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7 steps to a smooth career change -- Page 2

Birkel, author of "Career Bounce-Back," has created some questions to help you figure out if your next career path will be a successful one:

  • How do industry experts rate the field's health today? Research trade journals, industry associations or the general press. Even an Internet search engine inquiry into the industry could give you valuable information.
  • What major changes are being predicted?
  • What factors will help the industry during the next decade?
  • What are the biggest threats the industry will face in the decade ahead?
  • In what geographical areas will the field be strongest?
  • What are the biggest advantages or disadvantages for working in this field?

True, it's good to get in on the ground floor of things. Just make sure it's a field with a solid foundation.

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Step 6: Test drive a new career.
Most career counselors suggest making a gradual career change. That means hanging onto the job you want to escape while making initial forays into your desired employment area. This will give you a chance to adjust to the new work without giving up your current paycheck.

The easiest way to test a new career is to scale back the hours at your current job. If you can afford it, see if your boss will let you work part-time. Or use some vacation time to try your hand at something comparable. If your ultimate goal is to open a flower shop, a weekend job at a local florist could provide an inside look at the industry.

Also look for volunteer positions or internships in the new field. Such positions might not precisely mirror the job you ultimately want, but they should give you a feeling for what the field requires.

A job-testing stint also could help you discover flaws in what you thought was an ideal job. Headhunter Werksman worked with a software engineer who yearned to open a high-end coffee shop and tried a stint as a barista.

"That took the luster off his dream," Werksman says. It was disappointing, but it was better that he found out before he made the big leap.

Step 7: Determine whether you can you afford to make the change.
Maybe in your zeal to find a new career, you told yourself that the money doesn't matter. But the truth for most of us is that money always matters.

That's why you shouldn't impetuously quit your current job. Neither, says recruiter Werksman, should you try to finance a career change by tapping your 401(k) or other retirement fund. And don't take money out of your kid's college fund.

Do find out the accepted salaries in your dream field. Check salary surveys published in trade journals, wage data collected by trade associations and statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Then crunch the numbers and come to a realistic decision on whether you can afford to change career gears. If you've got kids to put through college or a heavy load of credit card debt, it might not make sense to take a $30,000 pay cut to pursue your dream job. On the other hand, if you are sure you'll be happier and don't mind scrimping for a couple of years knowing that eventually you'll be making good money, then go for it.

A good way to figure out your financial career-change feasibility is to write a business plan. This holds true whether you're taking the entrepreneurial route and opening your own juice bar or going back to school for training to become a veterinary technician. If your calculations reveal that you can't afford to make the switch as you originally planned, the change still might be possible. Maybe you can't survive on a vet tech salary, but you could become an office manager for a vet. That would pay more and allow you to work in the animal care field.

In addition, putting your business goals on paper will help you tweak your career change moves and increase the odds of success.

Career counselor Godwin had a client who wanted to start a retail operation where parents could hold parties for their children. They discovered a lot of businesses already offered the service, so Godwin helped her client revamp the idea. The retail party spot turned into a business in which the client now puts on children's parties in their own homes. The business plan process allowed her to put a different spin on the original plan and mine an overlooked niche.

And be ready for your new career's total bill. In addition to financial costs such as a probable pay cut as you start over at an entry-level position, retraining expenses and possible relocation outlays, you'll also have some personal dues to pay. It will be like starting your first job all over again, one that's likely outside of your professional comfort zone.

"I don't believe you are ever too old to change careers," says career counselor Birkel, "but you do need to be prepared to pay the costs for making the change."

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.

-- Posted: Oct. 20, 2004


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