Bear Down Network

Steps to Making a Successful Career Shift


Student on campus holding laptop

Making a career shift is scary and can carry a lot of emotions along with the logistical challenges. I recently left an industry and department I had envisioned myself being in for the rest of my working life. Moving from a career in college athletics at the department I where I completed as an athlete was full of ups and downs.

However, almost eight months after accepting my new role working in alumni engagement and career development, I am using my recent experience with the process to help others navigate and manage their own career shifts. Here are some of the tips and lessons I learned from the experience.


1. Explore what sparks this career shift. We all have bad days, and there is always going to be something or someone we don’t quite jive with in the workplace. However, if we can look past the current emotions and take a deep dive into why we are feeling a consistent need to make the change, the more confident we can be in taking the next steps.

• Why do I want to do this?

• What values and professional needs are and are not being met in my current role?

• What are pros and cons of making the shift?

• How does this timing compare to the other demands/responsibilities I currently have in my life?

• Do I need a new job or a new career?

2. Where do your talents and values meet? Sometimes it is easier to articulate what you don’t want vs. what you do want. For us to make a focused and successful shift, we need to know how we can be successful in a new role. While following your passion is important, there is truth to Aristotle’s 2,500 year old career advice — "Where the needs of world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation."

• What does an ideal job look like for me considering my values, skills and passions?

• What are the deal makers and deal breakers in a new job/career?

• How do my current skills and experiences transfer to new roles?

3. Close the skill gap. As you explore possible roles, what are the holes in your resume? Reading through job descriptions and conducting informational interviews will help you uncover the specific skills and experiences needed to be an attractive candidate in the new career. Your exploration should include necessary hard and soft skills for the career as well as the necessary lifestyle changes.

• Where can you acquire the additional skills? What are the financial costs and time commitments necessary?

• How will the career impact my family and personal relationships?

• Are the sacrifices needed to close the skills gap worth pursuing this career?

4. Make a detailed plan. Putting pen to paper and writing out what you feel is the path of action might not make it come true but it will help you feel more in control of the situation. In your plan, focus on what you can control and set a schedule and timeline to the important milestones in this process.

• What are the steps needed to explore and apply for jobs?

• How do you want to end and tie up loose ends at your current job?

• What does your family and personal life need as your transition to a new role?

5. Consult those in your cabinet. I am a huge advocate for mentors and building a network of support around you. I had a conversation with a highly successful entrepreneur one day and his biggest piece of advice to me was to build a cabinet of people for all major decisions of your life: finances, marriage/family, career, education, etc. Then, once you identify your cabinet, use it! Reach out and maintain your relationships with these key people in your life. In times of a career shift, you need your entire cabinet engaged and advising you along the process.

• What professional advice do they have for a career transition?

• Given their knowledge of you, what do they feel like you need in the new career?

• How can their experience help you progress through the interview and negotiation stages?

As an athlete, I learned many life lessons but by far one of the most important to me was that growth takes time and consistent effort. There must also be an element of stress and that stimulates the need to grow and meet the new demand. In my case, I knew it was time for me to grow as a professional, and I understood the growth process. Was it easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes!

Bear Down, Wildcats, and know that I am here to help you in the process. Check out the Alumni Career Lab for resources and services to keep you progressing to your next goal.