Changing careers

Changing your career involves more than just changing a job. It means stepping into a new field, or upgrading your credentials so as to change your career trajectory within the field you already work in. It involves decisions that can seem daunting, and that are important.

Why change careers? Because you feel the need. Because you want to. Because you have to....

People have many reasons for considering a change of career: to improve their quality of life; to increase their income; to change their professional status; to find fulfillment or challenge or stability; to restart a working life that's been derailed by a changing economy. These are just a handful of the motivations that lead people to want to change careers – and all of them are totally legitimate.

It's important, before you take the plunge, that you take some important steps

- First, take some time to explore the motives pushing you towards taking a step that will involve giving up your current career, starting afresh, facing unfamiliar challenges, possibly going back to school or taking further training. What is it you want, need, expect, hope to gain? What is it about your current trajectory that you're unhappy with? What is it that you value about the career(s) you feel beckoning you?

- The second step involves making a thorough catalog of your strengths and capacities, your interests and passions. When the time comes to consider where to start your new career – which job within the field you've chosen, which field from among those you've considered – this catalog should guide you.

- Take a good look around at the possible alternatives; look farther than you already have. Take advantage of all the resources available for those exploring career options – to explore options but also to explore the range of options. This is especially important if your desire to change careers stems from a dissatisfaction with your current circumstances. Don't leap at the first new option that captures your imagination. Perhaps anything really would be better (at least for you) than the career trajectory you're stuck in; but that doesn't mean that one alternative isn't better than another, and that there might not be better options, better escape routes, than the one that's captured your imagination. Even if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence, that doesn't mean that the next field over isn't greener still. The options are wider than you imagine – so take that good look around.

- Finally: when looking at those alternatives, remember that a clear understanding of the consequences that any given choice should entail understanding the consequences of the consequences. You aren't stepping from one place into another ; that's not what a career is all about. You're changing trajectories, so consider where your new trajectory will take you – for years down the line.

The cost of staying in a toxic job

A toxic job can leave us in a state of almost permanent anxiety and stress, to the point where it drains the pleasure out of life and contributes to serious physical ailments. It's often a job we fell into for simple need of a job, or because we were unable to complete the studies/training that would net us a better one. But it can sometimes have seemed, at first, like exactly the opposite – a dream job at a braggable company.

The toll a toxic job takes on your physical and emotional state can often make it harder to recognize the difference between a toxic work environment and an occupation to which you're profoundly unsuited. So the first question anyone looking to change their career should ask themselves is:

Should I change careers, or just change employers?

It's natural, when working at a job you hate, to think about escaping into something altogether different. But is that really what you want? Is it the specific job, your boss or co-workers, or the trade/profession/sector itself that's at the root of your dissatisfaction? Changing careers can be a burdensome and expensive response to a problem with much simpler solutions. Some questions you can ask yourself, if you want to understand whether you need to to change careers or simply change jobs:

-Have you already changed jobs, within the same field, without any improvement in your sense of commitment, fulfillment, happiness?
-Does your current employer seem to recognize talent and hard work, and respond with rewards and promotion or is that recognition lacking?
-Are other people getting ahead there?
-Is it possible that something outside of work is responsible for your dissatisfaction?
-And is it possible that dissatisfaction with your job is a stand-in for some other issue?
-Did you enter your current job with some hope that it would be interesting and enjoyable – or was it simply a paycheck?
-Do you get along, on a personal level, with the other people in your team?

It might be the job that's the problem, not the work you're doing or the prospects it holds. You might simply need to find a better employer, and a job you're already qualified for in the same sector, but with better prospects.

Jobs vs sectors:

Remember that changing careers likely won't mean an escape from the reality of constant job rollover. The average American now typically goes through 12 to 15 jobs in their working life, and this pattern will likely hold just as true along your new career route as along your old one. What this means, for people looking for a job in a different sector, is that it's important to remember that you aren't just taking a new job; you're entering a new field, with it's own range of employers and positions and its own employment realities and patterns of advancement. Consider your decisions from the widest possible perspective, looking at the whole of the sector you're entering; your multiple-job future may involve traversing most of it.

This isn't meant simply as a warning: the range of possibilities opened in a given field might be inspiring. Negative or positive, it's important to consider.

Perhaps you simply want to continue in the sector you've already settled in, but with improved credentials and better, wider employment opportunities. If so, you probably already know what these would provide you in terms of career path. If you aim to strike out elsewhere, you should aim to have just as good a sense of what to expect in the fields you're considering.

Ways of escape:

If your fundamental motivation is to escape the career path (or lack of a career path) that you're on, but you don't have a clear and determined sense of where you want to escape to, the first step is to honestly assess your interests and skill-sets, and the jobs they suggest would best suit your goals. There are many personality and assessment tests available – online, from private or public providers, or at universities, colleges and technical schools.

These probably aren't going to change your view of yourself; like most people who've been in the world of work for some time you probably already have a good sense of your talents and interests. But they will help you frame that understanding in terms more useful to your current goal – finding a new career that makes best use of your talents, and that best suits your interests. And remember: the results you get from these assessments are simply theoretical. Nothing says that you have to narrow your ambitions to suit them. They're an aid, nothing more; they're something to help you look at your current ambitions with a clear head.

Balancing educational cost against opportunities -

If your change of career involves retraining, this can be expensive, with the cost obviously depending on the length, the sector and the trade/profession you're entering. Generally, the longer, more demanding and more expensive the retraining you undertake, the wider the range of possibilities opened up in front of you. But training involves an investment on your part, broadly commensurate with the rewards in terms of open doors; it's important to give careful thought to how you're going to deal with a cost that can be measured in time as well as in dollars.

Any choice involves a need to balance cost against results. Training as a doctor or as a nurse, a paralegal or a lawyer, a machinist or a CAD tool and die maker, represent entry-points to the same fields. But they define different career trajectories, and different investment costs in terms of months and years as well as money.

Financing the choice you've made.

How you finance any necessary retraining depends very much on your personal situation. A single parent with a mortgage faces a very different set of defining factors than someone with neither. And someone retraining for a career in a field with growing demand and high pay will have very different options than someone changing careers out of love for the prospects they see in a field with neither.

Alternatives include: student loans, other loans, working and/or studying part-time, or some combination of all these.

So seek expert advice: from the educational institution you're thinking of attending; from your banker; from people in the field you have your eye on; from family members who're good with money, from employment agencies. You don't want to find yourself unable to complete your training, left in the same circumstances but with a new burden of debt.

The process, step by step -

A change of career is a big decision, and it makes sense to approach it with recourse to as much research and reflection as possible. Take your time, kick around as many options as appeal to you. Explore and daydream. But when the time comes to make the leap, be sure of the choice you've made. A career is a big part of everyone's life – something that's only too clear to anyone stuck in one they hate. It's wise to make as sure as possible that the choice you're making means leaving that behind.

So:

- Be sure its a new career you want, and not a new employer
- Don't idealize the "perfect" alternative job you've set your heart on; look at it objectively
- Search as widely as you can for possible alternatives
- Take all the tests you can find, of skills and interests
- Seek out advice from people in your target field(s).
- Find all the information you can on the jobs or credentials that interest you from your internet research; from trade or professional groups, from schools, from agencies private and public....
-Find the best training you can for your studies, and make sure you can make your way through it financially.
- Leave your old job, if you can, on good terms with your employer.
-It's never too early to start crafting the best resume and a cover letter you can. A cover letter especially can be a tool for reflection. Why not write one as soon as you've determined that you want a change.
-Finally, prepare thoroughly for your first interview with your future employer