being proactive. 

When I decided that I wanted to go for a career in fitness years ago, I had no experience. The first thing that I did was start studying for a Group Fitness Instructor certification and I put that on my resume as “in progress.” Recruiters want to see that you are passionate and ready for a challenge. 

Read more: How to Build a LinkedIn Profile That Demands Attention

How much leverage does a career changer have when negotiating things like salary, benefits, and work arrangements?

The answer to this question really depends on the specific situation. If you would like to run a scenario by me please feel free to reach out on LinkedIn and send it my way. I am happy to offer advice as this can be a tricky situation.  

Read more: How to Negotiate Your Salary (For Career Newbies & Industry Vets)

Any final tips for women looking to change careers?

The last tip is to be honest with yourself and don’t ignore your gut instinct. You can get all the advice in the world from others but at the end of the day, you are the only one that can know what is truly best for you. The other thing is don’t give up easily. There might be setbacks along the way but pick yourself back up and keep going.

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By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Content Strategist, InHerSight

Emily is on staff at InHerSight where she researches and writes about data that describes women in the workplace, women's compensation and contract literacy, and women's rights in the workplace. 

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