Are you ready to switch careers, but don’t know how to — or what comes next? These tips will help you navigate you down right path.
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra
Sometimes you career doesn’t take the trajectory you think it will. You get that dream job, only to realize after a few months that it’s not at all what you thought it would be. You work hard to establish yourself in a field or industry, only to find after a few years that you feel bored and listless.
Change is a part of life, and a fork in your career road doesn’t mean you’ve gone off course or done anything wrong; it just means it’s time for the next leg of your journey. But when you find yourself at this critical juncture, your next steps can feel about as uncertain as Mr. Berra’s enigmatic advice above.
You know things need to change, but what are you actually supposed to do?
When it’s hard to make a decision (choose this job over that job, take an internship or go back to school), keep these tips in mind to help yourself get clarity, get unstuck and navigate the next steps down your career path. (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. Look back at where you’ve been
When you’re trying to figure out where to go next, it can help to look back at what has and hasn’t worked for you up to this point. By identifying the aspects of your current career you love — and those you definitely do not love — you can get better insight into what to look for from your next career.
Maybe you went into law because you were passionate about helping people, but you’ve since learned that most of your time is spent clogging the system with counter-replies and sur-replies that make your head spin and your soul hurt. That’s helpful information — you know you want something that will put you near the heart of the action of helping people in the here and now. You might enjoy channeling your skills to work for a nonprofit or overseeing charitable outreach for a major corporation.
Maybe you’ve decided the fast pace and constant stress of your journalism career isn’t really your cup of tea, but you’ve discovered you love finding creative ways to put a new spin on whatever assignment you’ve been given. You might want to look at a field like copywriting, where you can focus on wordsmithing without having such a white-knuckle deadline looming over your head.
2. Identify your transferable skills
Changing careers doesn’t necessarily mean you need to run back to school and get a new degree. While an MBA or other advanced degree may be helpful, it all depends on the field you’re looking at going into and the certifications you currently have.
In addition to knowing the criteria you’re looking for in a new career (less stress, more freedom, more personal interaction, etc.), you also want to find something that will be a good match for your natural talents and inclinations. This includes both your official experience and skills and those ever-important “soft skills” employers are always looking for.
Sit down and list out everything you currently do in your career — both concrete tasks and the personal skills these tasks require. You may be surprised to learn how many of your abilities translate quite well to a new career path.
Your experience as a PR rep may not seem directly related to your new goal of becoming a social worker, but when you really think about it, they both involve the ability to understand how others are thinking and to communicate effectively with a wide range of people.
3. Talk to people who’ve been there
Your network exists precisely for times like this. Reach out to them and use their years of experience and wisdom to help you answer your questions, explore your options and generally talk through some of the things you’ve been struggling with as you make this change.
Maybe your mentor went through a career shift of her own; ask her if you can have coffee and talk about how she got through it. Maybe that contact you met at a networking meetup is in the field you’re thinking of going into; ask him if you can take him to lunch and conduct an informational interview to learn more about the industry.
Your network isn’t useful only for job searches; they’re a priceless resource you can tap into for all aspects of your career development. So don’t be afraid to tap into them.
4. Be okay with discomfort
A career change is a big transition, and there will naturally be some parts of it that feel uncertain, scary and a plethora of other icky emotions. Be prepared to embrace the ick. It isn’t a sign that things have gone awry; it’s just part and parcel of making a big shift in your life.
You will find clarity. Things will get easier. Learn to be okay with a little mess and weirdness right now; every big transition has its growing pains, but they will pass.
If it makes you feel any better, remember that even the big guys (and gals) go through the discomfort of transition periods — just ask James Altucher, who’s rebooted his career path lots of times over the past 20 years.
You can do this. You’ve gotten through much worse.
Have you switched careers, or are you currently in the process? What advice would you share?
Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.