How To Successfully Pull Off A Dramatic Career Switch During COVID-19

Your skills may be more transferable than you think.
Are you considering a completely new kind of career right now because of COVID-19? You're not alone.
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images
Are you considering a completely new kind of career right now because of COVID-19? You're not alone.

A lot of workers have been job hunting in entirely new directions after the coronavirus pandemic upended their lives and careers.

In fact, 63% of workers who lost jobs because of COVID-19 have changed industries, according to a Harris Poll survey of more than 1,970 Americans conducted in October. The top reasons people gave for making a career switch were being laid off or fearing a layoff, needing more money, and feeling like there was no room for growth in their field.

If these reasons resonate with you, it’s never too late to launch a new career ― but landing on the other side of the transition can be easier with some preparation and research.

Here’s what you can start doing now while you prepare to make the leap:

1. Identify which of your skills can transfer over to your new field.

If you’re sitting at your desk right now longing for change, know that you may have more tools than you think to get the career you want.

First, identify which of your core functions can carry over into your new field.

Marketing, general management, finance, consulting, sales — that is the function that’s going to carry through, whether you’re in tech or biotech or manufacturing,” said Kristen Fitzpatrick, the managing director of alumni, career and professional development at Harvard Business School.

“You are looking for professional, academic and technical skills that can be easily translated to that other industry,” Jessica Hernandez, a career development coach, told HuffPost.

She gave the example of someone switching from the hospitality industry to logistics. “If you’re in hospitality and you had to work with suppliers and vendors and plan shipments or anything like that ― even though it was under that hospitality industry, those things are still transferable to new industries,” Hernandez said.

If you don’t have any of these transferable skills, Hernandez recommends educating yourself and taking online courses in the skills you need to get certifications that you can put on your résumé.

You should also read up on the basic technical skills and concepts you’ll need to have to survive in your new field, Fitzpatrick added.

“If you’re going into finance, you should be able to read a 10-K [filing], you should be able to understand how the stock market works. There are basics in every industry that you should know, and then you’re able to create a more compelling story for why you are worth a little bit of a risk as a career-switcher,” she said.

2. Rewrite your résumé to highlight how you’re making career moves in that new direction.

View your résumé as an explanation of where you want to go in your career, not a summary of what you have previously done.

If you are making a radical pivot that is not reflected in your formal education, career experts advise putting your self-studies, such as LinkedIn learning courses and digital bootcamps you have taken, at the top of your résumé. That way, a recruiter skimming the page can easily understand your reasons for a career leap and how you’re working toward it.

“If experience isn’t super solid for whatever reason, but then [applicants] are showing that they’ve gone to hackathons on the weekends ... or things on their own, that shows determination, that shows focus, it’s self-motivation, and those kind of candidates are definitely highlighted in my experience,” Alison Daley, the founder of a tech recruiting and training platform called Recruiting Innovation, previously told HuffPost. “Moxie and determination sure compensate for certain education pedigrees.”

Ask someone who has no idea what you do to look at your résumé so they can help you see what isn’t clear and what industry vernacular from your old career you may still be using, Fitzpatrick said.

“The amount of abbreviation and jargon I see when it’s just how you’ve always talked for years ― you forget that other people don’t know,” she said.

3. Network with people whose careers you want.

To expand your network, reach out to people who have the type of jobs you want and ask them for informational interviews.

“Find out what made them so successful, what they did before they got to the position or industry that they were in,” Hernandez said.

She suggests framing your request with language like, “Hey, I saw that you work for this company. I really admire your career path. I would like to transition into that industry one day. I was just wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing one or two steps that helped you get to where you are.”

It’s important not to make this transactional and ask them for a job, which may turn people off in a first encounter. Rather, you’re asking them for information and actionable advice. Once you have a lot of these conversations, you’ll start to notice patterns in these career paths, and in the meantime, you’ll build relationships that could eventually lead to a referral, Hernandez said.

4. Figure out your level of risk and budget the money you need during the transition.

“f I was someone who was more risk-averse, I would probably take eight months before I leave my job to prepare.”

- Ramona Ortega, founder of My Money My Future

“You don’t want the stress of money coming up as you transition. The transition is already hard enough,” said Ramona Ortega, founder of the personal finance platform My Money My Future. When you’re making a big career switch, you need to have “a pot of money that is going to hold you over, whether you’re just starting a new job [and] it’s going to be another three to four weeks before you actually get paid, or you’re looking for a job,” which can take an indefinite amount of time, she said.

Before you switch, Ortega recommends looking at your bills holistically, consolidating accounts so you can see a full picture of where your money is going and coming from, and saving enough to cover fixed costs such as rent, mortgage, or car payments for three to six months. If you’re taking money out of a 401(k), consider timing that action to when you are making less money and in a lower tax bracket, she said.

If you’re switching from full-time employment to not knowing when your paycheck will be coming, Ortega suggests getting a side gig to ease that transition.

“This could be something really random,” she said. “You want income coming in, especially if you’re leaving a job that you’ve been with for 10 years and you’re used to having that every-two-weeks-a check-is-coming-in [situation]. It’s a very hard transition for a lot of people,” she said.

Exactly how much money you will need for your move depends on your comfort with risk. Ortega said some people fall into the “Screw it, I’m leaving” camp, while others who are risk-averse may need a longer period of time to plan and build a bigger emergency fund.

“If I was someone who was more risk-averse, I would probably take eight months before I leave my job to prepare,” she said. “I would make sure I had my spending down ... have a very good sense of what are my job prospects, have interviews lined up. It requires more planning.”

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