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Emerging signs that the economic downturn is ending may mean you're considering a job change, especially if you've been struggling under large workloads and high levels of stress. But what if you seek not just a new position but an entirely new career? You may dream of pursuing a personal passion, taking advantage of opportunities in an industry with significant growth potential or finding a path that better fits your skill set.
A new start can be attractive and worthwhile, but go in with your eyes open. It's not always an easy road. Here are a few tips to help you make a successful leap into a new career.
1. Take a step back
Before you head full steam into your next opportunity, evaluate your present situation and make sure that switching careers is the right path. Are you unhappy with your job or the type of work you do? Would working for a company that provides better employee recognition or clearer paths for promotion, for instance, be enough to rejuvenate you? Be certain of your motivation before taking the leap.
2. Do your due diligence
If you think your current career path lacks promise, you can quickly convince yourself that any other option is better. But that may not be true. Pursuing a position in a struggling industry or area of the country, for example, could set you back professionally. Read trade publications, conduct online research and speak to members of your network to get a better sense of the field you'd like to pursue and its prospects. Also research any potential hurdles you may have to overcome prior to making the switch. You may have to gain new training or certifications, for instance, or face steep competition from a large labor pool.
3. Seek advice
Consider arranging an informational interview with someone in the field or position that interests you to get a real-world perspective. If you don't know anyone, find out if people in your network do. Once you've identified the right person, contact him or her to schedule an informational interview. Be clear that you're not asking for a job.
An informational interview will give you the chance to find out what's currently happening in your field of interest and, potentially, additional insight into the hiring environment. You also can ask the people you meet with about how they started out in their careers, the challenges you might face when you make the transition and whether or not your contact can share any helpful advice for getting a foot in the door.
4. Know thyself
Once you know what opportunities are achievable, evaluate your current skills and experience and consider how qualified you are. For example, communication, organizational and leadership skills can often be effective across industries. Other skills, such as specific software knowledge, may not. The more transferable your skills are, the better able you will be to make a quick switch. At the same time, consider what skills or qualifications you might need to develop. Is extensive schooling or training involved? Do you need to become licensed or certified in a certain software or procedure? Think about the time and cost involved to determine the ease or difficulty of making a switch.
5. Transition slowly
Look for opportunities to give your new career a "test run." Depending on the industry, you may be able to pursue volunteer or temporary work and determine if the new situation feels like a good fit.
6. Be realistic
No matter the economic climate, a career switch won't usually happen overnight. It can often take time to transition into a new field, especially if you need to build skills, and you may have to start in an entry-level position until you gain experience.
Although it may not be a path to immediate employment, a career transition is an opportunity for you to rethink where you are headed and potentially discover a new course that gives you the professional satisfaction you crave.
Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm, with a global network of more than 360 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.roberthalf.com.
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