Career Transition – 7 Expert Tips for making a stress-free career change

Nov 5, 2021 | Writing a CV

Are you considering a career transition or career change? If you are, you’re not alone. Most people shift change careers at least twice across their lifetime. Nevertheless, switching careers can be intimidating, especially the older you get. But making a career switch is possible and much more common than you might think. Before you leap, realise that any decision on a career shift deserves some time and consideration. Here are seven tips to help you find your way.

1) Review and learn from your current job situation.

When considering a career switch, the first thing you should do is learn from your current situation. To do this, take a step back and examine what you do for a living today and why? Examine why you are in your current job or career. Was it what you went to school for? Did your parents want you to do this job? Was it the “hot career” at one time? Did you “fall into it”? Were you passionate about it at one time? Did you do it for the money you could make? Was it to pay the bills? Answering these questions can provide valuable insight into the core reasons you want or need to career transition.

Now examine why you want to leave your current career field? Remove any company or management related politics that are specific to your current company from the picture. See your situation for what it is and ask yourself why you are looking to switch careers? Are you being forced out due to market shifts or business trends? Are you feeling burnt out? Do you need to increase your salary? Does your current position make you miserable? Have you tried your best but found that your career is “just not a good fit”? Have you decided it’s time to pursue a long lost career love?

Inspecting your current situation and reasons for your desire to change careers will provide a foundation for your next step.

2) Inward career perspective

To gain the most from your reflection, it is essential to start with a clean slate. Whether you already have a career in mind or searching for a career transition, start by looking inwards. Set aside any predetermined notions (real or imagined) about the salary level a specific career may offer. Discard any stereotypes or judgments of occupations and distance yourself from preconceived ideas about what is suitable for you or are destined to become.

Now seriously examine what you truly love. First, start with the obvious. Look at your hobbies and interests. List out the things you are passionate about or in which you have talent. Give yourself credit for things you are good at, and don’t be afraid to write things down that you love, but you need to improve. Write down everything, even if you think it may not be a possible career path. At this point, you are brainstorming, and you should not eliminate anything straight away. In this process, it’s essential to bear in mind that what you may think are your interests are not necessarily all of your interests. To help you get a good look at your interests, observe the simple things. What kinds of news stories grab your interest? What types of TV shows do you enjoy? What kinds of books magazines do you find yourself drawn to? What kind of people do you like to associate with or find interesting? What parts of your current career have brought you the most satisfaction?

The next step is to remind yourself of what you wanted to be when you grew up. Is it still the same? Do you still get stars in your eyes when you think about it? This may give you some real clues. And of course, depending on what you wanted to be, that young dream may be out of reach. Or…is it? Think about it. If your ideal career aspiration at the age of 10 was to be an astronaut and you are now over the age limit or are not physically able to, you can rule it out. But what about other careers associated with astronauts or astronomy? There is a wide array of jobs that touch upon astronomy, from teaching, marketing telescopes, writing for a science magazine, building models or sets for movies, to working at a museum on a space exhibit! When you examine your passion, use a little imagination, the sky becomes the limit.

Lastly, look at what type of person you are. Be honest with yourself. Do you enjoy working with your hands? Do you like working alone? Do you want a social work setting? Do you love being part of a team? Do you enjoy working at night? These are all examples of questions that will lead you down the path to discovering and evaluating whether a given career path is right for you.

As you are going through the exercise of looking inwards, it is essential to avoid cluttering your mind or list with any “buts”. If your answer to the question “do you enjoy working with your hands” was “yes”, leave it at “yes”. Don’t append any knee jerk reactions to your answers such as “yes, but I am clumsy” or “yes, but those jobs don’t pay as much”. Leave your mind open, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how easily natural human discouragement subsides.

3) Explore what’s other career transition options are out there

Now that you’re armed with a list of personal interests and talents sit on them for a few days and let them sink in. Let yourself get used to your newfound list. During this time, you might even end up crossing a few out or adding more.

