There comes a time in almost every career when you have to change directions. You have to take a step back or sideways in order to take a step forward. Maybe you have reached a ceiling in your current position and you’re no longer growing. Or, maybe you’ve simply lost your passion for what you’re doing and want to do something completely different.  Or maybe you are like a lot of people that I work with, and you settled for a career that was never really a good match for you to begin with. If so, that’s okay. It happens. You might even have the desire to start your own business. It doesn’t matter what the change is, what matters is how you approach it.

Step One: The Why

There are a lot of barriers that prevent more people from leaving where they are and doing what they really want to do. And if you’re going to push through and overcome them, you’ll need a strong motivation. This is step one in your career change and I call it your "why." Why rock the boat? Why change at all? Change isn’t easy, so there needs to be a compelling reason in order for you to follow through. Otherwise, you risk not solving anything and ending up with the same problems, but under a different roof. Every big change in life needs a big “why.” Some of the major reasons for the change are lack of fulfillment and boredom. These two are the main ones. A desire for more money is important too. When doing career exploration, it comes down to these three things: Interests, Strengths, and Priorities. Your new career needs to line up with these three things.

Essentially, we are asking...

What are you interested in? What are you good at? What matters the most to you?

Step Two: The What

In order to recognize your next opportunity, you need to be crystal clear on what you are looking for or you’ll never find it! Using the ISP model, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get clarity.

For interests, ask yourself:

  1. In thinking about what you currently do or have previously done for work—What do you love most about what you do? Our goal here is to isolate the good things that you do like, so we can carry those over into the next career. When you are in a job that is not aligned with your natural interests and talents, that’s when you get burned out. So I’d recommend listing these out and then look for trends. What do all of the things you love about your job have in common?
  2. What do you NOT want to continue doing? Our goal here is to identify what doesn’t work for you in a job and hopefully leave that behind in the next career. If this list is much longer than the first list, then that’s a sign you are definitely not in the right job! What we’re doing is trying to design your ideal job and then get as close to it as possible.
  3. What motivates you to perform well on the job? This is very different for people. It could be money and commissions, it could be praise and recognition, it could be doing something of service to others, there’s no wrong answer. There’s just you. There is a career for every motivation. And it’s important that you find a career that rewards you in a way that is meaningful to you so that doing your best will effortless.

For strengths, you can ask yourself:

  1. What do you feel are some of your top strengths? Don’t over-think this one. Just list out five or six things that you think you are really good at. It could be in managing projects, scheduling, managing people, troubleshooting tech problems, anything. As a side note, many people really don’t know what their strengths are and this is normal. This is because they come so naturally to you that you really don’t even notice them.  Often times it takes someone else, whether it’s a career coach, a co-worker or even a career counseling assessment to point it out.
  2. What do other people say that you are really good at? Think of this way: What do other people come to you for? What are you the "go-to" person for? Other people very often see things that we don’t. Again, it often takes an objective viewpoint in order to fully understand our strengths.
  3. Are there any skills or interests that you have that weren’t being utilized? Chances are your current job isn’t fully utilizing your talents. What do you love that you don’t get to do at your job? If this list is small, your current job might not be too bad of a match for you. If it’s a long list, then you are definitely in need of a career change because you are not using most of your natural talents.

For priorities, consider ranking the following in terms of their importance to you:

  1. Salary & benefits
  2. Location/ Length of commute
  3. Company culture
  4. Satisfaction from the work
  5. Insert your own???

Which of these are non-negotiable and which are ones that you are willing to be flexible on?

Step Three: The How

The last step concerns the actual job search process and asking the question: How do I actually position myself to be hired for this new career? There are two steps that you can take right now to help position yourself for a career change.

Find A Mentor

I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a mentor during your career change. You are aligning yourself with someone who is already in that field and getting their guidance and possibly even a referral. You need to talk to people who’ve made similar career transitions and find out how and why they got into that line of work. Thus, here is a critical first step I’d like to recommend to anyone and everyone, everywhere, who is changing careers. Find a mentor in your chosen field. Or, at least find some people you can interview informally. It’s crucial that you talk to people who are doing the working in that field. We’ll call these informational interviews. There is so much information that you can gain by doing this.

So, first ask yourself if you already know someone who is in your line of work. If so, contact them. Tell them you are getting into their field of work and you’d like their insights and guidance. If you don’t know anyone yet, LinkedIn can fix that for you! You’ve got 450 million people at your fingertips and you search by job titles and keywords. Holy cow, it couldn’t be easier. And don’t worry that they are strangers. I’ve had plenty of people that I don’t know reach out to me via LinkedIn and it’s led to phone calls and ongoing relationships. Simply do a search on LinkedIn for people with your desired occupation, look through profiles to find the best matches and reach out to a few people. Perhaps not everyone will respond, but that’s okay. If you can get one or two people on the phone or even to email you, you will learn a ton. You’d be surprised how many people will be willing to have a phone call with you if you are asking for their advice. People love to give free advice and share their expertise.

Transferable Skills

I get a lot of questions about this from job seekers, and I think the standard advice that job seekers receive when changing careers seems to be to “focus on your transferable skills.” But the thing to remember here is that depending on the complexity of your career change, relying on transferable skills may or may not be enough. If you are going into a field that’s still fairly similar to what you’ve done, it might work. For example, if you are a public-school teacher and you want to get a job doing training and professional development in the corporate world, you can do that with transferable skills. It’s a similar job with the same core functions, but just in a different setting. I’ve had two clients do exactly that without having to go back to school. But, if you are doing something a little bit more complex such as going from an accountant to now being a nurse, that’s a different story. That’s going to require a degree and training.

In working with clients on this, we list out the top skills contained in the job descriptions that the client is interested in. Then we brainstorm some examples of how they’ve demonstrated those skills in their previous roles. I actually wrote an article on this last fall called Transferable Skills: A Key Ingredient To Changing Careers, which you can find in the archives of this blog.

As overwhelming as it may seem when you’re still in the contemplation stage, career overhauls are absolutely necessary sometimes. Don’t stay where you are if it isn’t serving you anymore. If you need support from someone who's been there many times, contact me. We’ll get through it together. Change can be scary. But not changing is even scarier. There is always going to be a sacrifice when you are trying to achieve a goal. But the real question is how much are you sacrificing right now by staying somewhere that you don’t want to be?
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