How to Prepare for a New Career
Chris Perry, December 3, 2010
Career change is natural, and it happens more often than you would think. Studies have shown that the average professional will change careers (not just jobs) multiple times throughout the course of his or her lifetime. Therefore, whether you're bored with your current direction, have been laid off due to downsizing and budget cuts, or are simply looking for a fresh start, a career change may be just what you need to take your professional life to the next level.
While it can be overwhelming and even scary to take the leap and try to change careers, here are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you are as effective as possible in your efforts and end up in a place that is truly right for you:
- Assess Your Strengths: Identify and list your top 3 to 5 strengths, especially those that drive and motivate you. Also, identify and list your transferable experience and skills, such as leadership, project management, communication and presentation, which you can leverage in the pursuit of your new career. This exercise will show you what foundation and arsenal you have to start with.
- Assess Your Passions: Throughout their careers, many professionals quickly learn what they don't like about their jobs, their functional areas, their companies and/or their industries. While it is good to know what you want to avoid in your new career, it is more critical that you identify what you do like to do. Ask yourself, "What do I really enjoy at work? When I'm at home? For fun?" What gets you out of bed in the morning or could get you out of bed in the morning if it's not happening right now? Try finding out what your passion truly is. Your passion(s) may be strongly linked to some of your strengths, so try to see where you can leverage both your strengths AND your passions for a much stronger pitch to a new career employer.
- Research Your New Chosen Career Paths: Once you've identified your passion(s) and strengths, invest some time in researching related career paths. There are tons of sites and books out there on every type of career and industry. Vault.com has many great free and paid resources on career tracks, companies and employers that you should check out. You might also check out O*NET Online from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Seek Informational Interviews: In addition to your research, don't forget that informational interviews are a powerful way to gain firsthand insight into a specific line of work, industry or company. Seek out contacts in your own network or join LinkedIn (if you haven't already) and search for professionals who hold careers in your newly chosen direction. Send them a brief email or message asking for just a few minutes to learn more about their careers and their companies. The more about them you make it, the more likely they are to respond. Informational interviews are the time to really understand your potential path from every angle. If you have more questions, consider asking your contacts for names of other colleagues who might have more experiences to share as you are working to better understand their career paths.
- Get Educated: You may determine that you are missing some of the strengths or skills necessary to take on your new career. Find out what it is you need, whether it's a certification, a specific degree or other skills training. If it's training you can get in your current job, it might be wise to take it now to see if it's something you really want to do before pursuing it full force. If the new career requires more institutional education, make sure to check out all of your options (full-time, part-time, etc.), and be sure that your program is accredited and will be valued when you leverage it in your career search.
- Gain More Experience: Just like education, experience in your chosen career path can be a great asset to successfully pursuing opportunities. If your work-life balance and schedule allow it, consider volunteering, taking on a part-time job or freelancing in this area to help you better understand whether it truly fits your passion as well as to help you build up your resume to present to potential employers.
- Find a Coach or Mentor: A career change is natural, but it is a big decision that can be overwhelming and even a little scary, especially for those who are more adverse to risk taking. See if there is anyone out there who might be able to serve as a mentor for you through this process. You might hire a professional career coach or turn to a parent, a friend or even a close colleague whom you trust to keep your career change pursuits confidential. Don't forget to leverage, if possible, the network contacts of your coach or mentor, as he or she may be in a better position to link you to new opportunities.
- Get Active and Network: While you will have started to do this all along, be sure to get active in building and maintaining a strong network of friends, family members, current and past colleagues, fellow alumni, professors and other career stakeholders. Networking can open doors to the hidden job market and may be the door to your new career. You can meet new people in your industry by joining industry associations and by attending events. Find ways to learn more about the industry trends and how you can contribute unique value to those whom you're meeting, as they might turn out to be your next employers or partners.
Remember: having patience and the willingness to make and renew network contacts is a key to enacting a successful career change.