Tips for Making a Career Transition

August 31, 2010

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The majority of people will change careers at some point in their lives, but a challenging economic climate can make the process more difficult. Here we offer some strategies to help make your career transition a smooth one.

If you're between jobs and looking to change careers or if you're already employed but interested in entering a different profession, there are a number of ways to make this transition easier, even in an uncertain labor market.

The first step in making a career transition is to evaluate the reasons why a new career might be worth pursuing. Your life may have changed, making your current line of work less suitable for your lifestyle, or the outlook in your industry may have become unpromising due to fewer opportunities to advance, or you may simply need to start making more money.

Another common reason is job dissatisfaction, which can arise from too much work, lack of engagement with your job or the desire to pursue your dream profession.

"Once upon a time you loved going to work everyday," career expert Dawn Rosenberg McKay writes at About.com: Career Planning. "You no longer feel that way. You can't stand doing your job anymore and changing employers hasn't helped. It could be time to find a career that will inspire you."

Once you've decided that you definitely need to switch careers, it's important to determine the specific job you'd like to get. The idea might be general at first, but through research, you can identify which position within a new or related field might be best for you.

"Once your list of dream jobs is whittled down to a few feasible careers...begin to research the requirements for each job," professional guide Job Profiles explains. "Some jobs require you to get more education, or have more experience. Even if you have a bachelor's degree you may need to take a class here or there to learn more about specific functions or skills the job requires."

After you've selected the job you want within your desired field, it's time to go on the job hunt. Breaking into a new profession and working your way up may seem intimidating, but with the right approach, you can make a successful transition even in a tough job market. Yahoo! HotJobs offers the following tips for making a career leap:

  • Show commitment. You'll make a better case for potential employers if you take classes, join industry groups or even do temporary work within your target field, especially if you lack relevant prior experience.
  • Quantify your skills. It may be difficult to gauge how your current skills translate into a new profession, so try to provide quantifiable evidence of your accomplishments. For example, explain how you increased sales by a certain percentage or managed a particular number of employees.
  • Learn the lingo. It's crucial to understand industry-specific terms and be able to speak comfortably on pertinent subjects when trying to break into a new profession. Read trade publications and talk to industry professionals when possible.
  • Make it a two-step process. An effective way to transition into a new career is to first change your job within your existing field to get closer to your target profession. For example, if you're a lawyer trying to become a travel writer, try writing for a legal publication first and then move to a travel magazine.
  • Give yourself time. Try to avoid putting yourself into a situation where you are scrambling for a paycheck. Plan ahead to make sure you have enough time to properly search and obtain your target job, and consider whether you'll be able to compensate for a salary cut or handle a relocation.

While maintaining the same position level you have in your current or former career may be ideal, if you're attempting to move into a profession with which you have relatively little experience, you may be required to make certain sacrifices in terms of salary or job title just to get your foot in the door. This is especially true in a difficult job market.

"To make your job candidacy remotely attractive to your hiring manager, you'll have to be willing to accept a reduction in status and salary; lateral moves between industries are exceedingly rare," CBS MoneyWatch.com explains. "But a step back in money and prestige should also be temporary."

As with any other job hunt, networking can be a vital asset. Whenever possible, try to meet with or get advice from people who work in the field you're trying to enter. Take advantage of any opportunities these contacts might offer.

"Mutually supportive relationships with professionals from diverse backgrounds, especially from the industry you wish to transition to, will greatly aid in a smooth transition," JobsJournal.com advises. "Not only will you be able to learn about the new occupation, but you could get information about unfamiliar subject matters, feedback on potential employers or clients, as well as recommendations for the new position."

Earlier

The Job Hunt, Pt. I: Preparation

The Job Hunt, Pt. II: Action

Resources

6 Reasons to Make a Career Change by Dawn Rosenberg McKay About.com: Career Planning

How to Switch Careers Without Screwing Yourself Over Job Profiles, April 5, 2007

Five Tips for Switching Career Paths by Jennifer Merritt, Carolyn Bigda and Donna Rosato Yahoo! HotJobs

How to Switch Careers in a Recession by Chris Warren CBS MoneyWatch.com, May 21, 2009

Tips to Making a Career Transition by Gayatri Trivedi JobsJournal.com

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