The Ultimate Guide to Career Change

How to Change Your Career When You’re Clueless About What to Do Next

If you’re like most professionals, you don’t plan for a career change.

But you should.

You could find yourself staring an unexpected career change in the face – if your company downsizes or fires you.

Savvy professionals, however, PLAN for career change.

Maybe you see the writing on the wall.

Perhaps you’ve realized that you’re not getting ahead – and you’re not going to get ahead.

That’s what this ebook is all about.

Whether it’s unexpected or planned, you don’t have to be a victim.

Instead, you can ward off problems and get ahead by formalizing a strategy for your next career move.

Let’s dive right into the tools you need to navigate the unexpected or plan for a career change.


Table of Contents
Unexpected Career Change
#1: Your Career Vulnerability
#2: Your Career Health
#3: Your Relationships
#4: Your Opportunity Factor
#5: Your Compensation
#6: Your Advancement Potential
#7: Your Job’s History
Planned Career Change
#8: Your Paths
#9: Your LinkedIn Profile
#10: Your Connections
#11: Your Shadowing
#12: Your Network
#13: Your Timeline
#14: Your Knowledge
#15: Your Job Postings
#16: Your Career Coach
#17: Your Strategy
Conclusion: Start Today



“I’ve put three years into my company. I have some skills, but I know my skillset is lacking in some areas. I don’t want to get caught in the crossfire when my company downsizes or passed over for a promotion.”

“I need to plan a career change  –  whether it’s a lateral move to a different department or an upward one  –  to beef up my resume, increase my political capital and grow my career.”

“I didn’t see it coming. My company downsized, and it was too late to plan for a career change. I was lacking in some skills and didn’t have the right connections in my company  –  and I was let go. The reasons my name was put on the chopping block were the same factors that made it difficult to find a new job. I was under-skilled and under-connected.”

Unexpected career change


Have you experienced this?

You’re diligently working in your job, and you think you’re doing great! Out of left field, you’re laid off or the higher-ups tell you the company is discontinuing your job.

Few people plan for their career to stall. But it happens more often than you’d think.

It’s important to put energy into both unexpected and planned career changes.

Think of it like insurance for your career.

The following steps will help you evaluate your position and assess how susceptible you are to experiencing an unexpected change in career.


Want to read later? Click here to download the PDF version for FREE.


#1: Your Career Vulnerability

How young are you in your career?

How much “space” do you have to gain experience and then employ those skills to have a dramatic impact in your job?

The “younger” you are in your career, the more vulnerable you are to getting cut.

Unfortunately, that’s the way the game is played. If you have fewer skills, you’re less valuable.

On the other hand, if you’re strategic about it, you can use this time as an opportunity to pick up more skills and insulate yourself with “career insurance.”

Action Point: Where are you in your career in relation to your skillset and can you use them to be effective? What skills do you need to acquire?

#2: Your Career Health

Access your past performance reviews and look over two to three years’ worth.

What do the documents say about you and your potential to grow inside your company  –  or your potential to be cut?

If your performance reviews show a pattern of being average, needing improvement, or just “meeting expectations,” sit up and take note. You are probably very likely to be thrust into a career-change situation at any time.

Action Point: Make a plan to improve the outcome of your next performance review. What do you do in your job that makes you stand out? What can you do to be rated better than average? Where do you need to improve?

#3: Your Relationships

Your professional relationships can lead to vulnerability or insulation from unexpected career change.

In fact, growing your connections and political capital can calibrate your career.

For example:

Average performance reviews + strong relationships at the top of your company = greater chance of being kept

Great performance reviews + weak relationship network at the top of your company = vulnerable to cuts

Action Point: Relationships are like life insurance for your job. Assess your network and rate your “risk class” for being kept or cut.

#4: Your Opportunity Factor

Have you assessed WHEN you’ll be ready for your next opportunity?

  • Are you ready now?
  • Or will you be ready in three years?
  • Are you doing the role of a next-level job now? Without the title or recognition?

