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7 steps to a smooth career change

More of us are shifting career gears than ever before, but just how smoothly you make the move depends on how well you do your homework.

There are lots of reasons for exploring a new career: fundamental changes in your field, company outsourcing or downsizing, even simple dissatisfaction with your current job. And there are many things to consider, including whether a career change is financially realistic.

To make sure you arrive at your new profession destination without wrecking your life and finances en route, check out these seven career-change steps.

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Step 1: Figure out what's wrong with your job picture.
Step 2: Know your strengths and weaknesses.
Step 3: Determine which skills are transferable.
Step 4: Research your options.
Step 5: Be realistic about a new field's prospects.
Step 6: Test drive a new career.
Step 7: Determine whether you can you afford to make the change.

Step 1: Figure out what's wrong with your job picture.
Is it you, the job, your employer or your industry? Leslie Godwin, a career and life-transition coach based in Southern California, recalls a client who was desperate to find a new job. The client liked her boss and her employer, but she had been promoted to a position she didn't like.

Godwin, author of "From Burned Out to Fired Up," helped her client rewrite her job description. The client is now as happy as ever. The lesson: A drastic career change might not be the correct solution. So don't trade the legal bar for a bartender's counter without double-checking whether your current career can be saved.

First consider smaller professional adjustments. Like Godwin's client, you may be able to put a new twist on your old job. Or look into changing employers instead of your career field. A pharmacist in Idaho, for example, grew tired of his job there, moved to Montana and began substituting for pharmacists when they went on vacation. The new twist makes his job interesting, plus he picks his assignments, working as little or as much as he wants.

Step 2: Know your strengths and weaknesses.
Once you decide that changing fields is the right move, examine your capabilities. Get beyond job titles. Look not only at your employment history, but also at hobbies you hold dear. Look at the core skills -- communicating, analyzing, good eye for graphics, poise -- that allow you to be successful at both.

It can be hard to be objective. Consider hiring a coach to help you discern your skills and what jobs can best be served by them. Don't forget about family and friends; their observations are a good way to uncover your skills.

"Ask three of your closest friends to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses," says Damian Birkel, founder of Professionals in Transition, a nonprofit support group for the unemployed and underemployed. "Invite them to offer their input on your career path. Friends can have helpful insights, but be warned; they can also be brutally honest as they offer you their no-holds-barred truths."

Step 3: Determine which skills are transferable.
Keeping your skills in mind, scan the classifieds in your local newspaper or go online to job sites. "Look at the different job descriptions and how they are written," says William A. Werksman, a managing partner with Resource Partners, an executive search and recruiting company based in Las Vegas, Nev.

"See what the different industries have to offer. There's such a vast array of jobs out there," Werksman says. "If you're currently working for an airline in customer service, you can take your customer service skills and use them in the entertainment, recreation, or tourism fields."

A client of Pam Brill, an executive coach at her New Hampshire-based consulting firm In the Zone Inc., was an administrative assistant in the medical industry and was promoted to a management position. She hated it. Brill helped her examine her interpersonal, communication and organizational skills and the client was able to switch from administration to customer service.

Today Brill's client is a customer liaison representative at a ritzy health spa. "It was a perfect fit with her skills, but different from what she had been doing," says Brill, author of "The Winner's Way: A Proven Method for Achieving Your Personal Best in Any Situation."

Step 4: Research your options.
Before you jump career ships, especially to a field in which you have no experience, do some research. Attend conventions or trade shows. Not only will you find out more about the job you think you want, you'll also build an important database of industry contacts.

Talk to people you know in the field. If you don't know anyone, try to find connections through family, friends and business colleagues. And don't be afraid to cold call companies. "It's one of the tricks of being a headhunter: Ask for help and most people generally will try to help you," Werksman says.

Finally, take some courses in your chosen field. Ask your fellow students and professors for their perspectives on the market and the occupation you're considering. As with trade show inquires, you'll get a feel for your new career and expand your networking options if you do decide to make the switch.

Step 5: Be realistic about a new field's prospects.
Make sure you're not being tempted by a fad field that soon will leave you looking for work again. Even in established professions, examine whether the outlook is boom or bust.


 
 
-- Posted: Oct. 20, 2004
     

 

 
 
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