Begin your next step by opening your eyes to what’s out there. Not what you perceive to be out there, but rather what is out there. Pick up your local college prospectuses or visit their websites and for education courses or career programs. Make a list of the careers of your friends and family. On your next ride to work or when driving, turn off the radio, look around and take notice of the buildings and businesses around you. Look at the people you see outside and start piecing together what their days look like.

The object of this exercise is to compare what is out there with what interests you. Let’s stick with the astronomy example. You’re interested in astronomy. So what? Well…now you’ve begun looking through the college prospectus, and there, you see a continuing education course on astronomy. You’ve now found something concrete, a class that you can take that will allow you to pursue your interest. But what is a continuing education course going to get you? A couple of things. One, you will meet other people who share your interest. These people bring information to the table. They may know of groups or clubs that you can join. Or perhaps, they may have friends or relatives looking for someone to do research work or work part-time in their science shop. Two, you will be able to further your interest or rule it out as a career path. You may learn that you love astronomy and would like to pursue it further. On the other hand, you may realise that it isn’t what you thought it was, and you don’t care enough about it to pursue it as a career. Any way you slice it, you will learn something about yourself and at the very least will have met others who share your interest.

Let’s try another example. Perhaps, on your way to work, you start to notice a road construction worker. The first day you see him, you’re in a suit, he’s in jeans, and he’s joking with a coworker as he shovels asphalt under a sunny sky. You think to yourself, “Boy, it’d be nice to get out of this suit, work outside…break a sweat for once! I want to do that…” The next day you see him, and you watch as a driver leans out his window and swears at him. “Hmmm”, you think. The third day you see him, it’s raining and cold, and he’s out braving the elements while you’re dry and warm inside your car. “Cross that one off the list”, perhaps?. If you had only noticed the man on the first day, you’d only have seen him on a good day. If you had only noticed him on the last day, you’d have seen him at the worst. Either way, without really opening your eyes full time, you may have a fragmented impression of what it means to be this or that. The point here is not to look for distinctly negative or positive things about a given occupation but to begin to see it as a whole. With this type of information, you will be able to form an opinion on whether a given profession could be a possibility.

In addition to concrete and mindful exploration, talking to your friends and family is an invaluable type of investigation. When you start bringing up your interests or ideas for possible career paths in conversations or e-mails, you will no doubt hear a lot of “Oh! Susan’s son teaches astronomy at the university, he’s writing a book on the Hubble telescope this year.” or “Oh John does construction on the side, he loves it!” By talking to other people, you may make connections or gain insight into the experiences and opinions of people connected with your interest areas. It will also trigger some more ideas for you. Perhaps it never occurred to you to pair a love of writing with a love of astronomy until you talked with a family member.

4. Do your Research 

So, you’ve looked inwards, come up with several interests and taken steps to explore what careers are out there. By this time, you’ve come up with a few jobs you might like to do or have found the one you’ve decided to pursue. Now it’s time to get to work. It’s time to delve into what it means to have a job in a particular career field. To accomplish this part of your journey, you need to do serious research.

Your research homework consists of a more in-depth exploration of available paths for your new career options. For the majority of careers, you will need to embark on some structured educational path. Examples of this are career programs, degrees, certification programs, professional designations, internships or apprenticeships. Even if your chosen career path does not require training or education, you will undoubtedly have to “put in your time” and determine what and how much time you will realistically need to commit to the project.

Let’s say you’ve decided you want to explore being a pharmacist. Wonderful! How do you get to be a pharmacist? So how do you find out? For starters, inquire with your friends and family to see if anyone knows a pharmacist that you can speak with. Talk to your local pharmacist, find out where they went to school and ask about any professional designations they hold or ongoing education currently undertaking. If you’re brave, ask what kind of salary pharmacists can expect to earn. In addition, look at the college course prospectus / website again and review pharmacology programmes. Look at the prerequisites and notice how long the program will take to complete and how much the courses cost. Read the course descriptions. Do they get your interest or make you want to choose something else? Research via the internet,  review news groups, blogs, forums and professional association sites. Any of these can give you a solid insight into what it means and takes to be a given occupation.

