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4 Steps to Figuring Out Your Next Career Change

If you’re gearing up for a change of career, but unsure of what direction to go in, consider these career change tips to help narrow down your list of potentials.  [TWEET]

Welcome back to the mini-guide on making a career change! In Part I of this series, we mapped out three essential steps for making a career change. If you’ve followed along, so far you have:

  • Identified what you have lost (or are about to lose);

  • Separated the “package” (all the exterior specifics of your previous jobs) from the “gift” (the lessons, inspirations, and skills that will serve you for the rest of your life); and,

  • Made an inspiring list of possible new jobs, career paths, and professional roles.

My challenge to you was to keep your list of career change ideas open-ended, and not to worry about making it reasonable or logical.

Now, list of career change ideas in hand, it is time to narrow down the field. I do not recommend that you switch your inner skeptic on to full volume just yet! We will begin by simply looking at these exciting possibilities a little closer to see which ones warrant full investigation.

Step 1: Can you imagine yourself in this role?

Go down your list, and try to imagine yourself in each of the roles that you wrote down. The goal here is to eliminate the options for a change of career that you do not see yourself committing to.

Example time.

Jeff was an attorney with a thriving divorce practice. He came to search for a new career after he realized that, no matter how hard he worked, his clients never walked away truly happy. Less miserable and with a sense of relief - yes, but not happy. One of the things he was hoping to do in his next career was make people smile. When Jeff crafted his list of possibilities, it occurred to him that it might be fun to be a clown at children’s parties. Upon further reflection, Jeff realized that he could not imagine himself actually doing that – so he eliminated it from his list.

Step 2: Choose your top 3 careers for a deep dive.

Now that we are working with a shorter list, let us choose the first three possible career change ideas you would like to research. You are connected to hundreds of people through your personal and professional networks. Even if you do not personally know someone who works in the field that intrigues you, someone in your network might!

Ask and you shall receive, but be specific when you ask. Here are some options:

  • Do you know anyone who works in _____?

  • Can you help me find someone who can help me shine some light on _____?

  • Who do you know who has done _____?

Step 3: Have reality-check conversations.

Now that you have identified some people doing what you are interested in, it is time to connect with them! This step may feel intimidating, but you will be surprised how open most people are to offering advice and guidance. Ask them for a phone call or a coffee, come prepared with a few questions, and get ready to absorb the wisdom.

While you can make your own list of “reality-check” questions, in the event that you need some inspiration, here are a few to get you started:

  • Can you share how you got to where you are today?

  • If you were to do this over again, what would you do differently?

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

  • What are some of the complaints you have?

  • What income can I expect starting out?

Your goal is to walk away with some insider tips – things that outside observers might never get to see.

If your first batch of 3 possible career change ideas does not yield a result that speaks to you in a compelling way, keep going down the list!

Step 4: Bringing it all together.

Now that you are back from your deep-dive conversations, hopefully a change of careers is beginning to emerge for you. Maybe you have an obvious clear-cut choice. Perhaps you have narrowed it down to a handful of possible paths, or have found a trend. All of those are good results.

Don’t worry about “how” you are going to get there. Let’s first be sure we have selected the right direction.  

Step 5: Get clear on your criteria for happiness.

While the idea of defining happiness as a checklist may sound strange, stay with me. Knowing what you need for happiness gives you a greater chance of aligning your career choices with what is true about you as a person. That, in turn, allows you to stay true to your values and purpose. A 2015 study by The Happiness Institute and Gallup found that alignment with purpose had the greatest impact on one’s happiness at work – more than achievement, work-life balance, leadership, colleagues, or influence.

Here is an example. Laurel, a young professional on a CPA track, was progressing through the ranks of her firm as expected, but felt that a spark was missing from her life. When asked to reflect on what her criteria for happiness is, Laurel came back with this list:

  • Spending time nourishing family and friend connections;

  • Meeting new people;

  • Making people smile; and,

  • Spending time in beautiful spaces.

While her upcoming promotion to manager seemed to fit in the conventional sense of getting ahead, the CPA job meant that she worked long hours, spent more time with her computer than with people, and was stuck in the office for 12 hours at a time. After making a list of possibilities, Laurel became excited about exploring the career change idea of becoming a real estate agent. Flexible hours, meeting new people every day, playing matchmaker with homes, and hosting open houses all aligned with her criteria for happiness perfectly. With that clarity, the requirement to study for a license did not seem so daunting. With the change of careers, Laurel has since built quite a following as a real estate agent, with most of her business coming from referrals.

There is one last piece to this puzzle: the ever-important “how”. My clients typically have two sets of questions at this point in the process: figuring out the money issues, and mapping out the specific steps to the next opportunity. We will explore those change of career topics next!

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!