The job hunt

The Job Hunt: Tips for a successful career change

Contributing ColumnistNovember 5, 2012 

Like any transition in life, a career change can be a little intimidating.

If you are in the midst of or considering a career change, you are not alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates Americans change careers three to five times before the age of 38.

And there are many different reasons for the changes. While sometimes such a move is an unfortunate effect of downsizing, it can also be an opportunity to pursue something more fulfilling. Maybe you have achieved the highest level in your current job or maybe you are just bored and want something more challenging.

Some people choose careers without a lot of self-examination and later discover they're not the right fit after all.

Whatever your reason, there are steps you can take and resources to tap into that can ease the transition.

Evaluate

One of the first steps is to evaluate your situation including your financial status.

If you have lost your job, you may have a limited time to find another before your resources run out. This means you may need to find something temporary before you can really pursue any major changes.

Will your new career endeavor require you to start in an entry-level position or otherwise have a reduction in income? Will you have to go back to school? What kind of savings do you have in place?

You also need to evaluate your career goals. Take stock of the skills you can use in a different job. Is there a career you can transition into that does not involve furthering your education?

Maybe you need to evaluate your current job to determine what aspects you really enjoy or what it lacks that would make work more satisfying.

Research

The next step is to further investigate your options.

You can read about careers on Onetonline.org or in the Occupational Outlook Handbook at Bls.gov/ooh.

You should also talk to people in the field to find out the realities of day-to-day work. Be sure to ask about trends in the industry and get their advice on strategies for a successful career change.

Make sure you also share your résumé with these contacts and ask for referrals so that you can grow your network within the desired industry.

You could also ask for an opportunity to shadow someone on the job so you can experience it for yourself.

Gain experience

Once you decide on a career path and learn how to get into that field, you may need to obtain more relevant experience, build skills and get further training.

Volunteer work is one way to gain experience in career fields that are difficult to break into because you are not asking to be paid and it shows dedication.

Many people think internships are just for college students, but this is not true. Internships can be obtained after college as well and are meant to be temporary learning experiences, so no prior experience is usually required.

Both volunteer and internship experiences can lead to other opportunities and help build your contacts within your target industry.

If you need to gain specific skills or education, check out local resources such as the library, community or adult education center, and local colleges.

Retool

Sometimes you do not need to gain additional experience or education, but you will probably still need to update your résumé to apply in a new field.

A functional or hybrid résumé style may be the best for people changing careers because they highlight specific relevant skills as opposed to job titles.

It may also help to consult with a career coach in reorganizing your résumé. Be sure to include any volunteer experience or relevant internships you've had and feature them prominently.

Making a successful career change is a major decision that takes preparation and planning. It is also somewhat of a risk, so it may take a strong dose of courage with a network of encouraging people and access to resources that will support you. Consider consulting with a career coach or counselor to assist.

Theresa Mickelwait holds a master's degree in psychology and a certificate in career coaching from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She is a senior assistant director at the University of Kentucky James W. Stuckert Career Center. Reach her at theresa@vision4lifecoaching.com.

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