In this economy, many BioJobBlog readers may find themselves in the unenviable position of having to consider changing careers to find gainful employment. While career counselors like me can offer job seekers ideas about possible alternate or non-traditional careers, actual navigating a career change can be daunting, painful and often times overwhelming. With this in mind, I came across an article on HelpGuide.org that helps to demystify career changes and offers helpful hints (and links to useful articles) that describes how would- be career changers can manage and shepherd the process.
"Changing Careers: A Guide"
The first step in considering a career change is to think carefully about what really drives you. You might find it hard to get past thinking about “what pays the most” or “what is most secure,” especially in today’s economy. However, it’s important to first discover your primary interests and passions. This can open doors to careers that you might not have considered. Once you have that foundation, you can start fine tuning your search to the right career. You may be surprised at how you can fit your passions into a certain career!
Explore your options
- Focus on the things you love to do. What have you dreamed of doing in the past? What do you naturally enjoy doing? Jot down what comes to mind, no matter how improbable it seems.
- Look for clues everywhere. Take note of projects or topics that stir your compassion or excite your imagination. Reflect on stories of people you admire. Ask yourself why certain activities make you happy, and pay attention to times when you are really enjoying yourself.
- Be patient. Remember that your search may take some time and you might have to go down a few different roads before finding the right career path. Time and introspection will help you identify the activities you most enjoy and that bring you true satisfaction.
Overcome obstacles to happiness
It’s always challenging to consider a huge change, and there may be many reasons why you may think changing careers is not possible. Here are some common obstacles and how to overcome them:
- It’s too much work to change careers. Where would I ever begin? Changing careers does require a substantial time investment. However, remember that it does not happen all at once. If you sit down and map out a rough plan of attack, breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones, it is a lot more manageable than you think. And if the payoff is a happier, more successful career, it’s worth it.
- I’m too old to change careers. I need to stay where I am. If you have worked for a number of years, you may feel that you’ve put too much time and effort into your career to change midstream. Or you may be concerned about retirement and health benefits. However, the more you’ve worked, the more likely you are to have skills you can transfer to a new career. You may also consider planning a transition for after retirement if you are close to receiving a pension or other benefits after a number of years.
- I don’t have enough skills to consider a new career. You may be unaware of the skills you have, or underestimate your marketability due to low self esteem. However, you probably have more skills than you think. Consider skills you’ve learned not only from your job but from hobbies, volunteering or other life experiences. And gaining skills is not an all or nothing proposition. You can volunteer once a week or take a night class to move forward, for example, without quitting your current job.
- In this economy, I’m lucky to have a job. I don’t want to rock the boat. In today’s climate, it might feel like too much of a risk to consider changing careers. However, if you’re unhappy in your current job, doing research on other options will only benefit you in the long run. You may discover a career with a more stable long-term outlook than your current career, for example. And you don’t have to quit your current job until you are confident of your new career path.
Dealing with underemployment and job loss
Being unemployed or underemployed can be tremendously stressful. You may be feeling the pressures of meeting mortgage payments or other financial obligations. You might be feeling ashamed with your family and friends. And a very real loss is that of your identity at work. This is especially true if you have been in the same field for a very long time.
However, unemployment also has a bright side. It gives you the chance to reflect on your career path where you might not have before. If you’ve been considering a new field, now is the time to research and see what might be the right fit for you. You may end up in a much stronger position than if you had originally kept your job.
To learn more, visit Job Loss and Unemployment Stress: Tips for Staying Positive During Your Job Search&
Identify occupations that match your interests
So how do you translate your interests into a new career? With a little research, you may be surprised at the careers that relate to many of the things you love to do. Many online tools can guide you through the process of self-discovery. Questions, quizzes, and temperament sorters can’t tell you what your perfect career would be, but they can help you identify what’s important to you in a career, what you enjoy doing, and where you excel. One example, frequently used by universities and the government, is the RIASEC/Holland interest scale. It identifies six common areas that people often feel especially drawn to, such as investigative, social, or artistic. Based on these areas, you can browse sample careers that match those interests.
The Career Decision-Making Tool
The Career Interests Game
The Motivated Skills Test
The Career Values Test
Research specific careers
If you have narrowed down some specific jobs or careers, you can find a wealth of information online, from description of positions to average salaries to estimated future growth. This will also help you figure out the practical priorities: How stable is the field you are considering? Are you comfortable with the amount of risk? Is the salary range acceptable to you? What about commute distances? Will you have to relocate for training or a new job? Will the new job affect your family?
