Is your current job at a standstill? Have you maxed out opportunities in your current company? Are you ready for new challenges? If so, you may be ripe for a career change.
For years, the US Department of Labor projected that Americans would change careers, not just jobs, an average of 8-11 times throughout their working lives. I’ve not seen many people alter their career trajectory quite that much, but change is certainly an inherent part of the post-2008 labor market for us all.
Whether you perceive a need to make a shift in the direction of your career or find yourself compelled to change based on market conditions, there are six steps you’ll need to take to navigate a career change proactively.
Step 1: Assess Yourself
Start by looking inward. A strategic career change begins by assessing your career path to date, including your work history, achievements, skills, interests, values, passions, gifts, and preferred work environment.
Consider what you want next. Are you ready for a change or having on foisted on you? If the former, identify what you need and will find satisfying in a new role; if the latter, clarify the most critical issues for you and your family such as salary, relocation, and lifestyle choices.
Gather all of these elements into a checklist. You will use them to compare your options after you’ve done your career change homework.
Step 2: Assess Your “Easy” Employment Options
Define the career options that are available to you at the moment. Based on your experience, achievements, and industry exposure to date, what other positions might you be able to secure? Which related industries are reasonable to consider? What roles and industries have you always wanted to explore?
Pinpoint additional career options available to you if you secured more credentials. Would an MBA or PMP open doors for you? Would an additional certification give you entry to a different sector or industry? If so, such a credential may be worth considering.
Compare your options with your self-assessment results. Run each option by each self-assessment result you noted in Step #1. For example, if you’re considering an MBA, check it against your work history, achievements, skills, interests, values, passions, gifts, and preferred work environment. Is it likely to create opportunities for you and will those opportunities repay your probably investment while satisfying the factors that drive career satisfaction for you?
If an “easy” option seems like a great fit, try it on for size. Sometimes a slight realignment is all your career needs. If that’s the case, you may want to conduct an informational interview or job shadowing experience or strategize a job search for this new goal.
Step 3: Assess the Labor Market
Analyze the prospects presented by the industries available to you. If you have options in three industries, say, then research employment projections for each. While you don’t necessarily want to discard industries with less growth, you do want to be aware of any such limitations because they will alter the job search should you elect to do so. The main thing is to pay attention to the long-term hiring growth – or lack thereof – for any industry or sector you are considering. A great tool for this is the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published online and in print each year by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Step 4: Integrate Your Long-Term Career Plans
Review your long-term career aspirations in light of the research you’ve conducted thus far. If you see yourself in a VP or C-level role someday, it’s vital to make sure that goal aligns with your self-assessment and is supported by the industry research you’ve uncovered to date.
Roadmap your way forward. Are you on the right path in the short-term but believe you will need to gain additional experience in additional sectors or job functions? Sketch out a game plan for how and when to do so. Do you need extensive training to enter a new field? Plot a path forward that allows you to meet you and your family’s needs while you secure additional credentials.
Step 5: Research New Careers & Industries
Multiply your career options. If none of the options you’ve identified thus far meets your needs, your next step is to discover new possibilities you haven’t considered before. There are many ways to do so, from journaling exercises and career assessments to books (Richard Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute is the classic example) and career coaches. Choose the type of support that best meets your learning style and leverage it to generate new career prospects for yourself.
Compare new career options with your self-assessment, industry research, and long-term goals. The best career changes are often those that are connected to your past work life in some way and take advantage of your preexisting experience, skills, and credentials. For example, if you’re a nurse who wants to move into medical sales, you’ll be able to market your nursing experience in new ways by rewriting your resume and learning how to build a new network in a new industry sector on LinkedIn.
Step 6: Evaluate & Choose
Narrow your options. Boil down your options to the top 3-5 and compare each one to all the elements on the checklist you created in Step #1. While you may not find a career option that satisfies every self-assessment criteria on your checklist, you will certainly find one or more that fulfill most of them.
Nail down realities. Get expert feedback on likely salaries and job search realities you will face in your quest to change careers. You need to be aware of how hiring executives and recruiters will perceive your career change and how easy or difficult it will be for you to land a job.
Craft a career change plan to get you from here to there. Once you know what direction you want to move in, you’ll need a map to get you there. Your strategic plan may include skills attainment, a job search plan, career planning, or even resume writing and interviewing.
As you can see, strategizing a career change is no quick and easy task. But when planned effectively and with enough lead time, most such shifts are achievable. Learn more about critical skills you’ll need for your career change and discover a big picture perspective of change that will help you see your present location more clearly in my November 5, 2014 complimentary teleclass, Unleash Your Career Warrior: 3 Secret Weapons to Overcome Any Career Challenge.
About the author
A 15-time, award-winning resume writer, Cheryl Lynch Simpson serves mid-career to senior executives as a credentialed resume writer (ACRW), LinkedIn strategist (COPNS), and Get Clear, Get Found, Get Hired (G3) coach. Like her advice? Check out her website, ExecutiveResumeRescue.com for a complimentary copy of her popular Polish Your Profile LinkedIn presentation, or follow her on Twitter!
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