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Changing Careers and Online Learning

Online programs are popular with those looking to make a switch from their current field of work to a new one. There are many reasons, both personal and professional, that may have you thinking about changing careers. It may be a matter of the economy or new directions in your current field. You may have the opportunity to consider moving into work related to a personal interest or have a calling to follow your passion. Changing jobs is not unusual. In fact, a recent press release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cited study findings that Baby Boomers (born 1957 to 1964) held an average of 11 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 44. Defining and measuring career changes is more difficult, but many people do experience multiple careers during their working years. 

Online education options may be available to help you reach your next job or new career goals. According to a 2010 report from the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), Expanding Career Readiness Through Online Learning, "online learning is one strategy that is increasingly being employed to ensure students have access to high-quality career and technical education programs and the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century workplace." There are a lot of resources available for those contemplating a career change. What do you need to consider before making the move?

Research Your Career Choices

The BLS publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) on an annual basis. This site provides detailed information about specific jobs and career fields, including the training and education required and expectations for employment in terms of the number of positions available. CareerOneStop tracks the Top 50 Fastest-Growing Occupations from the OOH projections for 2008-2018. This list includes a range of job titles including several in the medical and computer technology sectors.

Do you already have a career in mind? Your desired field may or may not be projected for growth. If it's not, that doesn’t automatically mean you shouldn't pursue the field, but I do encourage you to continue your research. You should find out how competitive you will be for available positions in terms of both education and experience. If you are ready for a change, but not sure what career to pursue, explore the resources provided in My Next Move to find out more about how your existing skills align with different career fields.

Questions to consider as you conduct some initial research to guide your career change:

  • What is your career goal? Having a specific target in mind guides your research and decisions as you move forward. Putting this in writing can be a helpful first step.
  • What are your priorities? Your career change will be shaped by your unique set of priorities. What are your needs related to location, salary, and type of work?
  • What will your new career require for entry? Use the OOH and other resources, including your professional network, to find out what you will need to do to gain entry to the new field in terms of education, training, and experience.
  • Do you need additional education or training? Additional courses or degree programs may be required. Research opportunities in your local area and online. Many students choose online options for conveniences in scheduling and pacing. Find out more about choosing an online program that is right for you. 
  • Do you have related experience? Your decision to change careers may be motivated by some experience you've already had in the new field. What kind of experience will employers expect you to have as a new applicant? Seek out opportunities to gain experience – consider internships and volunteer opportunities to get you started.
  • How long will it take to make a career change? If your research finds that you will need to complete education and training or experience before you can be hired in your new career field, how long will it take to complete these requirements? Can you continue to work in your current field while preparing for the next one? Making a career change can take time. Take a close look at your calendar and finances and develop a realistic and appropriate plan.

Making a Successful Career Change

Changing careers requires some planning and preparation on your part in addition to the research described above. Take a closer look at this list of steps you can take to make sure the transition is as smooth and successful as possible.

  • Assess your current skills: There are formal and informal techniques for skill assessment and you can find several tools to help you with this already online. Consider how your current skills might transfer to your new career field. Where are the gaps? What skills will you need to learn before making the switch, to be competitive in the new job market?
  • Revisit your resume: Take the time not only to update your existing resume if you haven't in a while, but also to rework it for a new group of employers. A career change resume should highlight your strengths as they relate to the new field and focus on transferable skills. Consider all of your related experience – work, volunteer, etc.
  • Find ways to gain practical experience: Internships or other practical work experiences may be a part of your online curriculum. If not, consider finding these experiences on your own. These provide exposure to the work environment in your new field, and allow for professional networking. This experience should also be added to your resume and will help potential employers to assess your fit with their needs.
  • Stay current with employment trends: Changes in the economy can lead to changes in overall employment trends. Find a few websites or other publications that provide up-to-date information. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great source of information. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce publishes related information through the Institute for a Competitive Workforce. You may also want to connect with professional organizations in your new field for the latest trends and news about employment opportunities.
  • Find support: Discuss your ideas and plans with friends, family members and your professional network. Let these individuals know what you are trying to accomplish and build a support network that can provide encouragement and advice.
  • Gather additional resources: In addition to the sites I've provided in this post you'll find many more available online. Different services will take different approaches. Find the sites that make sense to you, sign up for newsletters, and explore discussion forums.
  • Consider career counseling: If you are already in an online program, contact your career center for more information about the services provided. Look for the opportunities to meet with a career counselor and get advice on resume writing, as well as potential placement assistance. If you are not already in a formal education program, you may want to investigate private career coaches in your area. Look for professionals with experience and training in counseling and career development such as the National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Global Career Development Facilitator (GDCF) certifications.

No matter what your reason may be, making a career change will involve a lot of decisions. Take the time to research and prepare yourself for the change before making the leap. This time will be well spent as you engage in the activities that lead to your successful career change!