16 Tips to Transition to a STEM Career

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.

Depending on where you are currently in your career and experience, it can be a daunting task, but it’s not insurmountable.

With careful planning and dedication to your goals, you can successfully make the switch to a STEM career.

Transitioning to a Career in STEM

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STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. If you’re interested in a STEM career, it helps if you have a degree in a related field — although that’s not absolutely necessary.

Your future in STEM can be bright even without a degree if you consider the following steps to creating the STEM career you’ve dreamed of.

1. Explore All Options

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The first step is to learn as much as possible about STEM careers. The options are nearly endless, and they go far beyond the industries that might first come to mind.

Talk to friends or family who work in the field, read books and articles, and explore online resources. Once you understand what a career in STEM entails, you can start planning a career change.

2. Uncover Your Passions

Chemical engineer
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As with any career change, you can’t know where you want to transition until you narrow down what you’re passionate about and would love to do daily.

For some, that means working with numbers as an accountant or statistician. Others might dream of becoming civil engineers and helping to construct buildings and roads.

Start a list of how you envision your work life in five to 10 years.

Are you working on a team? Leading a team? What industry would you love to support? Are you focused on a cause you’re passionate about, or is the job a focus because it’s lucrative and provides the work-life balance you’re seeking?

Once you know what industry you want to pursue, it’ll be easier to find the right path to get there.

3. Evaluate Your Current Skills

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You might not have a STEM degree, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any skills related to the field.

If you’re currently working as a manager, you likely have experience with project management. This skill can be handy when managing projects full of team members with different goals.

Or, perhaps you wrote some training or reference material for a previous employer. You can use that to start your technical writing portfolio if that’s the role you’re focused on.

Look at some job descriptions for your dream job and create a list of your transferable skills and experiences. Your current skill set will give you a starting point for what is attainable without more STEM-specific experience or formal education.

4. Begin to Research

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Assess the qualifications for your targeted role to determine requirements vs recommendations.

You’ll save a lot of time at the outset by figuring out whether a degree in math or engineering is a requirement, for example, or whether employers will accept alternative qualifications or experiences.

Investigate the challenges that come with being a career changer, and develop a strategy for how to proceed even if you have no relevant work experience.

5. Gain Some Experience

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If you’re unsure whether a specific STEM career fits you, consider getting some experience first.

You can volunteer for a local organization, take an online course, or even land a part-time job in a related field. Getting your feet wet will help you decide if you’re focused on the right STEM career for you.

6. Investigate Training Programs

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Even if your college degree is not in a related field, you can continue your training and education by earning a professional STEM-related certification.

Browse the course catalog at your local community college or sign up for a virtual course from a reputable online institution for classes that can bolster your credentials.

Look for studies in computer science, healthcare, or accounting, for example.

7. Consider Teaching

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There’s robust demand for math and science teachers at all levels, from secondary schools to postgraduate and online programs.

If you’re looking to transition to a STEM career, you may want to consider enrolling in a program to qualify for credentials that can help you transition to a teaching career in science, mathematics, or computer-related subject areas.

8. Apply for an Internship

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Adult internships are an excellent way to transition to a different career and a great choice to learn about a new profession and determine whether it’s a good fit for you.

Some companies offer “returnships” to help those with career gaps launch a STEM career.

Being honest about your lack of experience and working to show you’re invested in your new career path can work in your favor.

9. Enroll for Another Degree

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If you have the time to invest, you can consider going beyond a professional certificate program and getting back into the classroom for an associate’s or even a bachelor’s degree.

It’s worth noting that some employers — especially in the government and health care sectors — require a specific degree for certain positions.

In other cases, having a degree may not be necessary but could give you an edge over the competition.

10. Join a Professional Organization

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Professional organizations can introduce you to others in your field, help you stay abreast of news and trends, and offer networking opportunities.

Many associations also provide discounts on courses and conferences related to your chosen profession.

11. Find a Mentor

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Mentorship can play an important role when changing careers.

A mentor can introduce you to key players in your field, help you navigate the challenges of changing fields, and offer advice and guidance along the way.

12. Network, and Then Network Some More

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Get connected with people who work in your desired field, whether it’s through social media, LinkedIn groups, professional organizations, or mutual friends. Attend industry events, volunteer for related causes, and do whatever else to get your name and face out there.

The more people you meet, the better your chances of landing a job despite some gaps in your experience.

13. Prepare to Be Entry-Level Again

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When changing careers, and especially when looking at specializations, you may have to accept a position lower on the responsibility and pay scale than what you’re used to.

But remember, this is a temporary situation.

Use this time to learn as much as possible and build up your experience to move into a more senior role eventually.

14. Remain Open-Minded

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Be flexible in your job search and consider positions closely related to your targeted career.

For example, suppose you’re hoping to transition into a computer science role. In that case, you might want to consider a different job with a technology company that might afford you the opportunity for on-the-job training in the future.

While these positions may not be your dream job, they can provide valuable experience and help you move closer to your goal.

15. Be Patient

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Changing careers is not an overnight process. It takes time, effort, and commitment to land the right position.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back from employers right away or if you’re turned down for a few jobs. Stay positive and persistent; eventually, you’ll find the right opportunity.

16. Set Realistic Expectations

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Make sure you have realistic expectations when changing careers to a more technical field. It may take some time to land the perfect job, and you may have to start at a lower level than you’re used to.

But don’t get discouraged — keep your eye on your career goals, and eventually, you’ll get there.

Consider Your Options

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You can take many different paths to transition into a STEM career. If you have the time and resources, returning to school to get a degree or certificate in a related field is a great option.

However, there are also many nontraditional routes you can take. Plenty of online courses and boot camps can teach you the skills you need to succeed in a STEM career.

Do some research and explore all of your options before making a decision.