When opportunity strikes, you’re more likely to be kept around if you can jump right into the next role versus someone who has to be groomed for the job.

Action Point: If you’re not ready for the next step now, make a plan to gather the necessary skills and position yourself as a natural #2 to your next-level opportunity so a career change won’t be forced upon you.

#5: Your Compensation

Understand the compensation in your current role and learn how much room you have to grow.

If you’re at the higher end of the compensation range, there’s not much room to increase your income.

For example, if there is only $5,000 more compensation potential you can make and no opportunity to be promoted, you have to:

  • Accept that your career is stalled.
  • Or prepare for a career change.

If you can learn the roles, job titles, and skills required at the compensation levels beyond your current range, you’ll be able to assess how far or near you are to the highest levels.

Then, based on your skills, network and performance, you’ll be able to gauge if you’ll be considered for a new role or if you have the potential to be cut

Action Point: Understand how your compensation impacts your future opportunities.

#6: Your Advancement Potential

Beyond compensation, you need to understand your immediate supervisor or manager’s assessment of your promotion potential.

Have a discussion with that person about when your next promotion could come and your eligibility for advancement.

For example:

If you know you have average performance reviews, great relationships and middle-of-the-salary range…

BUT, there are three people who have a longer tenure, a higher salary and are next in line for the next level opportunity you may foresee…

There will be no growth in sight for you.

This is one indication that it’s time to make a career change.

Action Point: Gauge your advancement potential to know if you need to make a career change.

#7: Your Job’s History

Do some digging around to discover the roles that your predecessors have taken on after leaving your current role.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where have they been promoted to?
  • Have significant people (like your boss and your boss’ boss) come through this role?
  • What jobs do they hold now?
  • Is there respect for your department and for your role?
  • Is it an expense or an asset?

This assessment will show you if your current role is valuable to your organization and if there’s an obvious next step for you to take in your career.

Action Point: Understanding the history and performance patterns of your department and your role will help you determine your career-change vulnerability.

Planned Career Change

Planning for a career change simply means being intentional.

The section above focuses on assessments you can do to gauge your vulnerability to a career change.

If you’re being intentional about a career change, you should go back and review these steps. Then, come back and start the next section.

The next few steps focus on action steps you can take to make a career change now  –  or in the near future.

#8: Your Paths

Map out five different paths you could take from your existing job, based on what you do.

Even if there isn’t a current threat to your job, you should have a plan for making a change.

This is where many people fail because they don’t know where they COULD go. They lack an understanding of how their skills intercept with other careers. And they get stuck.

For example:

If you’re in marketing, you know products. You could shift into a role in sales, analytics, communications or product development.

Come up with your own list of career paths. Then, write down a list of skills you need to be hired in those roles. Can you develop those skills in your current job?

Action Point: Map out where you could go if you lost your job today and add the necessary skills to your repertoire.

#9: Your LinkedIn Profile

You can use your LinkedIn profile to your advantage in the career-change process.

Here are some tips:

  1. Update your profile on LinkedIn so that it reflects your most current set of skills.
  2. Connect to people in your current industry (and other industries that are a good fit).
  3. Connect with people who have the skills you need to add.
  4. Add relevant keywords to your professional summary.
  5. Become immersed in the language, readership and research of the industries and jobs you want to change to. (Join groups and forums.)
  6. Get recommendations from people who have skills you need to acquire and come from industries where you could see yourself transitioning to in the future. This will add to your credibility when it comes time for career change.

Action Point: Work your LinkedIn profile to your advantage.

#10: Your Connections

The ideal way to learn about a new role is to talk to the people who are actually doing the job.

Work your network and take people out to lunch to ask about their career, job or industry.

Understand the pace and rigor of the industry. Uncover the unexpected things people may face who make this career change.

Action Point: Have real conversations with people already in the jobs you’ve set your sights on.

#11: Your Shadowing

Get a day-in-the-life experience from someone who is doing the job. Job-shadow with a friend or colleague so you get an up-close look at what you could be doing.

