Nowadays, staying on one career path for your whole life is a rarity. It’s difficult to know what you want to do when you’re 18 and starting your college degree, and many people don’t get it right the first time. Career changes are totally acceptable, but that doesn’t make them easy and you don’t want to switch to another mistake. If you are in a field that you just can’t stand anymore and feel it’s time for a change, follow these 5 tips to change your career.
1. Determine your area of interest
If you’re sure your current career path isn’t for you but you’re not sure what is, there are a variety of tests you can take to get ideas. They suggest occupations for you according to your interests and personality. While the occupations they match you with probably won’t be the only ones you would like or be good at, these tests are useful for coming up with ideas you may not have thought of.
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
- Career Key
- Keirsey Temperament Sorter
- 16 Personality Factors
- Strong Interest Inventory
- Color Career Quiz
Once you have some career ideas in mind, do some online research to learn more about them. Look at job descriptions, average salaries, and estimated future growth of the field. Do some job shadowing and narrow down what you have real interest in.
2. Do your research to know what your dream role is really like
A career change is a big deal. You don’t want to make the switch only to find out your new career path isn’t what you thought it would be, and isn’t what you want. Therefore, the next step is to really do your research and get a clear picture of what your new field is like. You also need to know if this occupation is something you could actually do.
In order to get this information, you need to go beyond what you could read in a job description. Speak with friends, acquaintances, or even contact people you don’t know that work in positions similar to the one you want and are willing to answer your questions. Ask all sorts of questions to get a good feel for the ups and downs of the position, the job’s requirements and expectations, what the job is really like, what it takes to really excel in the job, etc.
Some fields are really diverse in where you can work. For example, a social worker could work at a hospital, nursing home, school, police department, public agencies, and more. Talk to several professionals and look into what kind of facility you would want to work at if applicable.
3. Make a list of what you’ve got to offer
Next, you need to be fully aware of everything you have to offer that could be applied to other fields. Set aside some time for you to reflect and compile a list of all your strengths, skills, experience, accolades, etc. It’s ok for this list to very long; you aren’t going to give it to anybody. This is just for your reference.
TheMuse.com provides a list of thought-provoking questions to ask yourself when compiling your list:
- What good things would past supervisors and co-workers say about me? What about friends, mentors, or professors? Who else thinks I’m awesome—and why?
- How have I contributed measurable results in the past?
- How have I contributed beyond what’s easy to measure? Am I a natural leader? Have I served on a company culture committee? Have I won awards?
- How have I failed spectacularly in the past? Count this as a win too, because a willingness to stick your neck out can be a win if positioned properly (this is especially true in tech).
- What might my prospective company need based on its unique situation (maturity, industry, stated objectives, culture, employee demographics, competitors, trends) that I might be able to provide, even if it’s outside the official job description?
- What degrees or certifications do I hold, including online courses?
If you are struggling to come up with much, take a break and come back to it, and/or ask friends, family, colleagues, or mentors to help. Sometimes others can see your strengths easier than you can.
4. Which of your skills will help you in this new career path?
Now, go through your list and highlight your strengths that are most relevant for the career path you want to pursue. Draw parallels between what you already have to offer and what employers will be looking for in the hiring process. Not exactly sure? Again, talk to a professional who knows and could help you.
5. Make a plan of preparation
And finally, look at several job descriptions and make a list of the requirements you don’t qualify for. This list might include soft or hard skills, education, training, or experience. Make a plan of what you need to do to prepare for a career change, including the order in which things need to be done, a timeline, what everything will cost, and how you will manage financially.
If you’re thinking of going back to school in order to pursue this path, consider looking at other options. College tuition is continually rising, so depending on your circumstances, you might be better off spending much less and doing a certification program instead. Many are online, allowing you to continue working at the same time. There are certification programs in all kinds of fields, such as marketing, human resources, information technology, and project management. Talk to professionals in the field to find out what is most recommended.
Another option to consider is doing an accelerated degree program if you already have some education. You could save money and time that way.
Starting a new career can be exciting and liberating, but make sure you do it wisely. Take these don’ts into account before making a decision:
- Don’t let money be the deciding factor. If you’re seeking happiness in a job, money alone isn’t going to give it to you. Make sure you choose something that you will enjoy AND that pays the bills.
- Don’t to back to school until you’ve tried out the field a little. Do a lower-level job in the field that doesn’t require more education first, get an internship, or do a good amount of job shadowing. You want to be SURE this is what you want before spending thousands of dollars on tuition.
- Don’t expect a quick switch. Thorough career changes usually take at least 6-12 months to pull off, or more if school is involved.
- Don’t make the switch just because the field is hot or you have a friend doing well in it. Choose your career because it’s the right fit for you and it’s what you really want.