Regardless of whether the career change you're considering is voluntary or involuntary, it's important that you go about the process in a systematic and strategic way. Following is a step-by-step guide to changing your career.
- Perform an honest self-assessment.
Trying to decide on a new career without a clear idea of your strengths, weaknesses, interests, values, skills, etc., will likely only result in frustration and failure. Start by looking back on job roles, projects and volunteer work that you have enjoyed in the past. Even if you are not satisfied with your current job or career as a whole, there are probably at least a couple of aspects of it that you do enjoy.
- Explore different career options.
By helping identify the areas where you have specific strengths and weaknesses, as well as what your genuine interests are (and aren't) and what kinds of natural and learned skills and abilities you have, your self-assessment should give you a very good idea of potential new careers where you stand a good chance of thriving.
At this point, it may be helpful to get some professional career counseling. If you have a personal coach or mentor, his or her input and advice would also be valuable, as would input from close family members and friends, professional business acquaintances, professors/instructors, etc.
- Lay the groundwork.
Here we're talking about the time-tested basics of preparing for a job search. However, if you haven't looked for a job in a number of years, you need to become familiar with how the world of job searching in the 21st century has changed.
It still all starts with a resumé. Depending on how long it has been since you conducted a job search, either dust off your old resumé and prepare to update it or just create a new one from scratch. The rules of resumé writing haven't changed much, either: Keep it short and concise (one to two pages is preferable), lead with a strong summary of your qualifications for the job, and account for any gaps in your employment history. Many career placement experts and counselors now consider new online job search tools to be just as important as a resumé–these include social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, a personal blog, and your own personal website.
- Develop new skills.
In order to change careers–or even to advance in your existing career, for that matter you must be proactive when it comes to learning new things and expanding your professional skill set.
Distance education, or taking courses (university, community college, trade school, etc.) online from home at your own pace and schedule, is growing increasingly popular for everything from acquiring an MBA to basic job-training skills. Finally, look for opportunities in your current job/career to expand your knowledge and skills. Take advantage of training and seminars offered by your current employer, as well as opportunities to cross-train and take on different responsibilities.
- Plan ahead for the transition.
You should realize that changing careers may involve making some sacrifices. For example, you may have to start out your new career on the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder, making less money than you're used to and enjoying less authority and prestige. You may also have to work long hours to prove yourself in your new career, or work two jobs in order make the full transition.
Start planning for all of these scenarios well ahead of time. You may be able to ease the transition by serving volunteer hours in your new career and/or an apprenticeship or internship, or getting a part-time job or doing some freelance work in your new career while still working your current job.