After a few short stabs at it—6-month stints at this company and that—you realize that you and the career you picked are square pegs/round holes. The good news is, changing careers could re-energize you and accelerate your advancement. The bad news, you’ll have to pretty much start from scratch. So, in spite of all the warnings from friends and relatives telling you you’re nuts to swap careers in this jobless economy, you’ve decided to take the plunge. To make sure you land in the deep end of the pool, here are four mistakes you should avoid when making the switch.
You applied for the first job you thought might interest you. It’s the “anything but this” syndrome. You try this and that and keep changing, hoping you’ll fit in somewhere. Doing this can derail you entire career path by making it appear to HR managers and recruiters that you’re adrift, that you lack a deep keel, that you’re indecisive. To avoid this stigma, sit down and plan your next career move carefully, even if it means staying where you are longer than you would like. Suck it up and plan. Try to choose a new career that uses at least some of your experience and education. Consider, too, the people skills you’ve developed over the years. See how these can qualify you for the next lateral move.
Do some due diligence and learn about two or three different careers you can segue into. Talk to as many people as you can who actually work and are happy in these careers. See if what they describe fits with where and how you want to work. Talk to newbies and veterans to get an idea of the career trajectory—how they advanced and when. Disregard any specific company cultures. These will vary and could influence you the wrong way. Listen carefully to both the positive and negative aspects being described.
If you’re chasing the almighty buck instead of the career that’s right for you, you’re in for a big disappointment. Money is just one measure of success. It’s a commonly used metric to gauge how well you’re doing, but it can seduce you into thinking short term, and it can get you into a spiral of working to acquire “stuff.” At a certain point, you’ll look back and think, man, I hate doing this. But it will be too late, for changing careers when you’re making major coin is almost impossible. Most people simply can’t handle the nosedive in earnings and “living like that” again.
In the old days, one could make a lateral career change. You could keep your salary and perks and hop over to a new career. These days, with hundreds of qualified candidates vying for half a dozen available jobs, you’re lucky if you can make the move with just a single step down the ladder. So don’t insist on going lateral. Face the fact that you’ll have to “eat” the loss in salary and perks. Grumping about this at your new job can get you “outplaced” faster than you can unpack your move-in box.
Hate your career? Make your change with preparation, patience and an expectation of lower pay. Welcome to the new job economy.
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