Early in the 20th century, there was a phenomenon called ‘wing walking.’ Daredevils and stunt flyers actually stood on the wing of a flying aircraft, holding fast to a tether as another plane leveled itself alongside at which point the wing walker made his or her way on to the wing of the second plane. The rule of thumb for wing walkers? Never let go of one wing until you have the wing of another plane firmly in your other hand. The same rule can apply to changing careers. Hang on to what you’ve got until you’re secure enough to reach for something new. But security means different things to different people. For some, the process of changing careers is met with long-term research and considerable thought, while others leap, counting on faith to provide a wing to catch them.
Let’s talk about you. For some time, you’ve been bored, unchallenged and frustrated with your career. There’s no place to go from where you are. You’ve been thinking about making a move for a while. Now you’re ready. It’s the right time to make a change. But where do you start? Would it surprise you to learn there are things you can do to ensure your transition is as smooth as it can be? Here’s how to ensure you’re adequately prepared for a career change.
1. thoroughly evaluate your situation
Before making any other decisions, you should get to the bottom of your own feelings and motivations. Making a career change is a big commitment; you need to be sure that upending your work life (and consequently, your personal one) is worth the stress and effort in the long run. Take time to assess yourself and your situation honestly and thoroughly. Consider your reasons for wanting to make a change; are you stressed by your workload? Will starting a new career make you happier? Is a new career the answer, or would another job in the same field be more appropriate? Is there a particular career you’re passionate about, or do you just want a change? Think about the things you like in your current role and what you’d like to avoid in a new one. Even better, make a list. Seeing your thoughts in writing can help you clarify your viewpoint.
2. consider the logistics of a career change
Your personal motivations and happiness are an important part of deciding whether a career change is right for you, but there’s a lot of other factors at play too. Will you need to return to school to obtain education in your field of choice? Can you take night classes or certifications to boost your employability without cutting off your income source entirely? Are you prepared to take a pay cut if you need to return to the entry-level rung on the corporate ladder? Can you lean on friends and family and count on their support as you make this life-altering change? Answering these questions may influence how you approach a career change.
3. identify your skills, strengths and weaknesses.
Once you arrive at the decision that a career change is in your best interest and will make you a happier and more productive person, it’s important to identify the skills you’re most confident about and how you offer value to employers. Above all, focus on transferable skills that can be parlayed into a new career. Remember: you’ll be lacking the experience and knowledge current employees have. Figure out why employers should take a chance on you and how you can sell your strengths as an advantage. Also, don’t forget to consider your weaknesses too. No one likes to think about how they fall short, but doing so you’ll be more prepared when it comes time to interview.
4. build a network in your field of choice.
Reach out to people who work in the field you’re interested in and, if possible, doing the kind of work you see in your future. Offer to buy them a coffee for a chance to pick their brain. Tell them you’re interested in moving into their field (you may want to keep the information that you’re gunning for their job to yourself!) and ask them to share any advice or tips from an insider’s perspective. Ask them about their experience and qualifications. Bring your resume and ask them to review it and identify gaps in your experience, training or education relevant to your desired field. Never leave a meeting without asking – politely and respectfully – if they can refer you to other people in their industry or contacts they have who might be willing to speak with you. Don’t know anyone in the field? Start with social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook – there’s plenty of networking resources out there if you care to look for them!
5. still not 100% sure? try volunteering first.
There’s no better way to make solid contacts, gain experience and find out if the job’s right for you than volunteering while you’re still employed. It’s a great, risk-free way to test the waters and get to know the players. Offer to work for free, create a website, man the phones – whatever you can do to climb into the trenches and experience some of what it feels like to work in a new industry or environment. The good news is, if it’s not for you, you’ve only invested a little time and can cross it off your list of possibilities. You won’t have to wonder ‘what if’ – you’ll know you made the right choice.
6. get your finances in order.
Save enough money in your current job to cover all your expenses for three to six months. It might take that long to find a job in your new career and you don’t want to be forced to take just anything to survive. Remember, this is an intentional journey. Based on your lack of experience in your new role, it’s unlikely you’ll begin at the same salary level you just left. You may have to create a budget and learn to live with less so you can take that entry-level job that you love. If you’re working your dream job, climbing back up the ladder can be its own reward.
7. stay focused.
Most of the time, starting anew means starting at the bottom. If you’re coming from a long-held career, you will have achieved a measure of success, competence and recognition that you’ll likely lack as a newcomer. Don’t give up. Remember why you made the change and what it will mean for you long-term. Keep the big picture in mind. While it might sometimes feel like you’re making baby steps, you’re still moving forward, and hopefully doing something you love!
Times have changed. Careers used to be something we entered out of school and stayed with our whole working lives (which were shorter then than they are now). A person who changed careers more than once was considered a ne’er do well – unreliable and flaky. Now, the opposite is true. Hopping from job to job is considered a sign of initiative and drive and is expected among younger workers. It’s not unusual for a working person to have several careers, let alone jobs, over the course of their working life. Keep that in mind when you need to give yourself a pep talk. Remember, in spite of your best efforts to avoid the moment of truth, there will come a point at which you’ll need to fish or cut bait. Plan, prepare but don’t overthink; that’s what leads to inertia. And haven’t you had enough of that?