5 tough questions to ask before a career change

Don't pack up your desk without asking yourself a few tough questions.

When you're dissatisfied with your professional life, a wholesale career change can seem alluring. In one swift move, you can transform not just what you do but also where, with whom, how and even why you do it.

Of course, making the leap also carries some major risks. Getting started in a new field often means taking a cut not just in pay but also in security and prestige -- at least for a while. Moves of this type also often require additional training or education.

Here are five questions to help you determine whether a career change is right for you.

1. What do you dislike about your current work?
If you can't quite put your finger on what's troubling you, you may soon find yourself in the same situation after you've made your move and the new-career smell has worn off.

When you imagine a career change, is the most attractive part the idea of escaping from your current manager, co-workers or projects? Many problems that seem intrinsic to the kind of work you do are actually rooted in the particulars of your current position or employer. Those elements are much easier to change than your overall career direction.

2. What are the best parts of your current position?
It's easy to let your dissatisfaction with some parts of your professional life obscure its pluses. Take a moment to consider the greenest patches of grass on your side of the fence. That could include generous compensation, meaningful work or the admiration of your colleagues. Think about which of these factors you might lose in the leap to a new career and how much you might miss them.

3. How familiar are you with your target field?
Reading about the field you're considering can be invaluable. But talking to people who work in it every day will give you a much more realistic picture of its challenges and satisfactions. For example, these individuals can alert you to any glamorous but misleading notions you may have about the new field.

Use your professional and social networks to identify people who work in your target field. Arrange informational interviews or offer to buy them lunch in exchange for picking their brains.

4. Are you passionate about the new field?
As with a career shift motivated purely by money, one inspired only by an "anywhere but here" urge isn't likely to yield lasting satisfaction. A strong personal connection to the new work can make the transition easier. Without such commitment, you might find yourself missing the comforts of the position you left behind.

5. How portable are your skills?
The fresher a new field seems to you, the less applicable your existing skills may be. Talk to your contacts in the target field about how well your abilities and experience might translate. If these people don't see many convincing connections, chances are employers won't, either.

If your answers to these questions point you toward making the leap, go for it. There's no guarantee you'll love your new career, but you have good reason to believe it's a risk worth taking. Even if the new path isn't a smooth one, it will likely take you closer to a more fulfilling work life.

Keep in mind that your move doesn't have to be an abrupt one. Consider ways you can make the transition gradually, such as taking on temporary assignments to build your experience in a new area or undergoing training for your targeted field while you continue working part time in your current one. Such measures may take some of the thrill out of the leap, but they'll also make for a much softer landing.

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series atwww.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.