How To Change Jobs: Switch Roles with Confidence and Ease

How To Change Jobs: Switch Roles with Confidence and Ease
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You’ll likely have many jobs and employers throughout your career, and that's OK. While your parents or grandparents may have worked at the same company for 15, 20, or even 30 years, a lengthy single-employer relationship is less common today. Changing jobs is often a great way to get a pay increase, a higher title, or experience in a different industry. Moving between companies after just a few years used to have a negative stigma, but not anymore.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) polled U.S. wage and salary workers and found the median time for how long someone had been at their job was 4.1 years. This number went down to 2.8 years for people aged 25-34.

Thanks to the mainstream adoption of remote working, you're no longer limited to jobs within commuting distance or in places you’d be willing to relocate to. You can work from home for a company halfway across the world if you want to. Whether you choose to work as a freelancer or a full-time employee, you have more options than ever before.

You may decide it's time to find a new job if you're unhappy in your current position, feeling burned out, overwhelmed, bored, or have reached the career development limit your current company can offer. If you quit your job without a plan, you risk being more stressed, both emotionally and financially. Instead, make changing jobs a systematic process and switch roles feeling confident.

When you’re ready, here are the steps you can take to change jobs:

Assess your career goals and motivations

Before taking any action, dive deep and reflect on why you want to make a job change. Consider whether you're unhappy with your role specifically, the industry you're in, or the company you work for. Think about what your ideal position would be.

Imagine your dream job from the type of company, location (remote or in-office), to the daily responsibilities–then see how far off your current job is. Consider whether you can do anything to make your current job look more like this right now instead of giving up on it.

A job change is different from a career change. If you want to change jobs, you just want a different role. You could apply for a similar position at another company or move laterally from where you are now. A new career change, on the other hand, is when you want to switch professions altogether. This may mean going back to school or learning new skills.

The idea of a job may seem great until you're working at it and realize you're not enjoying what you do. A full-time job is typically eight hours a day, five days a week, which is a long time to be unhappy or unfulfilled. A different company may have a work culture and style that suits you better, or another role could have responsibilities that you find more engaging.

Focus on career development

If your goal is straightforward, like "make more money" or "get a promotion," you may be able to stay at your current company and work on advancing your career. Try talking to your manager about any career development opportunities the company offers.

Figure out what your long- and short-term career goals are. They could be anything from becoming a digital nomad to getting a raise. Once you’ve outlined your goals, you can determine what to start working on at your current job and what you want to look for in a future position and company. Having your goals written out is the first step in creating an actionable career development plan to make it happen.

Changing jobs is a process. You want to avoid quitting your job before you have another one lined up unless you have the savings to support yourself and your family (if needed). Unemployment can lead to stress, especially in economic uncertainty when the job market is competitive. Finding a new job, especially one that’s a great fit, can take weeks or even months.

Do a skills audit on yourself and see where the gaps are. Figure out what skills you can work on to make yourself a more competitive candidate. You can take online courses to learn the skills needed for this next position in your free time. Invest in your personal development and get prepared with these tools.

Research potential roles and industries

The first step in actually changing jobs is researching and exploring the job market. See what opportunities are available and figure out exactly what you're looking for. Instead of applying to anything and everything, you can tailor your resume and cover letter to a shorter list of jobs you're highly interested in.

While the job title may be the same between companies and industries, day-to-day responsibilities can vary greatly. The types of projects you work on as an account manager or web developer at one company may be different from what you’d work on at another. Work culture, benefits, flexibility, and even pay can depend on the company.

Explore different industries

Determine which industries you find the most interesting and best aligned with your career goals. You may want to stay where you are or use your skill set for something completely new.

When researching industries, pay attention to trends like generative AI (artificial intelligence) or economic conditions that could potentially cause changes or disruptions. Look at the job market outlook for the country you're working in, like the BLS, to check the predicted growth in the industry and your specific desired position.

You can get involved with others in your industry and network to find job opportunities. Many industries and niches have professional groups and associations that you can become a member of. Join the community and take advantage of local or virtual meetups. You may even learn of new openings before the company posts them and get a referral.  

Consider your personal values and career goals

The jobs you apply for should help you with your career path and be in alignment with your interests and values. You want your next job to check all of the critical boxes so you're happy with your salary and the work that you do.