Occupational Outlook Handbook (US Department of Labor)
Career Guide to Industries (US Department of Labor)
Best Careers (US News and World Report)
Get support and information from others
While you can glean a lot of information from research and quizzes, there’s no substitute for information from someone currently working in your chosen career. Talking to someone in the field gives you a real sense of what type of work you will actually be doing and if it meets your expectations. What’s more, you will start to build connections in your new career area, helping you land a job in the future. Does approaching others like this seem intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. Networking and informational interviewing are important skills that can greatly further your career.
You may also consider career counseling or a job coach, especially if you are considering a major career shift. Sometimes impartial advice from others can open up possibilities you hadn’t considered.
Evaluate your strengths and skills
Once you have a general idea of your career path, take some time to figure out what skills you have and what skills you need. Remember, you’re not completely starting from scratch—you already have some skills to start. These skills are called transferable skills, and they can be applied to almost any field. Some examples include:
- management and leadership experience
- communication (both written and oral)
- research and program planning
- public speaking
- conflict resolution and mediation
- managing your time effectively
- computer literacy
- foreign language fluency
Identify transferable career skills
- Don’t limit yourself to experiences only at work. When you are thinking about your skills, consider all types of activities including volunteering, hobbies and life experiences. For example, even if you don’t have formal leadership or program planning experience, founding a book club or organizing a toy drive are ways that you have been putting these skills into practice.
- List your accomplishments that might fit in. Don’t worry about formatting these skills for a resume at this point. You just want to start thinking about what skills you have. It can be a tremendous confidence booster to realize all of the skills you’ve developed.
- Brainstorm with trusted friends, colleagues or mentors. They might remind you of transferable skills you might have forgotten, and help you think of how you might want to articulate these skills in the future.
- Learn more about your qualifications. Take the free online Transferable Skills Survey.
Develop new skills and acquire work experience
If your chosen career requires skills or experience you lack, don’t despair. There are many ways to gain needed skills. While learning, you’ll also have an opportunity to find out whether or not you truly enjoy your chosen career and also make connections that could lead to your dream job.
- Utilize your current position. Look for on-the-job training or opportunities to do projects that develop new skills. See if your employer will pay part of your tuition costs.
- Identify resources in the community. Find out about programs in your community. Community colleges or libraries often offer low cost opportunities to strengthen skills such as computers, basic accounting, or how to start a business. Local Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Administrations, or state job development programs also are excellent resources.
- Volunteer or work as an intern. Some career skills can be acquired by volunteering or doing an internship. This has the added benefit of getting you in contact with people in your chosen field. Visit Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits: Helping Yourself while Helping Others
- Take classes. Some fields require specific education or skills, such as an educational degree or specific training. Don’t automatically rule out more education as impossible. Many fields have accelerated programs if you already have some education, or you may be able to do night classes or part-time schooling so that you can continue to work. Some companies even offer tuition reimbursements if you stay at the company after you finish your education.
- Consider starting your own business If you’re getting worn down by long commutes or a difficult boss, the thought of being your own boss can be very appealing. And it may be you can find your perfect niche even in a slower economy. Depending on the specialty, some companies prefer to streamline their ranks and work with outside vendors. However, it is especially important to do your homework and understand the realities of business ownership before you jump in.
Make sure you are committed and passionate to your business idea. You will be spending many long hours getting started, and it may take a while for your business to pay off.
Research is critical. Take some time to analyze your area of interest. Are you filling an unmet need? Especially if you are considering an online business, how likely is your area to be outsourced? What is your business plan, and who are your potential investors? Learn more in the resources section below.
Expect limited or no earnings to start. Especially in the first few months, you are building your base and may have start up costs that offset any profit initially. Make sure you have a plan on how you will get through that time.
- Pace yourself and don’t take on too much at once. Career change doesn’t happen overnight, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the steps to successfully change careers. However, you will get there with commitment and motivation. Break down large goals into smaller ones, and try to accomplish at least one small thing a day to keep the momentum going.
- Don’t rush into a change because of unhappiness in your current job. If you are stressed and unhappy in your current job, or unemployed, you might be feeling a lot of pressure to make a quick change. However, if you don’t do enough research, you might end up in an even worse position than before, with the added stress of a new position and new learning curve.
- Ease slowly into your new career. Take time to network, volunteer and even work part time in your new field before committing fully. It will not only be an easier transition, but you will have time to ensure you are on the right path and make any necessary changes before you are working full time in your new field.
- Take care of yourself. You might be feeling so busy with the career transition that you barely have time to sleep or eat. However, managing stress, eating right, and taking time for sleep, exercise and especially loved ones will ensure you have the stamina for the big changes ahead.