Many people can feel held captive by their career. If years have gone by doing one profession or if thousands have been spent on an education, one can feel trapped.
Thinking “this is the career I went to school for”, or “I’ve always had this job and wouldn’t know where to start outside of the industry” are real anxieties.
But if you’re unhappy in your current profession or if you feel the pull to do something more aligned with your interests and passions, maybe it’s time to step outside of your comfort zone and go through the process of a career change.
Prerequisite: Soul Searching
I’m not going to sugar coat it. Changing careers can be hard. It’s a lot easier to move laterally from one job to another within the same industry or field than to switch jobs and industries in one swoop.
It takes courage in moving forward with such a big change. But it doesn’t stop at courage; in order to be successful with a career change one must also have clarity in the direction they want to go in. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people focus only on what they don’t want that they fail to plan for what they do want.
If you’ve ever caught yourself saying you’re “willing to take any job” or that you’re “willing to start at the bottom” I’d caution you to take pause before moving forward. Many career changers needlessly sell themselves short (or don’t get a job at all!) by not having clarity when really they have a treasure trove of transferrable skills that could easily have gotten them the job offer of their dreams.
In addition, someone changing careers also really has to understand what is prompting their desire for change. All too often, the root cause for change is more environmental (i.e. the specific company, a bad boss, or benefits package) than it is the actual work itself. A good exercise to help clarify the need for change is to write out the list of things about your present career prompting this desire. (<<< do this exercise!).
Step 1: Get A Game Plan
If after all the soul searching prescribed above you do determine that a career change is in order, then the next step is finding out what change you want to make. Never make a change, just for the sake of wanting change. There needs to be a clear direction of the path you’re going to take. In other words, you need a game plan. I love the example Cindy Molchany gives in her book Apply Yourself, A Manual For Finding Meaningful Work, when she shares the story of a healthcare worker who wanted to start a career in the wine industry.
The healthcare worker wanted out of healthcare because they were tired of dealing with customer service headaches “like complaints, scheduling, and billing”. The new career choice was the wine industry because it “is so fascinating … and I think it would be a lot of fun to work in a tasting room.” However, tasting room positions are the most customer-service oriented jobs in the wine industry. Decisions like this one can lead to “career hopping”, trading one negative experience for another, over and over again.
Highlight Your Transferable Skills
When changing careers, transferable skills are the best asset you have to get the attention of an employer. A transferable skill is any proficiency you’ve gained from previous work experience. It includes skills gained from previous employment, education, internships, and even volunteer work.
To help identify all the transferable skills that you bring to the table, create a list with four categories:
- Basic Transferable Skills – Basic skills include attention to detail, punctuality, ability to meet goals and deadlines, etc.
- Communication & Interpersonal Skills – These skills can be as basic as being a good communicator or as advanced as having interviewing or negotiating skills.
- Data / Research / Planning Skills – This is more than just being “good with numbers”. Skills such as forecasting, budgeting, and creative thinking are important. These are the skills that let the employer know you can set goals and meet them.
- Management / Leadership Skills – Skills in solving problems, delegating work loads, and training new-hires are vital skills employers look for.
Once you have your list complete, take a look at all you’ve accomplished from past experiences. This can be a real confidence boost when considering a career change.
Never Underestimate The Power of Networking
When is the best time to network? The moment you start thinking about a career change.
Networking in the industry of your new career choice introduces your qualifications and character to individuals who are already on the “inside”. Not all job listings are posted publicly, and networking can produce a great referral which can get you an introduction to opportunities you would have otherwise never known existed.
But remember, networking is about building relationships. Don’t be discouraged if referrals don’t come overnight. It’s important to gain trust so that an individual or employee is confident that referring you will bring positive results.
When networking, don’t ask someone who you don’t know well for a referral to a company they have connections with. Ask them for an introduction instead. If you’re networking successfully, most people will be happy to make an introduction, but they will be turned off if you ask them for a referral. – Cindy Molchany
The Three “B”s
Last, but certainly not least, there are three approaches to any career change that need to be taken seriously. We call them the Three “B”s:
Be Open-Minded – Be willing to think outside the box when opportunities come your way. A narrow-minded approach to a career change tends to stifle the possibilities. When opportunities that you never thought of before come your way, see if they meet the goals of your game plan. If so, then it may be worth investigating.
Be Flexible – Dealing with new employers in a career change can be stressful. You may have to be flexible on desired salary, benefits and perks. Anticipate that your expectations for the new job will be challenged and give yourself a range of flexibility that’s realistic for the goals you’ve set.
Be Realistic – There is a lot to consider in the midst of a career change, so be realistic about the expectations. Make sure you’re qualified for the job you’ve applied for. Setting yourself up for failure because you’ve overestimated your abilities could be disastrous. Equally so, limiting the scope of your search below the skills you possess will produce a disappointing experience.
If a career change is in your near future, following these simple steps can make it a positive and successful experience. Remember, it all starts with clearly defining what it is you want to do. Now, get out there and make it happen!
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