Make a list of what's important to you in a job so you have an idea of what to look for in a company:

  • Company values
  • Interesting projects
  • Internal growth opportunities
  • Employee development programs
  • Work environment
  • Company culture
  • Specific benefits like PTO (paid time off) and parental leave
  • Travel opportunities
  • Work-from-home policy
  • Minimum salary requirements
  • Schedule flexibility and working hours

Try freelancing

If you need more flexibility in your day, you can try freelancing. As an independent professional, you're self-employed and work directly with clients, offering your services and negotiating contracts. You may do one-off projects or have repeat clients that you work with each week. When you’re considering a job change, you can begin by freelancing in your spare time to see if you enjoy it. Then start building your reputation and the demand for your services and transition into a full-time freelancer.

Tip: If you know that you want to be a full-time employee eventually, you can check for contract-to-hire jobs on Upwork. These clients are open to hiring freelancers full time if it's the right fit.  

Prepare your job search toolkit

Finding the right jobs to apply to is a process. You'll need to set aside time each day or week to browse job boards and pick out the jobs you want to send an application for. The time of the year may affect jump hunting. Typically companies ramp up hiring at the beginning of the year and quarter when they have fresher budgets compared to the end of quarters and fiscal years when budget cuts are more common and hiring may be frozen.  

You may know the types of positions you want based on the industry or have specific companies you have job alerts for. When you see a job that you want to apply for, you want to make sure you're ready. Prepare your job search toolkit with your resume and cover letter, and create a game plan for finding new positions that interest you.

Update your resume and LinkedIn profile

When creating your changing jobs checklist, updating your resume and LinkedIn profiles should be toward the top. They need to have your latest experiences including any freelance work, certificates, awards, or skills that you've developed since your last job.

You'll need an updated resume to apply for a job online. This is how both applicant tracking systems (ATS) and recruiters initially determine if you have the skills and experience needed for a job. Follow these tips for making your resume stand out.

Many companies use ATS to scan resumes for keywords as an initial first step. When you apply for a specific job, be sure to customize your resume to include the relevant keywords to show that you’re an appropriate fit. The ATS looks for matches and gives the recruiter or hiring manager a short list of the best candidates.

You can use an AI tool like Jobscan to compare your resume with the job description instantly. It will score your resume and get recommendations to improve it so you can be a more competitive applicant and make it past the ATS stage. Always be honest in your resume; it should accurately reflect your skills. Try not to get too carried away with keyword stuffing and using AI recommendations.

Make a portfolio

Potential employers often want to see samples of your work. A portfolio with your best projects makes it easy for employers (or clients if you're freelancing) to evaluate your skills and experience.

Many jobs in the creative field require a portfolio of samples in the application or during the interview process. Even in technical positions, you may need to showcase the past projects you're most proud of and explain the results.

Having a website for your portfolio makes it easier to share on applications and with hiring managers. You can send a link that they can open and see many different samples at once rather than uploading each sample individually. A website also gives you the space to add any background information or other context as descriptions.

You can use a drag-and-drop website builder like Squarespace or Wix to build your own portfolio website. If you need more help, you can shop Project Catalog and find freelancers in your budget that specialize in creating personal websites.

Tip: If you want to start freelancing on Upwork, create a profile highlighting your skills and experience and add your best work samples to your portfolio.

Craft a compelling cover letter

A cover letter explains who you are, what you're looking for, and why you're the best person for the job. While you can use a template, you want to personalize your cover letter for each job you apply to. Once you pass the ATS screening (if the company has one), the recruiter or hiring manager will likely read it. Make sure to put specific details about the job posting and your relevant experience and interest in the company.

Your cover letter should be less than a page long. Try aiming for around 400 words. Bullet points can help break up blocks of text and make your cover letter easier to scan. The cover letter is just a short overview to pique the recruiter or hiring manager's interest. They can dive deeper during the job interview.

When writing a cover letter, you want to start by thanking the reader for their time and expressing interest in the specific position. Next, you can move on to explaining why you're the best person for the role. Rather than just explaining why you want the job, let the recruiter or hiring manager know what you bring to the table. Illustrate the value you’d add to their business with your skills.

Explore using generative AI tools to help write your cover letter. An AI tool can write the base cover letter, and then you can add your own touch as if using a template. This can help you save time when applying for different types of positions.

Tip: You can use these cover letter examples for inspiration and then customize them based on the job you're applying to.

Gather strong professional references

As you move along in the job process, you may need to give potential employers professional and character references. These are people who know you professionally or personally and can attest to your skills and character. Job references are more common in some industries than others, but it’s always a good idea to have a few people in mind who have agreed to be a reference. Make sure you keep the list current.

Typically you want to wait until the recruiter or hiring manager asks for references–this is often after a few interviews as you get closer to an offer. Some jobs, especially those in government or education, may ask for references when you send in your application.

