How to approach a career change

Although a career change can be stressful and even frightening, approaching it with a plan can turn it into a positive experience.

Have you decided to finally go after the career of your dreams? Or maybe you've been forced into making a career move before you were ready? You may feel excited, worried, or even frightened. Whether you're making a career change by choice or out of necessity, it is possible for this turning point to be a positive experience.

One of the most important things you can do is to take stock of what you want and what it will take to get you there. Building and following a plan will help you overcome any anxiety and turn this experience into an exciting, rewarding one.

Your first step is to take an honest look at your likes and dislikes. Think about your previous jobs, hobbies, volunteer work, etc. What did you enjoy doing most? What did you like the least? It may help to make a list of each and keep it somewhere prominent while you think about your new career.

This is a good time to talk to a career counselor. If you attended college locally, make an appointment to visit their placement office. They may have some testing available to help you choose a new career path. Remember to take your list of likes and dislikes along for discussion. If visiting a placement office isn't possible, look in your local phone book for career counseling or job placement centers. They may be able to offer free or low-cost career advice. Don't forget to take advantage of the internet. Many sites have simple interest inventories that may give you a direction to consider.

Once you've chosen one or more likely choices, do some research on the field. If possible, schedule an appointment with someone in that field to discuss what working in that job is really like. It's also important to learn what the prospects are for the field over the next years. Your local library probably has a copy of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which can give you valuable information on salary, education requirements, and the potential for the careers you're considering.

Now that you know what you're interested in doing, you'll need to take an inventory of your skills and experience to determine if you'll need to spend time getting additional training. Look for local college and adult education programs that may help. Also look for online classes. Don't forget to consider internships and on-the-job-training. All of these are excellent ways to brush up your skills.

If you feel you already have the skills you need for your new posisition, then all you need is to prove it to a prospective employer. Perhaps you've been doing something similar as a hobby or on a volunteer basis? Put together a list of what you've worked on, and for whom. If possible, get a few letters of reference from your clients. If appropriate, put together some work samples. Nothing shows a prospective employer your skills, and your determination, like concrete examples of what you've done for others.

After you've gathered this information, it's time to take a realistic look at what you're willing to do. Ask yourself questions like these.

1. What salary do I need to make?

2. Am I willing to attend training or go back to school?

3. How much time and money am I willing to invest in my training?

4. How long a commute is feasible for me?

5. Am I willing to relocate?

It's likely that you'll narrow down your choices as this process progresses. By now, you should have an excellent idea of what jobs you're interested in. It's time to begin the job search.

One of the most important things you can do from the start of your search is to let people know you're looking for work. Talk to anyone who'll listen, and tell them what type of job you're looking for. If nothing else, they may be able to direct you to companies that do the type of work you're interested in.

Polish your resume and cover letter. If possible, have a professional work with you to develop both. This is your first impression on a prospective employer, so spend as much time as you need to get it just right.

Make a list of companies who do work that you're interested in. Get the name and number of their human resources manager. A few days after you've mailed your resume, call and discuss the prospects of an interview. Make a note of the day you called, whom you spoke with, and whether you were instructed to send more information or call back later. As your search progresses, you may want to contact these offices again.

Setting goals, planning and putting that plan into action can turn a frightening experience into an exciting one. Your career change can be an opportunity to pursue a more rewarding, fulfilling career and lifestyle.

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