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How to Make a Career Change in 3 Easy Steps

Learning how to make a career change can be scary. But with the right tools, you can set yourself up for success. [TWEET]

Looking for a career change? Welcome back to the mini-guide to finding your new direction! It is inspired by Laura Berman Forgang’s book, Now What?, as well as my experience coaching professionals on their career choices.

In Part I of this how to make a career change series you made progress towards finding a new direction. In Part II you have narrowed down the options. My hope is that you now have a handful of possibilities you are considering, or perhaps your new direction is crystal-clear.

In Part III, we get serious.

Let’s talk about money.

“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.” – Helen Gurley Brown

You may be wondering why this mini-series did not open with this subject. The answer, as Laura Berman Fortgang puts it, is that fear, doubts, and lack of training are nothing compared with the stopping power that we attribute to money.

There are two sets of money obstacles that can hold you back from easy career changes. One's judgment that comes from others’ perception of your lifestyle. The other is fear of taking responsibility for your finances. Think about which one it is for you (the answer could be both).

If your issue is judgment, spend some time thinking through who exactly you would be letting down.

If taking charge of finances is your stumbling block, figure out what you need in order to live the life you live right now. Write down what you have, and what you owe. Map out a budget. There are many resources that can help you create a budget, save money, and stay on track – Mint, Acorns, and Digit are just a few to mention.

It is critical that you remember this next point. Starting a new business with zero revenue to start, a gap in employment, accepting less pay to transition to a new field – all of those scenarios are possible, but they are most likely temporary. The key is to plan for the time that you are in transition.

Example time. James, unhappily employed as a marketing manager, wanted to build guitars for a living. When he took a hard honest look at his finances (getting him to do it was not easy!) James had to face the fact that his lifestyle did not leave any room for saving. He figured out what reserves he would need to pay for his year in transition. After the initial shock of the number wore off, he sprung into action. James negotiated a remote-work arrangement with his employer, sold his house and most of his possessions, banked the money, and moved to another part of the country where living expenses were more reasonable. He kept his marketing job for the next 2 years, while he saved every penny and built guitars on weekends. When asked about that period of his life, James reflects on it fondly as a time of intense focus on what matters most.

Map the path

With the money specifics out of the way, you might be wondering, “But how do I get to my dream job from where I am today?”

Actually, I will ask you to answer your own question about how to make a career change. Switch on your imagination, get your pen and paper ready (feel free to use a computer or a typewriter if you wish) and write five different scenarios for how you get from here to there. Your stories can be realistic, or completely far-fetched. Anything fun and creative is fair game.

Quest: Write out your 5 fictitious scenarios for breaking into the career that you want. Go!

Here is an example from a client whose goal was to break into business strategy consulting:

I am on vacation, white-water rafting through the rapids on the Colorado River. During a particularly bumpy stretch, my ability to think and communicate clearly under pressure is instrumental to keeping everyone on my raft from getting hurt. At the bar that evening, a distinguished-looking gentleman strikes up a conversation with me. He is asking all kinds of pointed questions about my background, and it takes me a few minutes to figure out that he was on my raft that morning. When I bring it up, he laughs and says, “I noticed how well you were making decisions in a very stressful situation. You took just the right amount of risk, kept everyone calm, and did what needed to be done. My company is going through an M&A and I could use someone like you on my side. Would you be interested in coming on board?”

Far fetched? Perhaps.

Positive, encouraging, and uplifting? You bet!

You might be shaking your head and wondering how story writing could possibly help you make any real progress. In my experience, the fictional world allows you to consider possibilities, leaps, and non-linear solutions that your logical mind might shut down. By “priming” yourself with these stories, you become more open to noticing synchronicity, coincidences, and opportunities around you in real life – which makes you more likely to take advantage of them.

Do the work

One of my favorite quotes on learning how to make a career change comes from Seth Godin. “While luck may be more appealing than effort, you don't get to choose luck. Effort, on the other hand, is totally available, all the time.”

So, do the work. No matter where you are trying to go, you can choose one simple daily action that, if done consistently, will get you an easy career change.

You may notice I said “simple daily action”, not “easy daily action.” Choose steps that are impactful and strategic. Checking your e-mail, scrolling through Facebook, and spending 20 hours a week researching companies won’t give you the same momentum as picking up the phone, sending out a thank-you note, or meeting a potential mentor for lunch.

Balance out your work with restoring activities. Figure out what gives you energy (nutrition and supplements, rest, exercise, spiritual practices, hobbies, connection with inspiring people) and create the space for them in every 24-hour block.  

Quest: I ask my clients to design a “Perfect Day” to support them in transition. Do this for yourself. Include the daily actions that must happen if you are to keep momentum, and restoring activities to fuel you for what’s next.

In summary

When looking for a career change, the path can be scary. You might be wondering why I have barely mentioned fear so far. To me, fear is simply a fact of life – no different from breathing. You cannot eliminate it, it is there to serve a purpose, and you can learn to work with it. It seems that this quote from Frank Herbert is the perfect closing.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Go get them.

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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!

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!