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Tips for a Successful Career Change

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Unlike past generations of workers that dedicated themselves to one career or one industry or one company, today more and more professionals embrace change, mobility, and transformation. But even though we boast a flexible and resilient workforce, the process of breaking with one career and beginning another remains formidable. Whether motivated by personal reasons or coping with economic flux, if you're contemplating a career change, consider these tips.

Identify Your Motives

Often, the factors pushing you away from a career are stronger than the factors pulling you toward another. Critically assess your current work situation. When you become dissatisfied at work, the feeling can permeate every task, every meeting, every day, taking on a disproportionate scale and weight, and the gut reaction may be to up and go, to start fresh with a blank slate. Take an objective look at your job. Determine the concrete reasons for your unhappiness. Is it one or two colleagues? Is it one aspect of your role? Is it the office environment? It may be that you need a change of pace or a change of scenery but not a wholesale change in career. It is easy to find faults with a job you work day in and day out, and easier still to romanticize a job somewhere else. Be sure that what you want to change is the very nature of your work. Beware, too, the lure of a bigger paycheck: it may not be there for someone starting from scratch and it may not compensate for a misguided career choice.

Determine What You Want

Crucial to career change is assessing what truly engages your professional self. This should not be a vague or casual whim. This needs to be a fully formed idea with direction and shape. You may be at a different phase of your life, with different values, interests, and priorities, and these may guide you toward a specific path. Or you may have accomplished all you can, or want, in your current career, and are looking for a fresh challenge. Regardless of what you want to leave behind, you need to arrive at a specific goal, and sometimes this takes a good amount of personal reflection and assessment.

Define what inspires you, what satisfies you, and what will keep you committed. Think about this in personal terms: what kind of person you are, what underused talents you have, what you do for leisure, what you do as an enthusiast, what you jump for when given the chance. It is a common condition to pigeonhole ourselves but it helps to think indirectly, counter-intuitively; those outside interests and skills may lend to a fitting career. You may, for instance, think yourself a people person in human resources but a knack with numbers and budgets can open up a realm of possibilities to explore. See more about self-assessment and career choices in a companion article on this site. If you feel adrift in this process, consult online assessment tests or a reputable career counselor.

Weigh Your Options

Once you determine that a career change is a positive step forward, start brainstorming. Dream freely, indulge whims. Ask around. Enlist your family and friends. Surf the internet. Go to the library. Read up. In your current career, you may know every job from top to bottom but in other careers there are likely to be jobs and niches you never even knew existed. Make a long list--even if some jobs are unrealistic--the point is to immerse yourself in options. From there, weigh these options, rank them, winnow them down. Aim for a short list, a handful of possibilities. From there, you want to devote dedicated research to each of your short-listed careers.

Your research should start with the basics: salary potential, upward mobility, educational requirements and additional training, the daily grind itself. Seek out anecdotal material, personal blogs, and other testimonials; gather a sense of the intangible factors of a career--how pace varies from job to job, the politics between companies or institutions, the atmospheres of trade shows and conferences. Make contacts. Volunteering and shadowing are hands-on ways to garner preliminary experience and consult people embedded in the field. Ingest as much information as possible. You can take advantage of career websites, your local library, or professional career counselors, but don't overlook the simplicity and accessibility of social networks, message boards, and the like.

Knowing the full scope of a career and the intricate details within, you should know if it matches up your professional aims. If you find yourself ambivalent or unable to decide on a firm career choice, you may simply need some time to mull over your options. On the other hand, if you've arrived at a confident career choice, a plan is in order.

Formulate a Plan

Career moves do not happen overnight. You are going to need patience, and lots of it. This is a transition, a process, and it is likely you will have to remain in your current position throughout. Depending on your career of choice, the required groundwork will vary, but advance planning is necessary in any case. Ask yourself these questions in order to customize a realistic plan.

  • Do you need training and education for your new career? How long will this take? Is training site-specific? Can you earn certification or a degree online? How will you balance school and work? How will you pay for it?
  • Do you know anyone in the industry? How can you begin or continue networking? Do you need to join associations or organizations or social networks? Are there events or workshops or conferences you can attend?
  • Do you need experience to compete for entry-level or starting positions? Can you volunteer or intern or take on a temporary position? How will you juggle part-time work with your current job? Can you afford to leave your job?
  • When is the last time you searched for a new job? When is the last time you applied for a new job? Are you familiar with online job searches? Have you scrubbed the internet of any distracting personal matter? Is your resume up to current standards? Are your interviewing skills sharp?
  • Are you psychologically prepared for starting again at the bottom and working your way up? Are you financially prepared to cope with a lower salary, with different or lesser health benefits, with changes in your retirement plan?
  • How long will it take you to lay the groundwork? How much are you willing to sacrifice throughout the transition? Have you enlisted your friends and family to help you persevere? Are you motivated and inspired and committed?

The switch from one career to another comes with plenty of unknowns and variables. The more methodical you are in approaching the switch, the more assured you will be when confronted with the unexpected. No career will ever be perfect. Disappointment and discouragement will occur. But if your goals are clear and your plans are firm, the better your chances of making a smooth and successful career switch.

Sources:
  • Career Overview.com (http://www.careeroverview.com/career-change.html)
  • Quint Careers (http://www.quintcareers.com/career_change.html)
  • What Color Is Your Parachute 2010, by Richard N. Bolles, Ten Speed Press, 2010

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