Career Change: When and how to make the switch

Whether you’re wildly unhappy, can’t stand how bureaucratic your company is, want a better work-life balance, or find everything on your daily to-do list boring and unappealing, it’s important to recognize the signs that it’s time to move on.

People choose to change careers for a variety of reasons. Some are looking for new challenges and others might decide it’s time to pursue a lifelong dream. Whatever your reasons, switching your career path can be a life-changing — and often risky — proposition, so it’s important to be prepared.

Interview Yourself

Step one is figuring out what you like about your current career and what you don’t. For example, do you spend a lot of time pulling together spreadsheets when you’d rather be out talking to clients? Perhaps your current career gives you a limited scope for creativity, and you’d rather be involved with more interesting, engaging projects. Consider the tasks you’re in charge of, the amount of travel your job requires, if you manage a team, the general industry environment and even the health of your industry. After you’ve compiled an overview of these different attributes, consider how those skills and preferences fit with your career path. If you’re not sure where you’re headed, this list can help you figure out what might work for you.

Make an Action Plan

This is not the time to take a leap of faith. You need to plan out what your short and long-term goals are and what steps you need to take to achieve them. Make an educated guess about how long it will take you to reach certain milestones. Even if you don’t stick to the plan exactly, this will give you a general idea of what direction to head in and provide a timeline to help you stay on track. This is also a good time to consider what skills you already have and what skills you’ll need to develop in order to succeed in your new career.

Build Relationships

Talking to people can be a great way to learn tips and tricks — or even just basic information — about an industry. First, find some contacts in the field. If you’re not sure where to start, ask for referrals from friends, check for local networking events or search through your college alumni database. Ask your contacts how they got involved in the field and what made them pursue a career in the industry. You can also ask them to discuss their career paths and how they ended up in their current positions. Perhaps they have some advice about what skill sets your should focus on given your specific background. Make sure you do your research beforehand so you can present an intelligent array of questions and glean some useful insights.

Gain Experience

Now that you’ve figured out what you want to do, it’s time to get started. Depending on the career, this might mean earning a certification or taking an online class to fill a gap in skills. It could also mean looking for internships or freelance positions to gain some experience and prove to potential employers that you are serious about a career in the industry.

Be Realistic

While you’re busy getting excited about your new career as a jet-setting journalist or a renowned web designer, make sure you keep everything in check. Don’t forget that you’re starting in a new field, with limited experience. Even though your general career experience will be beneficial to you, you’re still going to have to work hard to prove yourself. The key here is going to be two-fold. First, prepare yourself mentally so you know what income, hours and job description to expect. Next, make sure you have a support system in place. Whether it’s a network of mentors or an encouraging family, these are the people who will be able to remind you why you started this new career in the first place.

It may be intimidating to start a new career in a new industry, but it can be the best decision you’ve ever made if you follow a few simple rules. Do your research and focus on networking and developing job skills, and you’ll soon be on your way to a whole new world of opportunities. You’ll have your ups and downs, but those realities are what make the challenge you took on so rewarding. Plan strategically and follow through, and you just might end up in your dream job, after all.

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