So You’re Thinking of Changing Careers

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Written By RobertMaxfield

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“You don’t have to take life the way it comes to you. By converting your dreams into goals, and your goals into plans, you can design your life to come to you the way you want it. You can live your life on purpose, instead of by chance. ~ Whatever it takes” – The Goal

How many careers would you say you have had to date? One, two, more? Our parent’s generation seldom considered changing careers. The career model for their time was to join a company, work your way up with the help of promotions and retire with a great pension. At the retirement party they would hopefully give you a gold watch and a party and you would be on your way. Changing careers was not even on the radar screen for most professionals. Today it’s seen as a potential issue if a professional has not changed careers at least once. By changed careers I mean moving from one field to another or moving to different positions within a field.

For instance, programmers may transition to technical leads and technical leads to project managers or system architects. This is a fairly standard practice in the developer track of Information Technology but should be a planned transition if it is to be a successful one.

Quite often however, when considering a career change the responsibilities of the new position are an unknown quantity. There are several methods currently used by corporations that enable employees to “try on” a position before making the career change. For example, you can “shadow” someone who works in the field you wish to move to thus enabling you to see what a typical day or week is like in that job. Sometimes you find on closer inspection that the job is nothing like you thought or the requirements are such that further education or longer work hours are required. Job shadowing allows you to experience advance what the job is really like without having to give up your current position. Indeed, this style of “checking out” a career first is a good idea if you are not quite sure which position is right for you.

Sometimes additional training is required for the career move and it behooves the person making the change to do a thorough investigation prior to executing the investment of time and money. Your company may be prepared to pay for your training since your improved skills will benefit you both. In order for the company to remain competitive in the marketplace they also need staff with up to date skills. Similarly, benefits like additional training cuts down on attrition, which can be very costly.

Another alternative is to seek out a mentor who already works in the field of interest, and spark a conversation to determine the personality characteristics required for the position. For example, a developer who is considering moving to call center work may find that interaction with the public in a customer service role is not compatible with their personality. Whereas a continued role in the development area, moving to architect of a software module for instance more naturally suits their personality and style of working.

Each individual must find their own motivation and determine whether the desire to change careers is based on sound reasoning. Among other things, you need to verify whether you are in the wrong career or if the motivation to change careers is based solely on monetary compensation or because something is amiss in your personal life.

Prior to executing a career change I suggest that you put together a list of your career expectations. For instance, if you could have any job you want, what would it be?

Ask yourself these questions:

– What would it provide you with?

– What kind of tasks would you perform?

– What size organization do you want to work in?

– Do you want to be a big fish in a little pond? Or a little fish in a big pond?

– What type of people do you enjoy working with?

– How dynamic of an environment do you like?

– Do you prefer to work on the bleeding edge or the leading edge of the field?

– Would you prefer business analysis where you interact with the functional users, or systems analysis where you remain more technical?

– Would you prefer working with Global systems or local systems?

Create a list of things you really enjoy about your current career. If you have difficulty filling the list, it may indeed be time for a career change.

Put together a list of things you would like to do where your needs are currently unmet in your current position. Look around your present company to see what position could provide you with more job satisfaction. Then go through the process again to see if the job is what you think it is. I am reminded of the attorney who worked hard to pass the bar exam, worked his butt off to make partner, then one day found himself asking “is that all there is?” And, “why am I so unhappy with this work?” Thousands of dollars later, he and his counselor realized that he was an attorney because all the men in his family had been attorneys. What he really wanted to do, was work with children. He made a drastic career change, began working with children, and found that he was much happier. While his income was not at the same level as previously, he experienced a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.

Career change can be a daunting and yet very rewarding process. Rewarding because you are challenged and excited about learning and using new skills and abilities. Daunting because you may have to begin at an entry-level position and have to work your way back to your present level of expertise. I remember once when a new hardware platform entered the marketplace and I wanted to get my hands on that system more that anything. I took a 25% pay cut to get on the new system and learn it, but a year later, I had almost doubled my salary. I took the 25% cut in pay because the skills required for the new system were scarce and the market was paying premium wages for the new skills.

One thing’s for sure, if you want to change careers, you must make a plan and work it. Like anything else, you will need to set goals, do your research and follow the steps to achievement of your goals. You must:

– Plan your mission. What career do you wish to enter or move to?

– Visualize and articulate your career goal.

– Plan the steps necessary to reach the certifications and skills required.

– Set personal deadlines for achievement of your new career goal.

– Benchmark progress along the way.

Remember that preparation always precedes success. Failure to plan is planning to fail. According to Tom Peters, today’s employee will go through at least 3 career changes in their lifetime. Perhaps now is the time for one of your career changes. One avenue might be, when a new project is being launched, make sure you get on the team. In today’s world changes occur rapidly and in order for those you to remain successful you must constantly upgrade your skills and bring them in line with the new technology and this new economy.

In summary, to benefit from a successful career change, your have to set goals, measure your progress towards those goals, make adjustments as necessary, and work your plan, to achieve a smooth transition to your new career.