When you put down references, you'll need their contact information. Someone from the company you're applying to may call them, asking questions about you, ranging from your skills and abilities to what you’re like personally.

When you give a potential employer a reference’s contact information, you can give them a heads-up and let them know someone may be reaching out to them. It doesn't hurt to refresh their memory on your skills, past position, projects you worked on together, etc., particularly if it's not someone you’re in regular contact with.

You want to avoid friends or family as references. Unless specified, most references are professional references. Choose people you've worked with in a work setting who seem unbiased. Current coworkers or managers may not be an option, as calls for information will let them know you're considering leaving. If you’re just starting your career, you can use a professor, academic advisor, or supervisor where you volunteered.

Develop a job search strategy

When it's time to start looking for new positions to apply to, you want to have a job search strategy. Companies often use job boards like LinkedIn, Indeed, or Monster to post their open positions. Part of your job search strategy can be checking these boards for openings you want to apply to.

LinkedIn is an essential tool for finding jobs, networking, and connecting with recruiters and hiring managers. When looking for jobs on LinkedIn, you may be able to see the name of the recruiter who posted the job and send them a direct message. If you know the company you want to work for, you can connect with them on LinkedIn and inbox one of their recruiters, letting them know you're interested and asking if they know of any upcoming job openings.

Some companies, especially smaller ones, only post openings on their websites. You can keep an eye on the careers section of companies you'd like to work for. They may have an open application section for interested people to send resumes even if the company has no relevant positions posted. If so, write a cover letter letting them know what you do and what you're looking for.

Working with staffing agencies is another option. Many larger companies use staffing agencies instead of in-house recruiters to fill positions, especially contract ones. These agencies look for qualified candidates on LinkedIn, other social media, or networking sites. They may post the job on their website or job board.

Depending on the agency, you may be able to send them your resume and let them know the types of jobs you're looking for. Agencies typically work on commission, from the employer side, getting paid when the company successfully hires their candidate.

Letting your professional network know that you're looking to change jobs is another potential way of making connections. Referrals can help get you past the ATS and stand out to hiring managers. Many companies have referral programs, incentivizing employees with bonuses if their referral gets hired. Networking is a great way to learn about company hiring trends and hear about upcoming job openings.

Tip: If you're looking for freelance opportunities, check Upwork’s marketplace and see recently posted jobs from clients. Project Catalog is an Upwork feature that allows you to list your fixed-price services for clients to browse and potentially purchase.

Hone your interview skills

After you apply for a job, if a company is interested in your resume and cover letter, they’ll invite you to interview. Depending on the position and company, the first few interviews are often phone calls or video chats. You may be invited on-site for the final round of interviews, if the position isn’t remote.

In a job interview, you want to come across as competent and friendly. Your interviewer wants to make sure that you have the technical skills for the role and also are someone they’d like to work with. Cultural fit is often as important as expertise. Try to be yourself, maintaining professionalism while showing your personality and enthusiasm for the role.

The first interview usually covers the basics with a recruiter or hiring manager. You'll likely be asked, "So tell me about yourself." This is where you’ll use your elevator pitch. In about 30 to 60 seconds, you should be able to introduce yourself and give an overview of your background, experience, and what you're looking for.

When answering questions in a job interview, you want to tell a story to help keep the interviewer engaged. The STAR method is a great technique for incorporating storytelling into your responses. The approach helps you frame your answers by explaining the situation, your task and involvement, the action you took, and then the final result. Researching common interview questions and practicing your answers can help you feel more confident and prepared.

Make sure you have some questions too. Many interviewers save time at the end for questions. They'll ask, "Do you have any questions for me?" and the floor will be yours–always say yes if you want to continue interviewing for a role.

This is a chance to ask thoughtful questions that show your engagement and interest in the company and help you evaluate whether the position is the right fit for you. You could ask about the day-to-day responsibilities of the role or learn more about the company culture and what it's like to work for them.

Tip: If you need more guidance, these independent interview preparation professionals are happy to help get you ready for your next interview.

Navigate job offers and negotiations

When freelancing, part of the interview process includes negotiating a higher rate if a client's initial offer is too low or explaining your proposal fees during the meeting. Each contract may be different. You'll need to decide how much you want to charge clients and demonstrate your expertise and value in the interview.

If you're interviewing for a full-time or contract position, you'll typically get an offer at the end of the interviews, and you'll then have the chance to accept it as is or negotiate for more money. In addition to salary, you'll likely have a benefits package to review along with other incentives like a sign-on bonus or stock options.

