Developing Your Career

Charting Your Course For a Successful Career Change

By Greg Simpson on December 4, 2012

Given the tough job market, it’s not surprising more job seekers are considering career changes and continuing education to help broaden their job opportunities. We’re finding that individuals today are more open to pursuing a complete career makeover – or in using a layoff to investigate other options. However, the number of people who successfully change careers is small. Why? The reality is that it isn’t easy or straightforward — and it can take longer to parlay skills and experience into a position in a new field.

Here are some tips to help accelerate the process and increase your chances of successfully changing careers:

  • Develop short- and long-term plans for getting where you want to be. Short-term plans may include finding similar employment to your last job to keep you afloat until you’re ready to move forward with your long-term plan. Your long-term plan may include conducting the research, making the connections and earning the credentials and/or education required to land you in the new field.
  • Fully research the career. Understand the reality of your goal. Do your homework and learn about requirements, certifications, available opportunities and salary range. Too often, job seekers want to immediately make the leap into a field they think would be interesting without considering the day-to-day realities of the position, training and education required.
  • Talk to people currently in the field. Conduct informational interviews so you know more about what to expect and what’s needed. Use social networks and join relevant industry and functional groups. You can ask questions and gain an inside perspective. You may even be able to shadow someone already in the role. Once you’re fully informed, you’ll need to identify and close gaps in experience and education.
  • Consider salary in the potential career. Find out through networking or other research what the average salary is in your desired career. Since you may be entering the field with minimal experience,  you may need to be prepared to earn less until you develop the skills and expertise to command a higher salary.
  • It’s your responsibility to overcome the “disconnect” between your past employment and the new career field. Don’t expect a potential employer to take the time to “connect the dots” between your last role and a new one in a different field. You’ll need to persuasively explain how your skills, education and experience can be transferred into the new career.
  • A leisure pursuit can be turned into a career, but due diligence is still required. A retail manager who loved to fly his small plane and was active in aviation groups transitioned into selling leases for private planes because he was knowledgeable about planes and had a passion for aviation. It didn’t hurt, however, that he also had a degree in business and experience in sales. On the other hand, an engineer who enjoyed the relaxation of gardening and landscaping was surprised by the income, working conditions, and hiring and insurance issues involved in setting up a landscaping business.
  • Cultivate a network into the new profession. Invariably, individuals who successfully change careers do so through a connection in their network. Whether your network is social or traditional, the same principles apply. Build relationships, offer information that will be beneficial to your contacts, identify a mentor, learn from the experience of others, and practice soft skills, like communication and listening.

Changing careers can be life altering. It can enhance your enthusiasm for work, stimulate your creativity by offering new and exciting challenges, and introduce you to a whole new world. By carefully developing a long-term plan and implementing a few key strategies, it’s possible to make the move into a new career – and the next chapter of your life.


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