How to Change Careers (Without Ruining Your Life) – 11 Steps to Success

Changing careers can be a scary proposition.

Source: Flickr user 124247024@N07.

Is a career change staring you in the face?

Whether you’re looking to change directions because of a change in circumstances, for more opportunity or better pay, or just to chase your dream job, you’re likely feeling just one thing: Fear.

Sure, there is a ton of excitement welling up inside you–the prospect of finally doing something that makes you truly happy. But, after that initial rush of feel-good hormones wears off, you’re stuck with daunting reality. How do I actually make it happen? How can I pull it off without throwing away everything I’ve worked to achieve so far in my life?

These are not simple questions to answer–and I certainly can’t tell you exactly how to go about your own career transition.

But, I can offer you an outline; these are specific steps that will help you go from dread to confidence. You’ll emerge with a clear sense of direction about what you need to do to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Here’s what you should do to change careers successfully:

1. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses

We’re all good at some things–and not good at others. Perhaps you’re a logical thinker rather than a creative type? Or, maybe your strength lies in managing and developing people?

Whatever it is, discover yours before you begin this transition process. You’ll want to be sure that your new career aligns not only with your interests but with your natural abilities and strengths. This will make you much more likely to be successful and stick with your career over the long term.

The Clifton Strengthfinder is a tool that’s commonly used by individuals and corporations. But, there are also many free options online that can help point you in the right direction. Check out the VIA Survey or the Free Aptitude Test from RichardStep.

2. Figure out your likes and dislikes

Discover your likes and dislikes--your work values.

Source: Flickr user krissen.

This one seems obvious, but what do you like and what do you dislike? Be specific here–think about certain things that get on your nerves, or things that inspire you.

It could be anything from a certain industry that you’re interested in, to a company’s organizational structure or management style. This will help you to narrow down your field or potential careers and employers.

For this step, you may just want to make a list (sort of like a pros/cons list). But, you may also want to use a career interest survey to help you discover what you value most.

3. Research possible careers

This may seem like it should be the first step in the process, but now you will have a much easier time researching careers and focusing on the ones that make the most sense.

Chances are pretty good that you had a few career options in mind when you considered the switch, so start with those. Research the education, skills, and culture that go along with that career path. Then, compare it to your strengths and preferences to see if it’s a good fit.

But, even if you find that one of your original ideas might be a good path for you, don’t stop there. Explore as many options as you can and look for a career that seems like the absolute best fit. You may find many that “could be” good for you, but hopefully you’ll identify at least one career path that seems to be the best choice.

Learn about and explore different career paths and career clusters using online tools and databases.

4. Talk to people (this is CRITICAL)

It may be tempting to think that you can solve all of your career problems by taking online tests and quizzes–solving this challenge should be a rationale exercise of self-examination, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. And if you keep your search for a new career wrapped inside a tight cocoon, you may find yourself right back in the same I-need-a-change mindset even after making a switch.

To combat that–and learn more about what options exist–it’s critical for you to talk to others about your choices before committing to one. Talk to friends and family, ask them if they think you’re a good fit for these careers. Then, talk to people in that industry, people with the job. Heck, talk to anyone who will listen. Gain insight and knowledge to help you make your choice.

Remember–this is a huge decision. Don’t make it with haste. Take your time, do your research, and feel confident in your decision.

5. Identify the education needed to get there

Obtaining a degree may be a key to changing careers

Source: Flickr user willfolsom.

Once you’ve firmly committed to a specific career path, it’s time to start to put together a plan to make it happen.

What education do you need to get into the field? Will you need a degree–or an advanced degree–to reach your ultimate career goals? Should you pursue the education all at once, or can you take it in steps, and get your foot in the door while still pursuing the education you’ll ultimately need?

At this stage, you’ll need to consider your specific circumstances, as well as the range of possible paths to get you to where you need to be.

It may be helpful for you to contact a local college and talk to one of their counselors about options if the new career requires you to go back to school. Even if you don’t ultimately attend that particular institution, they may be able to help point you in the right direction and make sense of how to pursue your education in the most efficient way.

6. Build a plan (with goals)

Now that you know what you need to accomplish, it’s time to figure how you’ll go about doing it.

  • Will you leave your current job?
  • Will you get a degree by taking online and night classes?
  • How long will it take to get to where you want to go?
  • Is that a reasonable amount of time?

Whatever the plan, set some specific goals and milestones along the way. Start with your goal in mind.

7. Plan for logistics

Once you have a plan in mind, it’s time to give yourself a reality check:

  • Do you have enough free time to take the required classes?
  • Can you afford to take that break from work?
  • Do you have everything you need to put your plan into motion?
  • Are there childcare concerns that should be included in the plan?

In this stage of your career change, it’s important to consider all of the details. Include buffers–in terms of time and money–to be sure everything will go according to (or better than) the plan.

8. Start the process

First: Double check everything. Go back through this list–consider each step carefully. Are you confident in your direction, your choices, and your plan?

Make any adjustments you need to make. Then, take the first step.

This might mean enrolling in your first class, sending your first resume, or whatever other first steps you’ve identified in your plan. But, after all of this work and research, it’s time to take action.

9. Get some experience

This is another critical step. As soon as possible in your path, you should try to get some relevant experience in your field. This may mean doing some job shadows, internships, or even just volunteering or taking on a few part-time hours.

But, especially if your career change means entering an entirely new field–where you have no relevant job experience–the value of having experience is immeasurable. Imagine you’re a potential employer. Would you rather hire someone who has just an education, or someone who has some form of real-world experience in the field? Obviously, the latter–almost always.

So, don’t be shy. Pursue opportunities to get involved as soon as possible in your transition.

10. Network like there’s no tomorrow

Networking is a critical step in changing careers

Source: Flickr user alisdar.

Join a professional organization, join a LinkedIn group, reach out to people in the field and ask them out for coffee, chat with your professors if you’ve gone back to school.

Whatever the case may be, networking can be the key to getting your foot in the door. You never know when someone you met–even in passing–will be able to put you in the opportunity to land your first job in your new career.

Also, don’t be shy about your intentions. Don’t be rude or needy, but it’s okay to let people know about your plans and that you are hoping to make some connections in a new area. People know the value of networking, and who knows, in the future, you may be the one who can give them a leg-up!

11. Start your job search early

Don’t wait until you graduate or are 100% ready to start applying for jobs in the field or career you’re pursuing. Start early!

You never know when a job will become available, so it may pay off big time to start putting out some feelers within your network or sending out resumes at least a few months before your target date for your career change.

Unfortunately, this guide can only offer some high-level advice as to how you can avoid disaster in your career change. It’s still scary–and it still takes a ton of thought, planning, and courage to go through with such a transition.

But, don’t be afraid. Use this as a resource and look for mentors or others who can help guide you when you need some help, or just keep you motivated when things get tough.

Good luck with your new career!

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