For each career path you are interested in, you will want to know the following:

  • What are the education requirements?
  • Does it require any job certification?
  • Is there an apprenticeship required?
  • Does the work require travel?
  • What are the typical salary levels?
  • Where are the regions of the country that people in this career field are more successful? More in supply? More in demand? Make more money?
  • Will it require you to relocate?
  • Will it require regular, ongoing education?
  • Will it require you to have your own business or work for another company?
  • Are there yearly fees? (e.g. license renewal, union dues, association membership, equipment, etc.)
  • How many hours will you usually work in a week?
  • Are there any age requirements or cut-offs?
  • How much will it cost you to become gainfully employed in the field?
  • How long will it take you to become gainfully employed in the field?

The answers to these questions will help you narrow your career choices further and may even get a fire burning under your feet.

5. Take financial stock

So you have come up with one or more career paths that you’d like to embark on. You have looked into what it means to be employed in the career field(s) and now armed with the knowledge of what it takes to get you where you want to go! There’s no doubt you will be able to accomplish your goals, no matter what your financial situation. But like everything in life, it’s going to cost you. You now need to list out all the costs, add them up and compare them. A career switch could take you longer than you like or may come at the expense of some other items or conveniences in your life, but you can do it if you set your mind to it and approach it methodically.  You might have to call upon your research skills again and explore financial options such as grants, scholarships, payment plans, or private institution education loans. You may even be able to pay for education or experience by doing an internship or performing work using a skill you currently have in exchange for training or experience.

When you are taking financial stock, allow yourself breathing room. Perhaps your goals are not financially feasible at this moment in time. Maybe you just had a baby, your youngest son needs braces, or you’ve just paid an absorbent amount of money to repair your car. It’s okay. Rejoice in the fact that you’ve come this far. You can put a plan together and start saving or start applying for other means of financing. There may even be things you can begin to do that will be free or cheap, such as volunteering in the field or reading books to prepare you for your studies. Most people don’t have the luxury of quitting their jobs while switching careers, so you will most likely be living a “double life” while preparing for the career switch. Whatever you do, don’t break the bank because you’ll inevitably find yourself right back where you started.

6. Check your calendar

Great! You’ve got it all under control. You know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there and how you’re going to pay for it. But do you have enough free time or flexibility to meet the educational requirements? Are you young enough or old enough to fall within any professional age requirements? If not, the last step of your journey is to shuffle your calendar! If you have the time and the age, skip this step.

Shuffling your calendar may be easy. You may know right away what to eliminate or move to make room for your new career path. Conversely, finding the time might be complicated. Maybe you have small children, an ailing parent, and perhaps you have sport or community commitments… any of these would make working towards a new career an uphill battle. Here again, it may mean that you have to postpone your journey for a little while. Or, it could mean that you have to settle for beginning your education informally by reading books or taking online courses when you can. Whatever your challenge, don’t lose hope! Faith in yourself and perseverance will get you where you want to go.

7. Take the plunge

You’ve arrived at the last step. It’s time to jump in! Time to register for that first class, accept that internship, or apply for that entry-level or part-time job in your chosen field. Whatever you’ve found to be the first step towards your new career, delight in the fact that you’ve come a long way, and you’re doing it! You’ve done much hard, thorough work, and you should be proud of where you are now. Start down your new career path with your chin up and shoulders back! The comforting knowledge that your approach to a new career is circular. This means you can always go back to the beginning of the circle or any point within the process if you’ve started a class or program and found that you hate it. So what? You’ve learned to cross it off your list and go back and take another look. Even if you get to the end of the path and decide it is not for you, take comfort that you did your best, and it’s time to go back to another number in the circle. There is no shame in that.

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