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How to Switch Careers Without Experience

If you feel unfulfilled or unsatisfied in your current position, it could be worth exploring the possibility of a career change. Making a career change can be extremely rewarding, but it can also feel daunting—especially if you don’t actually have any experience in the career you are considering transitioning into.

The good news is that although it’s certainly easier to break into a new industry or field if you’ve already got experience, inexperience doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. If your dream is to start a new career, there are plenty of ways that you can do so even if you don’t yet have a background in your desired field. The key requirements that you’ll need for success are determination, drive, and courage to try something new.

Below, we take a look at four strategies that you can use to make a career change even when you don’t have relevant experience.


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Tips for Changing Careers With No Experience

1. Try to gain experience before making your move.

While you may not currently have experience that directly aligns to the career you aspire to pursue, that doesn’t mean you can’t gain some experience before you actually make your move so as to set yourself up for success. In fact, there are many ways that you can potentially gain some experience before you leave your current role.

On-The-Job In Your Current Role

Depending on your role and your employer, you may be able to gain experience without leaving your current role. Look for tasks and projects related to the type of work that you would like to transition into, and ask if you can take them on. Even if you are not leading a project, participating can be a great way of gaining experience and developing your skills.

For example, if you work in business administration within your organization but are interested in becoming a project manager, the next time a project emerges without a clear leader, volunteer to take on some of the work.

Volunteering

If your organization doesn’t allow you to gain experience on the job, consider finding volunteer opportunities outside of working hours. This can be a particularly effective path if you are starting from scratch in a particular skill. You may even find that volunteering opens doors for shadowing or mentorship from other individuals who can help you improve.

In Your Personal Time

If you are passionate about the field that you would eventually like to transition into, you can gain experience on your own in your personal time by spearheading your own projects. In fact, in many careers (such as computer science) this is how novices begin to develop their skills and build a portfolio of projects that employers will eventually value.

2. Leverage your network.

It has been said that an individual’s professional network is among the most powerful tools that they have at their disposal. While that may sound a bit dramatic, the sentiment is true: Your professional network can open doors and make it much easier to get your foot in the door with a potential employer, even if you don’t have the level of experience that they would typically look for.

If you’re interested in making a career change, take a look at your network and look for connections that you have in the industry or company you’re interested in. By taking the time to nurture those relationships—staying connected, writing recommendations, offering your congratulations at their achievements—you are developing a valuable resource.

Those individuals can let you know about job openings before they are made public, put in a good word for you, and speak to your work ethic and accomplishments in a way that might make a hiring manager care less about your lack of experience.

3. Let the experience you do have speak to your abilities.

Even if you don’t have direct experience in the line of work that you are interested in pursuing, you may be able to make up for some of the difference by positioning your existing experience as an asset. This is largely about messaging your experience so that it comes across as a positive even if it doesn’t directly apply to the career you’re interested in.

For example, if you are interested in a career in project management but have never actually led a project, you might be able to demonstrate your capabilities by speaking to aspects of your current role that carry over in some way to project management. If you’ve ever needed to manage a schedule, establish and manage a budget, or manage the expectations of multiple stakeholders, congratulations—you’ve practiced aspects of project management without even realizing it.

You may also want to evaluate the soft skills required for various job postings and communicate those in your application. For example, many job postings list interpersonal skills as a preferred qualification. If you have had an opportunity to effectively engage in interpersonal communication in your current position, leverage your interpersonal abilities as a relevant skill.

With this in mind, look at the role that you are interested in moving into, and do your best to distill it down into a handful of skills. Then, look at your current role and the skills that you’ve developed fulfilling your duties. Lean into any of those skills which carry over between the two.

4. Invest in education.

Depending on the specific career that you are coming from and the career that you are moving into, you may find that you will need to invest in some sort of education in order to make a career change.

Even if a degree or certification isn’t a “requirement,” completing some form of education or training that aligns with your desired career can be an excellent way of gaining the experience that you lack. Your coursework, projects that you complete over the course of your education, independent research, and internship or co-op opportunities are all examples of this in action.

While earning a degree can feel daunting to many, especially those who have been out of the classroom for some time, the good news is that there are many programs specifically designed for individuals who are changing careers.

These degree programs are designed in such a way as to rapidly bring the student up to speed before then diving deep in the subject matter, and they can be an extremely effective option. At Northeastern, for example, the Align programs (Align Master’s in Data Science and Align Master of Science in Computer Science) are two such examples that are ideal for learners coming from non-technical backgrounds.

A Challenge Worth Pursuing

While switching careers without experience can be a challenge, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible or that you shouldn’t try to pursue it. There are many potential ways that you can gain the experience employers are looking for.

The most important steps are to understand your current strengths and weaknesses, and to then take the appropriate steps to fill in those gaps. For some individuals pursuing some careers, leveraging their professional network might be enough to get their foot in the door in an industry. For others, gaining experience through volunteering or on the job in their current role might be the best path forward. And for others yet, earning a degree might be the right move.