Or listen in on a conference call with people who work in that department. Get an understanding of critical projects that are within the purview of someone holding this position. Have an opinion on how you would add value to that project.

When setting your sights on a future role, you should always know what a typical day looks like.

Action Point: Experience a day at the desk of someone currently working the job you’d like to have.

#12: Your Network

Network with people in the area to which you want to make a career change.

If you can establish this network before you make a move, you’ll be much more successful.

That’s because you’ll have a group of people who can vouch for you

A very common mistake people fall prey to is making a career change WITHOUT a support network. Then, they fail and don’t get the new job.

They feel defeated and get stuck.

Action Point: Connect first. Transact last.

Make sure you’ve built a good number of contacts who can serve as your references when pursuing your next set of opportunities.

#13: Your Timeline

The success of your career change depends on the timeline you create.

Build a timeline based on what’s trending and a schedule for your career to follow.

For example:

If you’ve got your head down, doing your job the way it has always been done, but meanwhile, the industry is becoming more digital  –  requiring a new set of skills  –  you could be in trouble if you’re not technical nor in a tech-savvy environment.

Spend some time developing the skills you need to be a part of the future growth of your industry or role so you’re seen as “fresh” talent and ready to transition into a new career with ease.

Action Point: Assess the skills that you need based on where your industry is going.

#14: Your Knowledge

Stay abreast of what’s going on in the industry by reading.

Challenge yourself to read 50 research articles about the job or role you’re targeting to give yourself a solid understanding of what’s happening, where you fit in, and what you can bring to the table.

In general, professionals don’t do enough research, putting themselves at a disadvantage.

But if you can come into the middle of an organization and help correct it or move it along, you’ll be seen as highly valuable.

Action Point: Read 50 articles to get up-to-speed on the industry you are looking to transition to.

#15: Your Job Postings

Dive into online job postings and read career summaries for the role you want. Understand how companies are talking about what they need and how your resume or career profile can match that  –  or where you need to fill in the gaps.

Action Point: Pick out keywords in employment summaries and align your resume accordingly.

#16: Your Career Coach

Be deliberate about getting a career coach  –  someone you can talk to about the steps on this list.

A coach can also play a vital role in helping you see things in yourself that are lacking and where your strengths lie.

The coach can also provide valuable feedback about your resume, too and help you become more efficient with your efforts.

Action Point: Get a career coach and use him or her to help you develop your career-transition plan.

#17: Your Strategy

This is where all your efforts to intentionally plan a career change come together.

Write out your strategy for making a career change. Include factors like:

  • Where your skills are in demand.
  • How long it will take.
  • Your strengths.
  • Your weaknesses.
  • Threats to advancement.
  • Skills to acquire.
  • How you’ll optimize your network.

Every so often, revisit the entire strategy and make adjustments if necessary.

Action Point: Create a career change strategy that gives you a plan.

Start Your Career Change Today

Be intentional about a career change before it takes control of you.

Create a strategy and review it with your coach. Start looking at available jobs in the industry you’re targeting. Assess your viability as a good candidate  –  repeatedly.

Shout It From The Mountaintops

Seek out the highest-ranking individuals you know or are connected to in this new industry and let them know that you’re looking.

This is a mistake professionals frequently make.

Career change can happen simply because you let someone know that you’re looking for a new role.

Have An “Ask”

When you reach out to people to let them know you’re looking, be specific about how they can help you.

Often, job-seekers don’t know what to ask for. So before you reach out, think ahead to what your “ask” will be.

You could make a request:

  • For an introduction to a hiring manager within their company.
  • For a connection to learn more about the company.
  • To be included on a conference call with people in the industry (so you can learn from it).
  • To be notified when an opportunity opens up in the department.
  • For an informational interview with HR.

With a strategy in place and a commitment to do the work of intentional career change, your success trajectory is guaranteed.

Good luck!

Take the next step to a better career. Hire Kaplan as your career coach!