After devoting years to a career, it may be difficult for people to admit that they need a change. They may feel like they're obligated to continue the type of work they've been doing and may even think they're a failure for wanting to try something new. However, that is far from the case. In fact, changing careers is fairly common! According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people on average work about ten jobs during the course of their lives.
Making a career change is not necessarily easy, but it doesn't have to be a completely daunting experience. This page covers useful information for those who are thinking about taking the plunge to becoming a career changer — including tips on how to dive into a new career and facts on how online schools can help people get the training they need to pursue a new field.
What is Career Changing?
A career change, also known as a career transition, is the process of moving into a position that comes with a major change in job duties. In some cases, people may change careers while staying at their current company or in their current industry. However, other career changes involve moving into an entirely new field — in some cases, a field so far removed from one's existing skillset that it is important to go back to school in order to earn skills and knowledge that are relevant to this new field.
Why Do People Change Careers?
Although it is not a good idea for workers to stay in a career only because they have already invested time and money into it, the decision to change careers is a very personal one that should not be taken lightly. The reasons people change careers are as diverse as workers themselves. However, there are some common reasons why people consider making this huge transformation in their lives. The following are some of those reasons:
- A change in values. People change and grow over the years, and some of those changes may impact the way they feel about the kind of work they're doing. Whether they now want to dedicate their time to helping others or pursuing more creative kinds of work, people often change careers because of a shift in the things that are important to them.
- The need for new challenges. People may begin to feel stagnant in their jobs if they don't have many opportunities to challenge themselves. For some people, another job in the same field is a good solution to this problem, but for others, a whole new career path — with all of the new perspectives and challenges that come with it — may be the best way to get out of a rut.
- The desire to pursue a passion. Some people don't pursue their passions because they don't think they can make a living doing the things they love. They settle for a different job that is more reliable or makes more money instead. As years pass, however, things can change. New technology may have made that passion more practical, or a person may refinance their house and therefore reduce their monthly costs. Such changes can help a person decide to pursue their passion and find a way to turn it into a full-time job.
- Shifts in an industry. In some cases, shifts in an industry may make it necessary for workers to change careers. When people see that jobs are drying up and their careers are no longer sustainable, they often look for opportunities elsewhere and put their skills to work in a new industry.
- Unhappiness. Some workers simply are not happy with what they're doing for various reasons. When this happens, going to another company is not always enough to satisfy workers, and a change of pace may end up being what they need to find job satisfaction.
Should I Go Back to School?
Just as with any other job candidate, people who want to change careers are expected to bring certain skills to the table in order to earn a position. In some cases, the best way to acquire these skills is to go back to school to earn a certification or an entire degree.
When weighing whether or not returning to the classroom is the right choice, people should do their homework by looking at job postings related to the career they're interested in to find out what employers are looking for. If you already have skills that are transferable, you may not need to go back to school. However, if you see multiple job postings requiring skills that you haven't been able to build in your current profession, then education may be necessary to rebuild your professional toolbox.
Can an Online College Help You Change Careers?
For many career changers, online colleges are the answer to getting the education they need to begin the next chapter of their professional lives. Online colleges allow students to complete their degree programs even as they continue to work full-time jobs and handle personal responsibilities — like raising a family or taking care of aging parents — because they can enroll in programs that allow them to do coursework at their own pace.
There are hundreds of different online programs in different fields, many with the option to add a specialization or concentration that can help students narrow in on the right career path for them. Taking a degree program online does not change or reduce the degree you earn upon completion, and in most cases, online programs are taught by the same instructors as on-campus programs. As long as you are enrolled at an accredited online college for your degree program, you should be able to feel as confident about the quality of your online program as you would in an on-campus program.
Does Accreditation Matter when Going Back to School?
All that being said, it is crucial for career changers to enroll in an accredited online college if they decide to go back to school — possibly even more important than it is for an on-campus program. No matter what the field, accreditation is a testament that students at that school are being taught the skills that employers in their field expect workers to have.
