12 Most Imperative Steps to Changing Your Career
Changing your career isn’t easy — but when it’s time, no other solution is sufficient replacement. There are a few signs and guideposts along the way that let you know in not-so-subtle form that you’re due.
For instance, have you been nursing a bored, slightly resentful dread in the pit of your stomach for the last few months of work? Watching the clock tick slower and slower each day? Or just plain disengaged, antsy and dreamy about all the other things you’d rather be doing?
There could be more subtle signs as well. Things like: realizing you don’t want to get promoted and become your boss; spending more and more time working on your side hustle (and seeing sustainable results that you could transfer into a full-time gig); drinking every night to soften the edges nicely sharpened by time spent at work.
Whatever the case, there are 12 important steps to take to make your career change:
1. Know thyself
Socrates wasn’t wrong. The rightest navigation to your True North starts from within. You want to make the right career change, not just a knee jerk reaction to a misplaced urge to leave your mean boss once and for all. If you don’t know yourself intimately — including what your values, vision, skills and talents are — you can’t build a fulfilling and successful career.
2. Career change or vacation?
Figure out if you really need a career change: Do you need a new role within your company, a similar job in a new company or an entirely new career? There is a difference in being fed up with your boss and being poorly placed in the wrong role.
One key indicator that we coaches use to determine if you need a career change or just need a break is to figure out if you’re tired or drained. Tired requires more rest and relaxation. It means you’ve been working hard without giving yourself the required time to rejuvenate.
Drained is an indication that you’re not just tired, but actually bone dry. What you’re doing at work is in no way providing you the stimulation and fulfillment that you require. Every day you return to that work is leaking out any juice you were able to replenish with sleep, a glass of wine and a good dinner.
Drained is like exhaustion. And as David Whyte says, “the antidote for exhaustion is not necessarily rest… [it is] wholeheartedness.” That means finding work and a career that you can engage with wholeheartedly.
3. Assess yourself
If you do decide you want to change your career, it will be tremendously helpful to evaluate your values, skills, personality and interests using self assessment tools. Sign up to take the Meyers Briggs test and other skills assessment tests or hire a career coach to help you figure out the bigger picture of who you are.
4. Keep a career journal
It’s also important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. You can’t figure this out from a test, however. You have to find it for yourself. The smartest way to do this comes from Markus Buckingham who tells us that a strength is that which makes us stronger. Brilliant, right? So figure out, what makes you lit up, strong, buzzed, engaged or as if time disappeared? Conversely, when do you feel weak, drained, despondent, or disengaged?
Keep a log or journal to track the times you feel strong and weak so you have a written record of each and know, concretely, what your strengths and weaknesses are.
After you’ve taken time to figure out who you are, what you want, what you’re good at and when you’re at your best, you’re now ready to sit down with pen and paper (or blank screen) and write down every single idea that comes to mind for what you might do for work. Don’t discriminate. In fact, do this over the course of a few days or a week so you give your brain time to explore like a curious anthropologist.
You could even take it a step further and ask people for ideas. Do a few online searches. Be open to both the realistic and fantastical right now. Treat this as a curiosity and idea gathering exercise.
Once you have your list of ideas, pare down your choices by filtering them through what you know of your values, vision, strengths and weaknesses. Then, do research on your top choices. Find out the particulars like the needed skills and background, education requirements and average salary. Using LinkedIn, find out who you know that already has a similar career, or who knows others that are in that career. Make a list of the people you can talk to.
Now you have a short list of options. Before going forward, it’s important to check in with yourself and your commitment levels.
Up to this point you’ve been quietly collecting data, no more. From here on out, that will change. Check in with yourself now to reassess if you still want to change your career or simply change the company you work for.
If you’re sure you want a career change, excellent! Make the commitment to see this through.
8. Gather support
Changing your career is exhilarating, but it can be exhausting, too. While you hold down the job you already have, you’ll be taking on another: the job search. You’ll need support, especially from those closest to you. Have a conversation with your spouse or partner and make sure they support your decision. Share your ideas with your best friend and closest family members. Tell them all that you’ll likely need to call on them for support in the coming weeks or months as you change your life and career.
9. Make it public
Once you have your inner circle supporting you and you’ve shored up your resources, it’s time to take it public. You’ll want to write a simple, to-the-point letter telling people what you’re up to, why and what you need.
Take that info and tidy it up into a brief email that you could send out to everybody you know telling them what you want to do and asking them for help in the way of a) suggestions, support, and good mojo and, b) introductions to people they know that you can chat with for 15 minutes.
Know that you’ll likely need a few different iterations of that email. What you send to your aunt in Duluth is not the same one you’d send to your former colleague.
10. Say “yes”
Once you’ve reached out and started telling your people what you’re up to and what you’re heading towards, you’ll be surprised at the options and opportunities that start coming your way. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come at you all at once— keep sending emails and making phone calls to people on your list. Taking risks pays off. You will gain traction. And when you do, be prepared to say “Yes.” Say yes to coffees, lunches, informational interviews and telephone chats. Say yes to introductions and referrals, even if it doesn’t seem directly related or you don’t see the immediate connection. You never know what conversation or meeting will lead you to the opportunity that is just right for you.
11. Invest daily
Think of your career change as a piggy bank. With just a tiny slot on its back, it’s impossible to give your piggy bank a cash infusion. It’s one-coin-at-a-time, patiently and methodically. Then, one day without you noticing, it’s full.
Instead of infusing a few weeks with all of your intense, passionate desire to change careers, look at it as a long term investment. It will likely take time. And that time might not fit your preferred timeframe.
12. Face fear
We’ve all experienced this. You open up to an idea, apply your energy and smarts and then, Zoom! You’re swept up into momentum. Things start happening more quickly than you expected or in ways you didn’t predict. Suddenly, out of surprise and discomfort, you’re hitting the brakes. This is fear at work.
Know that this might happen. Likely, it will. So when it shows up, be ready for it. When you find yourself procrastinating, making excuses, complaining or criticizing when direct action or decision making is a far smarter option — take heed. Recognize it for what it is and choose differently.
Many people ask how long a career change can (or should) take. My answer is, it depends. It depends on many factors including the energy and time you can put into your change, the resources you have available to you, and whether or not you need to learn new skills to qualify for the career you want to transition into.
More important than how long it will take, remember to stay focused on why you’re choosing the change. You’re making this decision for a reason, and probably a very good one that. It’s worth taking your time and creating something meaningful for yourself.
This is your career after all.
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