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Tips for a Successful Career Change

written by: •edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 8/30/2011

If your current career leads to a dead end, or if you've been itching for change, you may want some tips and suggestions for how to successfully undertake a change in career. It's not easy to start over, but if you follow these tips when considering the change, you'll have a better shot at success.

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    So You Want a New Job

    Are you thinking about changing careers? Throughout our lives, we develop and grow. Our interests change, and we learn new things. It's hard to imagine spending a lifetime with a single person, let alone spending a lifetime with a single job. In fact, The U.S. Department of Labor estimates state that an individual on average changes careers between three and five times during his or her lifetime. That's a lot of change going on! Changing careers can be difficult, stressful and confusing.

    There are many questions associated with successfully completing a career change. These include:

    • What career should I change to?
    • Do I need to go back to school?
    • What skills do I need?
    • How can I create a resume for my new career?
    • How can I move forward on the job track without losing my experience or becoming bored?
    • I got fired, no one's hiring in my field, now what?

    People switch careers for many reasons. What will make your switch more successful is planning for the change. By carefully managing your career change plan, you can make the change a smooth one.

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    The Life Looking Back Test

    Before taking any steps to complete a career change, what are the things that are important to you? What do you want to have accomplished by the time you die? This might seem like a morbid way of looking at things, but this exercise can be an enormous help in getting focused. Do you want to publish a book? Would you have liked to have started your own business? By taking inventory of where you'd like to be at the end, it can help you determine what will be necessary for you to do now. It helps you determine what kind of career change you would like, and sometimes when you take this sort of far-sighted position, it will make difficult career decisions less difficult and more clear.

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    Choosing the New Career

    Before you turn in your letter of resignation, you'll want to create your plan. This plan begins with deciding what career field will make the most sense for you to pursue. Take out a sheet of paper (or open a new word processing document) and brainstorm. What sorts of things do you enjoy doing? What kind of experience do you have? If money were not an issue, what would you do with your time? Even if you were not going to be paid well, what would you enjoy doing?

    Now you have a list. It's time to do a little research. Do you enjoy cooking and coming up with menus? If so, you might want to look into the hotel and restaurant management industry. Are you good with your hands? A switch to construction may be in the cards for you. Do you have a way with people? You might wish to look into becoming a human resources person. Pick two or three options, and make a list of steps you would need to take in order to be able to fulfill the requirements of that position. For example, it's possible that the hotel and restaurant management industry appeals to you. What would you need to do in order to manage a restaurant? Is culinary school an option?

    For each of the options, write down the skills and experience you already possess that could be applied to that position. When you're done with this exercise, you should have three career options written down and a rough sketch as to what will be involved should you choose to pursue any one of these options.

    You should choose the career path that is the most promising. What that means is that you should select the path that is a good balance between preparation, drive and rewards. Which option presents the most opportunities for growth? Which will you have to invest the least amount of time in preparing for?

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    Choosing to Further Your Education

    Often, when we opt for a career change, getting more education is also required. The decision to go back to school should be carefully thought out. You'll want to answer these questions for yourself:

    1. Is it absolutely necessary to attend school for the career you wish to change to?
    2. Will you attend full-time or part-time?
    3. Are you willing to relocate?
    4. What are the top five schools for studying that field? What is needed from you to be admitted?
    5. Is a degree a degree in your field? Will a degree from any school do, or do you need a degree from a specific school?
    6. Will you need to take out loans? If so, how much? The guideline for loans is to avoid taking out loans for more than you expect to make in your first year of employment in the new career.
    7. Will you work while in school?

    When answering these questions, it's important to keep the big picture in mind. If your big picture includes a big house, reconsider how necessary school is if you will have to take out loans. Student loans can be a drain on your financial resources if you do not carefully manage them, and for those considering graduate school, new changes in legislation and the federal budget has created problems.

    Once you've answered the questions above, it's time to get rolling on your application process. Fill out any forms necessary, get recommendation letters together, put together your application letter and any portfolio materials needed, and ask people for recommendation letters. Make a commitment to work hard while in college. You'll not only need to do well in your classes, but you'll need to have a good rapport with your professors in order to get a jump-start on your career change.

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    Highlighting Transferable Skills

    If you don't need to further your education to make a career change, you'll still need to highlight what makes you a good candidate for the position you are applying for. Go through your inventory of skills and experience. Which skills or experience are transferable? Which are not?

    When you're putting together your resume, you'll want to look at what prospective employers expect from you. Generally, whenever there is a help-wanted ad, there will be a list of the necessary skills for that job. In your resume, you will want to match your skills with the job's needed skills - this is why it is so important to tailor your resume for each job you apply to. Ten or even twenty years ago, people would create one resume, and they would send it out. Now, you need to make sure your resume and cover letter are custom-tailored to each position for which you apply if you would like to stand out from the crowd.

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    Taking Growth into Account

    When you change careers, it is absolutely vital that you make sure you're going into a field with growth opportunities. Even if you don't think you'd want a management position, you should look for something that allows you to develop skills and challenge yourself. After all, one of the reasons the itch for performing a career change can come up is boredom and lack of growth. When looking for career change suggestions, make sure that you're looking at careers that will offer you the opportunity to grow and expand your horizon. People change over time, and so it's unrealistic to expect that the same things that are fulfilling now will be fulfilling later.

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    Recovering from Job Loss

    Sometimes a career change is necessary due to job loss. It's normal to grieve a job, especially if you were in the field for a long time. However, you shouldn't wait too long before deciding what your next step will be. Determine whether you will indeed make a career change or whether a job change is sufficient. Sometimes when you lose a job, it's easy to look to other venues before you look at what you can do within the same field. Give yourself a few days, but don't lose momentum. Try to get up early each day, and treat your career search in the same way you would treat a job. Figure out what's next, outline the steps you need to take, and take those steps.

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    Crafting Your Plan

    It's not enough to say that you want to complete a career change. Instead, you need to outline your plan for completing that career change in order for the change to be successful. Write down the goal you have in mind for your career. Remember that looking-back on your life in completion exercise we did at the beginning? This is the goal you'll want at the top of the paper. Next, write the twenty-year goal for your career, the ten-year goal, the five-year goal, and the one year goal - where do you want to be at this time next year? How will you get there? If it involves education, what are the goals for that? Who will you contact? By being specific about your goals, you can be focused.

    When you have a clear plan for your career change, it's easier to proceed with it. You'll know what the next step you need to take will be, you'll know who that step will involve, and you'll know when to take it. You may want to create a spreadsheet outlining your plan.

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    Unless you've lost your job, it will be important for you to keep the job you have until you've got your career change underway. Make sure you know exactly what steps you'll be taking. Don't quit until you know that you'll be enrolled in school or you'll be starting at your new company. Make sure that you give enough of an advanced notice about leaving your job and don't burn any bridges on the way! Soon you'll be happily working away in your new position.

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