As a career coach and a career reinventer myself, I can confidently say that changing your career to something that is more suited to your values, needs, skills, and interests, is doable today, even in these tough economic times. But to switch careers effectively and achieve a positive outcome, you need four things: clarity, courage, confidence, and competence. Without these, you'll most likely struggle hard and fail. Further, there are core steps you must take to ensure you are emotionally, financially, and professionally ready for this next step and for the eight important stages that you'll undergo.
Step one to successful career change is to take off your rose-colored glasses, and get hip to your own trip about what you've created so far, and how you've potentially contributed to the challenges you face. Start to hold yourself more accountable than ever before for what's in front of you. If chucking your career is appealing, certainly explore career change, but make sure you take concrete steps necessary to avoid the five top blunders many experience. These missteps will wreak havoc on your life, relationships, health, your check book, and your future. [More from Forbes: The best and worst jobs for 2012]
1) "The Pendulum Effect" — Running from your career because you've broken down in it
If you're struggling and you've waited too long to make change in your current situation, you've most likely grown to hate your job, or your colleagues, the work you do and skills you use, and you want to run as far away as possible. This was me 10 years ago — I really couldn't stand what I was doing or who I was doing it for, so I ran to the farthest corner of the professional world I could find — marriage and family therapy. In hindsight, my training as a therapist was a fabulous endeavor for me (it gave me life-changing skills and experience that I use every day). But living the professional "identity" of a therapist as a career — and dealing as I did with the many dark sides of human experience — was in the end not what I wanted. I needed a second reinvention to land on what truly worked.
The way out of this blunder is this: Don't wait until you are desperately unhappy in your current situation to make change. And definitely don't leap before you've improved your situation. Wherever you are today, reclaim your power in it. Make your situation better by repairing broken relationships, building more respect, finding your voice, growing our skills, and becoming more competent. Then, when you do leave, you'll be able to achieve the next level of success and you'll have made clear, rational decisions that will move you forward successfully. Running away will not solve your problems — they'll just be repeated in the next career. [More from Forbes: How to craft a job search elevator pitch]
2) Not developing a sound a financial plan that will support your transition
Folks come to me wanting a career change, but have no available money — either in the bank or accessible through other avenues — to make change. They simply don't know or haven't researched how long their transition will take, and they don't have funds to support them during the change. You can't go from making $75,000 in one career to replicating that salary in a completely new career, without it taking time and effort. And you need outside help to make career change. Do solid research and explore your desired change with your accountant and financial consultant and experts in that career to understand clearly — without emotion and without a "build it and they will come" mentality — the financial requirements necessary to support you through what can be years of transition. If there's no money available, wait until you can access some (earn more, borrow, use your bonus, etc.) or lower your expenses to sock away what you'll need.
3) Glomming onto the wrong "form" of work
In deciding to make career change, you must first identify the "essence" of what you want. Questions you need to answer are:
- What skills and talents do I want to utilize?
- What business outcomes do I want to support?
- What type of people, environments and cultures do I thrive best with/in?
- Which values, standards of integrity and needs must be supported through this work?
- What types of challenges do I want to face in my work?
- What financial compensation and benefits are non-negotiable for me?
(Take my free Career Path Self-Assessment to gain clarity on all of these questions, and more)
Once you've dimensionalized the "essence" of what you want, then you have to find the right "form" of work that fits you, your lifestyle and your needs. This is where folks trip up the most. Because you want independence, for instance, you might assume that running your own business is right for you. For thousands, it isn't (read The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What To Do About It, by Michael Gerber, for more). Figure out exactly what living that career will demand, and make sure it's what you want. [More from Forbes: 10 ways to be more confident at work]
4) Not digging deep enough
Let's say you've been in TV production for 10 years and you are hankering to move into teaching English. I'd ask you to explore deeply all the reasons behind your wish to teach. These may include wanting to bring your language skills forward, helping young adults become more successful, mentoring people to communicate more effectively, leaving toxic corporate politics behind, etc. Is a switch to teaching English truly going to bring you satisfaction, or can you fulfill these longings in a way that suits your needs without changing careers? Are you sure you'll be happy with all the other professional dimensions involved with being a teacher? Make sure you're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Do as much research and exploration and dig as deeply as you can to determine what you want, and what you really want from this career change. Perhaps you don't want a different career at all, but long to bring forward new aspects of yourself, your talents and skills. The question is: What professional identity will make you the happiest? [More from Forbes: Get the references you need to get the job you want]
5) Giving up too quickly
Finally, failed career changes often involve throwing in the towel too quickly. You can't make life or career change without significant effort, time, commitment, and usually some substantial money. I'm stunned when people expect major change to happen overnight — or within a few months. They're so eager (or desperate) to leave behind what's made them miserable, that they simply can't tough it out long enough to get to the destination they want.
If recent studies are right, more than 80% of workers today want out of their jobs. It's a phenomenon of epidemic proportion. If you want career change, get on a path to exploring it, but please do yourself a favor and avoid these top mistakes.