According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American will have between 7 and 10 jobs. We are a peripatetic bunch, moving from job to job, location to location pursuing exactly what nobody really knows. But there is a difference between changing jobs and changing careers and it is the latter that we will discuss today. Job changers include everyone from college students switching summer jobs, to skilled technicians making lateral moves from one company to another. Career changers, on the other hand, are more typically those who have worked a decade or two in one profession and decide it is time to move on to something completely different.
The act of changing careers can often involve resolute retooling and many who do make a switch report that they have to seek additional training or education in their new field. For instance the teaching profession is bursting with career-changers, and the vast majority of these folks found it necessary to return to school to make up for deficiencies in their coursework as well as to receive certification. On the other hand, many who choose to jump to entrepreneurism and start their own businesses can leverage the long experience in their first career to inform their new one without needing to seek additional training or a second degree.
As a career-changer myself, I can speak highly of the benefits as well as the trials involved in a mid-career switch. Making the leap is not something for the faint of heart, nor should one suppose that the process is easy, fast, or fun. It takes time to transition, it can be expensive, and it can cause a great deal of anxiety in your relationships with family, friends, and spouse. It can also cause stress in your current job, as you begin the winding-down, stepping-back, and sometimes emotional disentangling process of leaving a long-term career for an often months or years-long process of transition. For example, my own switch took the better part of 5 years to accomplish, cost me (quite literally) tens of thousands of dollars in education expense, added an almost-unacceptable level of uncertainty to my personal economy, and caused a great deal of stress to my marriage as I worked my way out of the entertainment industry and into a small business. Along the way there were some desperately unhappy job experiences, a stint in teaching college, a new graduate degree, and a variety of attempts at launching new business ventures before finally landing where I am today.
Every career-changer has their own unique experience, flavored by their own background, personality, and financial situation, but there what they have in common is a creeping sense of ennui or dissatisfaction and a creative determination to try something else in life. The steep learning curve that accompanies a career switch opens new neural pathways, unleashes wonderful creativity, increases personal satisfaction, and can often lead to measurable improvements in health and happiness for the switcher. The best advice advice is to take your time, avoid impetuous leaps, and determine for yourself exactly what it is that you are looking for.
- Take stock: Figure out your own work interests and values; talk to head-hunters and career coaches, friends, and family and read up on career change. A personal inventory of strengths, skills, and abilities is a valuable tool to find the best match. Psychologist have developed a wide range of tests and instruments to help identify the jobs for which you are best suited from a personality and ability standpoint.Though many experts question the efficacy of familiar tests like Myers-Briggs, you can still learn a great deal about yourself and gain valuable insight just by taking these tests.
- Look around: Research possible industries and companies and make lists: different professions that sound intriguing, things you are passionate about, related careers that are closer to what you are already doing. Leverage your personal network to learn about what others enjoy about their jibs and how they find satisfaction. Try to apply for a few jobs that you don’t much care about just for the learnings that can be gained from the application and interview process.
- Set goals: The process of personal change can take a long time, but it is important that you not let it go on forever. Set a time frame and commit to it – for instance give yourself 6 months to figure out what the new career should be. Once you have targeted your new field, determine exactly what (if any) re-tooling or training is involved and set a goal to complete that in the minimal time necessary. Time can be your enemy, and a transition that lasts overly long is one that has a higher probability of failure.
- Find mentors: One of the most important things a career-switcher can do is to find someone to help. Sometimes it can be a hired expert such as a career coach or psychologist, but it could also be someone with deep experience in the new field or career. There is nothing more valuable in career development than developing a rich mentor relationship and in the context of switching this is more worthwhile than almost anything else you could do. The advice, feedback, and insight that you can receive from a mentor will help you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine when you first begin the process.
- Prepare carefully: One of the most important things you can do to get going is to re-work your resume and bio. The one you have is likely inappropriate for your new field, and your lack of experience will be overstated if you start sending it around. You have to give a great deal of thought to how you present yourself and the jobs you’ve held up til now. Your new resume needs to emphasize your innate and learned skills, highlight the jobs that most reflect the skills you need in your new life, and emphasize the journey that has brought you to the new career.
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