Thinking of Changing Careers? Here’s How to Get Started

By Ford R. Myers
President, Career Potential, LLC

If you always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but you’ve spent the last 20 years as an accountant, then maybe going to work as a financial executive for a major airline headquartered in your city would make more sense than climbing into a cockpit.

Make your “initial cut” by sitting-down and writing-out a list of possible careers or jobs that are a realistic fit with what you’ve learned about yourself. Then brainstorm some related options, perhaps with the help of a relative, close friend or counselor. Make sure the careers you list are ones that you feel genuinely attracted to.

Get “market feedback” from former colleagues, associates and professionals who are in a position to know both your skills and the requirements of your targeted industry.

Researching Careers, Job Categories and Titles

The next step is to research what’s required to enter that field. There are many great resources you can use to identify appropriate career paths and job roles. These include:

  • Library research
  • Online databases
  • Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook (US Department of Labor)
  • Career coaches
  • Professional associations
  • Trade publications
  • Universities
  • Career portals and “job board” web sites

Once you’ve completed your research, if all signs point toward a good fit, then mobilize your resources, get into action and go after your new career!

Narrowing Your Choices

If you’re still having difficulty finding your next career path, go back through the data that emerged from your exercises, assessments and research. Then, pursue these additional steps:

  • Identify the “Consistent Themes” that appeared multiple times in your documents and test reports – themes that seem to “define who you are” (think of these as your “must haves”)
  • Create an “Employer Wish List” that includes all the characteristics of an ideal company to work for (when picking your next employer, make sure it matches your “ideal adjectives” as closely as possible)
  • Draft your “Perfect Job Description” that would truly be the “job of your dreams” (when you‘re “crystal clear” about the specific job you want, you’ll have a much better chance of actually finding or creating it)

More detail about these additional exercises is below.

Consistent Themes

When you completed all your exploratory career exercises, you undoubtedly noticed some “Consistent Themes” emerging from your work. Look through all your answers, and begin to identify the words and phrases that are mentioned several times.

Find the adjectives that seem to run through your writing, and make a list of them. You may also find such “consistent themes” in your performance reviews from previous employers. What stands-out? What is repeated over and over? What seems most important to you? These are called your “Consistent Themes,” and you must make note of them! They define who you are and what you really want professionally!

You’ll find that these “Consistent Themes” are vitally important to your career satisfaction. To the extent possible, therefore, they should be treated as “must haves,” rather than “nice to haves.” These “Consistent Themes” will actually point you directly toward your next career, and give you a standard against which to measure future opportunities.

Employer Wish List

The time has come to make an “Employer Wish List” of adjectives that describe your ideal employer, regarding criteria such as size, location, industry, product or service, culture, values, environment, people, etc.

Don’t hold back! This is YOUR fantasy, so list what you would really LOVE in your new career and the next company you work for. What types of careers typically feature the criteria on your “Wish List?” If you don’t know what you want most in an employer, how will you know when you’ve found the right one? Or, as the TV personality “Dr. Phil” is fond of saying: “You’ve got to name it to claim it!”

Perfect Job Description

Now it’s time to draft your own “Perfect Job Description.” Here’s your big chance to finally design the job you’ve always wanted. Be bold! Use your imagination! Do some research, surf the web, go through your old employment files, talk to some human resource experts. Do whatever you need to do in order to create what you would truly call a “Perfect Job” for you at this point in your career. When drafting your “Perfect Job Description,” include these sections: Title, Brief Description of Company, Responsibilities of Job, Qualifications/Requirements for Candidate, Reporting Relationships, Full Compensation, Career Path at Company. Again, ask yourself – what types of careers have jobs like the one you’ve just created for this exercise? Once you get clear on all this, you will have discovered your new career!

There’s something very powerful about knowing exactly what you want and “going after it” with absolute focus and intentionality. The “Perfect Job Description” is an exercise that will give you just that sort of clarity.

Where To Go From Here

Career change is never easy. It’s like finding your way out of a wilderness. In his excellent book, Transitions, William Bridges discusses the challenges of navigating through what he calls “the neutral zone.” The process and can be extremely difficult and even disorienting. But imagine how much harder it would be without the “roadmap” that can be developed by completing the exercises outlined above.

Now that you’ve done all this great work to discover your new career path, you need to put the next pieces into place. This involves developing all the documents in your “Job Seeker’s Tool Kit” and then planning your full search campaign – including networking, interviewing and negotiating.

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