Some employers may be less likely to hire candidates who did not graduate from an accredited school, as they cannot be sure whether or not the education at an unaccredited school was actually worthwhile. In addition, if professionals are expected to earn licenses or certifications in order to obtain employment, attending an accredited school can be a requirement for being eligible to sit for the credentialing examinations.
How to Choose a New Career
Just because people are transitioning to a second career doesn't mean they shouldn't put as much thought into their new path as they did their first. The following tips can help people considering a new career determine what their next move should be if they're unsure of what they want to do.
- Do a work assessment. Before people can make a decision about where they want to go in their next career, they should understand why they don't want to be in their current one. Whether they want to command higher salaries, have access to more advancement opportunities or enjoy more flexible hours for increased work-life balance, people have to decide what it is about their current career they don't like so they can make an informed decision on one they will.
- Brainstorm the possibilities. Brainstorming can help people explore the possibilities and make a decision about what ideas they want to look into further. During this process, they should write a list of all the careers they would find interesting for whatever reason. This should be done in a nonjudgmental way in order to allow people to creatively think about the activities they enjoy doing, or have an interest in, so they can narrow down their choices.
- Research options. Once people get an idea of what careers may be a good fit for them, it's time to do research about the reality of whether or not they are realistic choices. Getting information about the salaries professionals make, the duties that are expected in different jobs, the educational requirements to enter the field and the projected job growth of the field can help workers get a realistic picture of which careers are a good fit.
- Get help. When people have trouble deciding which direction to take, they may be able to get sound advice from career coaches. These professionals can guide career changers by giving them information about different careers and how these jobs would fit with their personality, goals and needs.
- Take a test drive. Although workers don't have unlimited time to take a test drive with different careers, there are still things they can do to dive deeper into the fields that interest them. By volunteering, conducting informational interviews, participating in job shadowing or taking an introductory class, people can get a first-hand look at what a career is like. Alternately, working a part-time position or doing freelance work can give people the opportunity to try on a career as they earn money for their time.
Fields You Can Study Online
Not only is it important for career changers to decide whether or not they need to go back to school, it's also important for them to consider what kind of program they should enroll in. Some degree programs are conducted completely online, while others require both online and on-campus work in order to successfully complete the program.
For example, people who want to pursue healthcare- or teaching-related careers — such as nursing, medical assisting, school teaching or special education jobs — are usually required to enroll in hybrid programs because they have to receive hands-on training in addition to their online coursework. That being said, some programs may allow students to satisfy their hands-on training requirements at official facilities closer to home. For example, a student who lives in Arizona but goes to school in California may be able to do their student teaching at a local school in Arizona, rather than being forced to travel to California.
On the other hand, degree programs in the business, liberal arts or information technology fields — such as marketing, library science or computer programming — can generally be completed entirely online, depending on what school students attend. The information for these subjects and others like them is typically more conducive to being delivered online, and hands-on training is not as necessary, making it easier to take classes off-campus.
Tips for Career Changing
In addition to continuing their education, there are several other things that can help people have a successful career transition. Here are some tips that might be able to help make the process easier.
- Have realistic expectations. People begin their initial career at the entry-level and work their way up. Despite how much experience they have in their first career, workers should keep in mind that they're very unlikely to be starting their new career at the top.
- Make connections. Networking is a great way for people to fully immerse themselves in their new career and get helpful information from the people who are established in the field. As a result, it's helpful for career changers to participate in in-person and online networking activities to make these important connections.
- Draw on existing skills. Just because career changers are learning new skills doesn't mean they have to leave the abilities they gained in their previous career behind. People who embark on a new career have a wealth of skills to bring to the table, so it's important to use them. Consider how you might be able to use what you've learned from your original job in your new field. Your unique perspective might be able to catch the interest of a prospective employer who's looking for creative ways to surpass their competition!
Next Steps for Career Changers
To move forward with their career change, workers should understand what new opportunities are out there waiting for them. To find out more about the possibilities, log on to our state pages, which include information about professions around the country in the "Best Careers" section at the bottom of the page.
Alternately, for more information about online degree programs — including how they can be taken online and what kinds of careers they might be able to lead to — visit our program pages, which provide a look at various possible fields of study.