OK, the economy is not so great, and you already know job security is about as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. You feel it’s time to do something else with your life, but you’re not sure if this is the best time to change careers. Well, guess what: there’s no perfect time to make that perfect move, so don’t wait for some promising sign to spur you into action. If you want a new career, go for it.
Here are 12 steps to help make your career change a little easier.
1. Do you really want to change careers? Or are you just ticked off today? A career change is serious business. Only undergo one after careful consideration. We all have terrible stretches at work that make us want to resign, but they pass… and come back… and pass — well, you get the picture. But bad patches are different from being totally fed up with your career choice. Take some time off your current job and recharge. If you return to work feeling the same dread, apathy, or frustration as before, maybe a career change is right for you. But only you can decide that.
2. Take control. You’ve decided it’s time for a new career path, but you’re scared. That’s understandable; changing careers takes guts. And most people get the necessary chutzpah only when they’re out of a job. But why let dire circumstances dictate your career moves? You’re in charge. Be proactive. Don’t wait for things to happen to you. Make them happen.
3. Be practical. You want to herd sheep, make designer kites, or create energy drinks that cure the common cold? Hey, good luck. But make sure you can make a decent living.
4. Be committed. Don’t be one of those people who set out to change careers, and then give up when things get a little tough. You have to be determined to make the change work. So promise yourself you’ll accept nothing short of success — no matter what setbacks come your way. Remember, you can overcome any obstacle. Just have faith.
5. Figure out what you want to do. Research, research, research. Get on the Internet and start learning as much as you can about the careers you’re interested in. Read relevant trade papers and magazines. Immerse yourself. Find out the necessary skills and qualifications related to your possible career choices. [Editor’s note: See this section of Quint Careers for more on conducting career research.] Of course, you can learn only so much online. The next step…
6. Hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Get out there and find people who are doing what you want to do. Talk to them about the negative and positive aspects of that career. Find out the truth — the good, the bad, the ugly. Tell them not to pull any punches or sugarcoat anything. Also ask if you can spend some time observing what they do during a typical day. Now’s the time to find out if this new career is right for you. In addition, the contacts you make during this time may help you down the road. [Editor’s note: See our Informational Interviewing Tutorial and our article, Research Companies and Careers Through Job Shadowing for more on “straight from the horse’s mouth” techniques.]
7. Figure out how you will do it. So you’ve decided on a career choice. But don’t expect to start herding those sheep right away. You have to do a little planning first. How will you support yourself during your career change? Will you remain at your current job until you save enough money to keep you going for several months, then quit and embark on your new adventure? Or will you try out your new career first by freelancing or consulting on the side before making that full-time leap of faith? It’s up to you.
8. Learn how to do it. If you’ve already mastered the job skills related to your new career, you’re ready to go live. Otherwise, find out the educational or training requirements of your career choice and prepare to get up to speed. For example, if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you’ll need an advanced degree from a college or university. If you want to write, you may have to take classes or attend workshops. If you want to fix elevators or air conditioners, you’ll probably have to go to trade school. No matter what you want to do, just be prepared to learn what you must to be successful.
9. Oh, yeah, do it. Look for opportunities to gain work experience within your new career. Try internships, apprenticeships, volunteering, or temping. These are great ways to get your feet wet and get a taste of what the new career is like.
10. Be a little selfish. Can you get some free job training at your current position that’ll help you with your new career? Hey, if it’ll make you a better employee at your present job, there’s no wrongdoing on your part. Also try to gain some on-the-job experience relevant to your future career change. For example, if you want to be a writer, seek out opportunities to write at your current position. In other words: be a little selfish and look after your own interests.
11. Act the part. You’re now officially a career changer! Learn the jargon. Meet people in your new industry through networking events. Also, seek out industry contacts (you know, those you made in step 6) to help you with your job-search efforts. Hey, you’re a player now!
12. Stay positive. You may have little support from family and friends. Some may think you’re nuts for trying to do something totally different. Or believe you’re a fool for walking away from “job security.” But so what? It’s your life. You’re responsible for your own happiness. And hopefully, they’ll come around.
Final Thoughts on Career Change
So there you have it — 12 steps to help you make one of the most critical transitions in your life. Hey, but don’t let the magnitude of changing careers stress you out. This is truly an exciting time for you. Enjoy the ride!
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Barbara Poole is the Founder and President of Employaid, which she created after 25 years of working with major corporations to improve company and individual performance. She started her career as a human resources director in a national specialty store chain, and continued up through the ranks in senior human resources positions for Fortune 1000 retail companies. Employaid is an online community for corporate employees to find the resources they need for career success.
Searching for even more career-change advice? Check out all the tools, tips, and resources in our Job & Career Resources for Career Changers.
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