10 Things to Consider Before Changing Careers

Dec 22, 2010

Thinking about a new career? Make sure to do your homework first. There are many important things to consider before changing careers, such as your job prospects, salary expectations, and what additional education or training you might need. Read on to learn more about how to evaluate whether or not a career change is right for you.

new career

1. Motivation

It's important to examine your motives for changing careers. Usually, people seek a new career because they're dissatisfied with their current work. You want to make sure you really think about the source of your dissatisfaction. Do you not like a particular aspect of the work? Do you dislike your workplace? Do you feel like you don't fit in with your colleagues? Is your salary too low?

Depending on your source of dissatisfaction, there may be alternatives other than changing careers. For example, maybe you could switch to a different position within your current workplace. Maybe you could change to a similar position with a different employer. Or maybe you could venture out and start your own business. Another possibility is that you're burned out and need to take a vacation or leave of absence. It's usually a good idea to exhaust other alternatives before making the more drastic move of changing careers.

2. Nature of the Work

Depending on your previous experience, you may or may not have a clear idea of what's involved in the career you're considering. It's possible you have beliefs about it that aren't very accurate. Make sure to do a lot of research and find out exactly what you're getting yourself into. What will you actually be doing each day? What hours will you be working? Will there be overtime or on-call work involved? How much paperwork is there? Oftentimes, we have glamorized ideas about jobs based on TV or movies. You want to make sure you have a realistic picture, or you may end up very disappointed.

3. Identity

For Americans, career is an integral part of our identity. When you meet a new person, they usually ask 'What do you do?' - and by that they mean your career. For most, having a strong career identity is an important part of self-esteem. So make sure you can identify with your prospective new career and will feel good about it being a part of who you are.

4. Reputation

If you've already been working in your current career for a number of years, chances are you've established a professional reputation. Depending on your choice of new career, you may have to start from scratch and be a newbie again. You may lose some of your professional contacts and colleagues. However, in many cases you can integrate your new career identity with your old one. You'll need to think through whether you can use your established reputation and contacts to establish yourself within a new career - and, if not, whether you're willing to start over.

5. Networking Opportunities

Do you know anyone in your new field? If so, make contact with them. If not, you'll need to get out there and find new contacts. Some ways to do that are to attend conferences, join a professional association, or use your existing network to find relevant people (including online networks such as LinkedIn). However you go about finding people, an informational interview is a great way to find out more about your potential new career. An informational interview is a brief meeting in which you ask questions and get information about a career or position. Get coffee or lunch with a close contact or someone in your network and find out all you can.

6. Job Prospects

You'll need to make sure to carefully research the labor market for your new career. You can do this by visiting occupational websites such as O*Net, looking at the current version of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, or talking to contacts in the new field. It's important to assess the number of jobs in your new field and how easily you will be able to find work. Get information on both the national and local labor markets - some fields are more concentrated in specific regions or cities. Depending on your situation, you may want to find a way to keep your current job until you have a firm offer.

business school

7. Education and Training

Even experienced professionals often need more education and training to change careers. This may involve anything from a brief training course to a certificate program to an entirely new degree. Before you make the leap, find out what education or training requirements you'll need. Also make sure you have the time, money, and support to undergo more schooling.

8. Licensing and Certification Requirements

Many occupations don't just require more education - they also require a state license or various types of certification. This is true for lawyers, teachers, massage practitioners, counselors, and dozens of other professionals. Becoming licensed or certified often entails specific educational requirements, a certain number of hours of experience, and examinations. Find out what the licensing and certification requirements are for your geographic area (or the place you're considering moving) and make sure that you're prepared to meet them.

9. Continuing Education

Many occupations that require licensing or certification also have continuing education requirements. That means you'll need to complete a certain number of training hours each time you renew your license or certification. Those hours may include in-person classes, online seminars, or professional conferences. All these things take time and money. Find out if your new field requires you to get continuing education, and determine whether or not you want to make that commitment.

10. Salary

Of course, you'll want to find out what your expected salary will be in your new career. If you're starting over, it's possible you'll need to take a pay cut. For some people, going down a rung on the financial ladder to pursue their passion is worth it. But if you have a family to support or a lifestyle to preserve, that may not be an option for you. Find out what your salary prospects will be when you start, as well as your long-term earning potential.


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