So you’ve decided to take the plunge and switch careers – now you just need to turn your dreams into reality. Not sure where to start? We can’t promise it will be easy, but following our 10-step plan is a good place to start.
1. Make time in your diary
Many people expect change to happen instantly and are disappointed when things take longer than they expected, warns Sarah Archer, career coach and co-founder of CareerTree .
‘You can’t expect to plan your career change in an hour! You will need to create space and time to really reflect, research and test out what is going to be the best move for you. So manage your own expectations, clear time in your diary and set some realistic timescales.’
2. Break down your goals
The thought of changing career can be overwhelming. Many people don’t know where to start, so don’t start at all.
‘Breaking down what you need to do into small manageable steps can make it feel less scary and help you feel in control of your situation,’ says Sarah.
‘One step might be to complete a self-reflection exercise. Another might be to reach out to people in your chosen new field, contacting them online or by attending networking events. Write the steps on a wall planner or calendar so you have a deadline to complete each one.’
3. Know what makes you tick
What used to make you happy in your twenties and thirties may no longer hold true in your forties and fifties. Be willing to take a fresh look at your career and what makes you tick.
‘To understand what kind of role might be right for you, you need to work out what skills you enjoy using, what motivates you, what you’re interested in and what conditions enable you to thrive at work,’ says Sarah.
‘Sometimes you can do this yourself and sometimes enlisting a friend or a professional career coach can help.’
4. Research and more research
Once you’re clear about what roles might suit you based on what will make you happy, it’s time to do your homework.
‘Be forensic in your research,’ says Sarah. ‘Talk to people currently in the job and those who have recently left the role. Ask difficult questions. Really get under the skin of the job – the decision you ultimately make should be based on facts as well as gut feeling.’
5. Be honest about your finances
Before you make a switch, Natasha Stanley, head career change coach at Careershifters‘ Pioneer Course, suggests having a good, honest look at your finances.
‘Do you need to save a nest-egg to make a big leap, or could you “moonlight”, reducing your hours at your day job or working on your new venture in the evenings and weekends?
‘Beware of the assumption that changing careers will automatically mean a drop in income – and at the same time, make sure you’ve got enough in the bank to cover you if you need to take a few months to complete your shift.’
6. Overhaul your CV
You’ve spent time learning about yourself and where you’d most love to invest your time and skills – now you need to tell the world.
‘Your CV, LinkedIn profile and online presence will need to communicate your skills, talents and enthusiasm to a new industry. Career consultants and personal branding can be a great help with this – but you can also do a lot on your own,’ says Natasha.
‘Reframe your experience and abilities to speak directly to the needs of your new field, and don’t try to hide the fact that you’re making a career change.’
7. Build relationships before you apply for jobs
You can apply for jobs using a CV and cover letter but as a career changer, you may be unlikely to have the exact skills and experience necessary to make it to interview. Natasha’s advice is to start making connections and building relationships in the industry first.
‘By getting to know people in the field, you’re able to present yourself as a whole person, not just a list of your past jobs and transferable skills. You’re also likely to hear about opportunities that might not make it to the jobsites.
‘Linkedin is fantastic for reaching out to new people, but don’t hide behind your computer. Attend industry events, talks and classes, join Meetup groups, and tap into your personal network to find people who could advise you and open doors.’
8. Look for ways you can add value
If a particular company appeals to you, look for ways you can add value to what they do.
‘If it’s a small company, you might be able to do some work for them for free, or offer them your observations on how they could improve their services. By supporting their work, you’ll make it clear you’re serious about their industry, and make an impression at the same time,’ says Natasha.
‘If you’re thinking of setting up on your own, start doing what you want to be doing right away. Don’t wait for a writing job or a graphic design ad to appear on a freelancing site before you start building a portfolio. The sooner you can start practicing, gaining experience and making a name for yourself, even if it’s unpaid at first, the better.’
9. Do a test run before you commit
The last thing you want to do is make a career shift which you later regret.
Natasha says: ‘Test out your ideas in whatever way possible, whether that means work-shadowing someone for a day, running informational interviews with people in the industry, or doing your own project on an unpaid basis. The last thing you want is to make a shift based on assumptions, only to find that your “dream career” is actually another nightmare.’
10. Don’t give up
Finally, the search for fulfilling work can test your confidence, but the opportunity you’re looking for could be just around the corner.
‘Take your time, keep an open mind, and be prepared for some knock-backs and dead-ends along the way – but don’t give up,’ says Natasha. ‘Successful people are always the ones that kept going.’
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