Make sure you know the average pay for this position based on factors like industry, location (considering the local cost of living), and your experience and education level. Evaluate the non-salary benefits and perks along with the raise and promotion structure to help get a better picture of your total compensation.

Benefits and incentives can increase your compensation and are important to consider if you have multiple job offers.

  • Paid time off (PTO) policy
  • Paid medical, parental, and bereavement leave
  • Health insurance (medical, dental, vision, mental)
  • Bonus and promotion structure
  • Wellness benefits (gym reimbursement, therapy, on-site gym)
  • 401(k) or other match for retirement savings
  • Commuter credits or reimbursement
  • Fertility and adoption support
  • Relocation assistance (if needed)
  • Remote working policy
  • Overtime pay
  • Equity and stock options
  • Sign-on bonus

Along with compensation and benefits, compare companies by analyzing their growth, history, and reputation. Glassdoor and Comparably summaries include reviews from current and past employees.

Make sure you know your job responsibilities and what it will be like to work for the company before accepting an offer. Consider your personal and career goals and see if this new job would help you get closer to that dream role you envisioned. Make a pros and cons list if you're having trouble choosing between offers. Seeing all the details laid out on paper can make decisions easier.

Negotiating an offer

When it comes time to negotiate, make sure you've done your research and know your worth. You can use Glassdoor, Payscale, or Salary.com to see what other companies pay for similar positions. If your offer is less than the market rate, show the data to your recruiter. However, avoid showing direct competitors and instead use industry averages based on your location.

Be prepared to demonstrate your value and explain why the company should invest more in you. Use specific examples about your skills, certifications, experience, and education. If you can, show real results from projects you've worked on and the revenue you've driven for past employers.

Figure out your bottom line: the base salary you're willing to accept. Then you can be flexible with other forms of compensation. Ask for more stock, a sign-on bonus, equity, work-from-home options, or vacation days if the company says they can't go higher on salary.

You want to be confident and friendly, let them know what you want, and show flexibility and understanding. Express your interest in the position and enthusiasm for the company. Even if you decline the offer, you want to keep the door open in case another opportunity arises in the future.

Plan a graceful exit from your current role

Once you've decided that you need to change jobs, you can start planning a graceful exit from your current role. Generally, you want to leave on as good of terms as possible. You never know what can happen in the future, so having connections and maintaining positive relationships with your colleagues and supervisor may offer helpful support someday.

Ideally, you’ll have time to finish any projects you're working on. If you have to leave sooner, you can outline what you're working on and the next steps for whoever will take it over. You can also write out your responsibilities and what you do for the company to help make filling your position easier.

Try to give your company at least two weeks' notice; this is typical company policy. Make your intentions clear by handing in a written resignation letter. Let your manager or supervisor know your decision first; then you can give your letter to human resources if needed. Be prepared for a counteroffer beforehand, knowing the minimum you'd accept (if you're interested at all).

Depending on the type of company you work for and your position, you may be able to have a slower transition and provide transitional support as they look to fill your role. You can offer to stay on and help interview and train your replacement if you don't have an immediate start date.

Adapt to your new role and environment

Starting a new job is exciting, but it's normal to get the first-day jitters and be a little nervous. The first few days will typically be onboarding and orientation, where you learn about the company and internal processes.

You'll get to meet your colleagues and managers and start building relationships. The orientation may be formal, with an employee handbook to review, or teambuilding-focused with get-to-know-you games and activities.

Onboarding is a chance to meet new friends and dive into the company culture. Take this time to see what opportunities you can explore, from diversity, inclusion, and belonging groups to mentorship programs.

As a new employee, you'll have to quickly adapt to your new role and environment. Depending on the company and your position, you may be in training for the first few weeks or have responsibilities from day one. Make sure you know what your manager's expectations are for you in the first couple of months. Be realistic when setting personal goals and give yourself time to settle in and feel comfortable.

Discover job opportunities with Upwork

Whether you're looking to change jobs or start a career as a freelancer, Upwork is a tool that can help you get to that next step. Freelance career coaches can get you ready for that big interview so you're feeling prepared and confident. If you don't love your resume, you can shop resume writing services and get help redoing or updating your resume.

See what it's like to be your own boss and explore freelancing. You can commit as much or as little time as you want, only saying yes to the projects that excite you. Find out what freelance jobs are available right now.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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Author Spotlight

How To Change Jobs: Switch Roles with Confidence and Ease
Cassie Moorhead
Content Writer

Cassie is a storyteller and content creator with over eight years of experience helping brands communicate to their customers through different channels. She enjoys finding new coffee shops to work from and spending time in nature with her dog, Sweeney.

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