Preparing to make a major career change can be like parachuting out of a plane—thrilling but also terrifying. These days, though, career transitions are not uncommon. According to a Harris survey, only 14% of US workers believe they have the perfect job and more than half want to change careers. Leaping into unfamiliar career territory requires courage and planning. Yet it seems like many people spend more time planning their vacations than their careers. As Benjamin Franklin said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Here are some tips that will help set you up for success when getting ready for that big career change.
Make sure it's for the right reasons
Start by determining whether the problem is your career or your workplace. Remember that a career change is very different from a job change. The fact that you can't stand your cranky micromanaging boss or your co-workers isn't a good reason to make a major career transition. If you used to like your job in the past, but now you hate it because you have a new manager, chances are you're not ready for a career overhaul. Know that the grass isn't always greener. Dig deep within yourself to understand why you crave a career transformation. A significant career change should be born out of a desire for things like fulfillment, happiness, freedom and flexibility, among others. Make sure you are running toward something you love and not away from something you hate.
Do your homework
Confirm that your dream career really is what you imagine it to be. Join professional associations and network with your future colleagues. Attend career-specific conferences. Tap into your personal contacts and talk to family, friends and mentors to gather as much information as possible. Learn what opportunities and challenges exist in the new career you are considering through informational interviews. If possible, shadow professionals or better yet volunteer or work part-time in the new field you are contemplating to get a sense of the daily grind. You will also want to understand upcoming trends, as well as compensation. If after extensively researching your new career choice, it still seems like the right fit for you, you can move on to examining how your current skill set translates to your future profession.
Take an inventory of your skills
Whether you know it or not, chances are you have valuable skills that are transferable to the new field. For example, if you've been working in the corporate world and want to start your own business, you probably have an established reputation, valuable contacts and hiring practice—all of which will serve you well as an entrepreneur. Also, take note of areas where you may be lacking and work to fill in those gaps. Your new career may require you to go back to school for some additional education to supplement the skills you already have. If that is the case, you may even consider completing those requirements while you are still in your current job. By taking small steps rather than making an abrupt change, the transition will seem less overwhelming and easier to manage.
Taking steps to prepare financially for a career transition is critical. It is highly likely that in the early days of your new career, your income may drop slightly or even significantly. You'll want to examine your expenses closely and reduce or eliminate any unnecessary spending. Separate your needs from your wants. Ideally, you will want to set aside at least 6 to 12 months of living expenses to provide a cushion as you ramp up in your new career. Depending on what field you are transitioning into, you can investigate grants, scholarships or loans to assist you in getting up and running. It may also be wise to meet with a financial advisor at this stage to get a professional opinion and learn about other options that may be open to you.
Create a plan
A goal without a plan is just a dream. To make that dream a reality, you'll need to devise a concrete set of milestones with target dates to hold yourself accountable. This is the road map that will get you from point A to point B. Establish your short-term objectives (those that will take 12 months or less) as well as long-term ones that will take longer to achieve. Also, identify whether any barriers may interfere with your ability to reach your goals in the stated time frame. For example, if your goal is to be a web developer, but you don’t have the training, it’s time to start researching educational programs. The most important thing is to write your plan down. Writing down your plan in detail will increase the odds that you will actually accomplish it. Tony Robbins says, “Write your goals down—not on a computer, but on paper, or in a journal. There’s something that happens when we write something down.” In fact, in a study conducted by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, more than 70% of the participants who wrote down their goals had accomplished them, compared to 35% who kept their goals to themselves and didn’t write them down.
Remember, it's a process
Making a major career change is a process, not a destination. Remember that success doesn't happen overnight so don't get discouraged. The key is to celebrate small wins along the way. If you don't celebrate small milestones, you are going to lose the motivation and drive to continue. So, the key is to tie how you feel not to your long-term goal but to the progress that you are making. The better you feel about yourself and your progress, the more likely it is that you will continue to put in the work that will help make your dreams a reality.