How to Prepare For a Career Change

There is a frequently cited statistic that American workers should expect to change careers between three and seven times in a lifetime. That ambiguous number is just as often refuted, but the fact remains that working for the same company until retirement is a rare exception these days.

The post-recession job market forced millions of Americans to adapt their skills and change careers, whether they wanted to or not. But those who are voluntarily shifting directions face a number of big decisions. Julie Redfield offers her advice on how to prepare for a career change.

Redfield is a talent management expert at PA Consulting Group. She brings crisp clear solutions to complex people issues, combining the human perspective with sound business practices, preparing companies to have the right people ready for the right roles at the right time. Julie brings a commercial focus to the HR function by having it motivate and engage employees, focus on business outcomes and drive bottom line growth.

Question: How do you know when it’s time for a career change?

Redfield: If you have lost some of your passion, energy and motivation it’s time to reflect on why. It may be that there a few things that you can fix within your current job situation to raise your aspirations once again, or it may be time to consider a career change. The real question is how do you know the difference between needing a small tune up, or a major career overhaul? I suggest you think about the purpose your job plays in your life, and the purpose of your job itself. If you can honestly say that you feel connected to the purpose of your job, in a deep personal way, then chances are you are in the right career. If, however, you don’t believe in the value your job is adding or you don’t believe in the principles your company lives by, then it may be time to consider a career change.

What are some basic tips for career changers?

Redfield suggests these four tips:

  1. Make sure you have thought through your personal career goals before jumping ship.
  2. Think about how you can leverage your experiences, skills and network in your new career. You don’t want to lose everything you’ve worked so hard for.
  3. Write down the pros and cons of your current career, and assess which aspects you want to include or not include in your new career.
  4. Think about your career purpose. What is the inner drive or passion you have? How can you bring that to bear in a new career?

Question: What are some barriers people encounter when they want to change careers and how can they overcome them?

Redfield: The most common barrier people discuss with me is the sense that they are giving up a known quantity to take a leap of faith that they will find a job in a new field. Once you start putting feelers out into the marketplace, it is safest to assume that people will find out. There comes a point in everyone’s career change when they have to be comfortable with going public about their desires. This is often very tricky, as most of us are not fortunate enough to have employers who will be open to a lengthy transition process if you are considering changing companies. At some point, the decision to change becomes so clear and embedded in your DNA that you simply say, “I can’t imagine NOT having this conversation with my current boss.” Until you feel that certainty, it is wise to take stock of your current ambivalence before making a decision.

Question: How should you position yourself on the job market when you want to transition to a new field?

Redfield: Think about how you can leverage your current skill set, experiences and contacts. You don’t have to start totally fresh when making a career change. Most people who are successful in career changes are able to leverage the sum total of their experiences when moving forward.

Question: When you don’t have previous experience in your field of interest, what resume writing tips do you have for career changers?

Redfield: Talk about the skills and experiences you have. Emphasize the projects you’ve been involved with and the business outcomes you have achieved. In today’s world, most jobs cross functional lines and do no operate in silos. Strong influencing skills, orchestrating across different functions and achieving results are what new employers are often looking for. Design your resume to start with your experiences and competency areas, not job titles.

Question: How should you go about networking when you are trying to break into a new industry?

Redfield: Join industry associations and make contacts who are in the field you want to break into. Let people know you are interested in the new industry and let your network know you want help in getting more information and making more contacts. It’s amazing how much people will help you when you ask for help.

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