The alarm rang at 6:00 am on Monday morning, and Tom Martin hit the snooze button. The knot in his stomach tightened as he envisioned heading to the office for yet another day in corporate agony. He sighed, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and willed himself to get moving.
Sound familiar? Many American workers stay in jobs they hate. According to a recent national survey by The Conference Board, only 51% of workers are satisfied with their jobs.
To overcome fears of a career change, first define what keeps you from a switch. Is it:
- Fear of a pay cut?
- Fear of the time needed to re-school or recertify or start at entry level?
- Potential embarrassment about your career dreams or what others will say?
- Lack of information about how to make the switch?
- Feeling you have too much invested in your current career choice?
- Low self esteem?
- Fear of failure?
The first key to a career change is “choice”. You are never trapped in a job; you choose to stay in it. You can leave, even though there may be consequences.
The second key is timing. Imagine trying to eat an elephant in one sitting. Sounds daunting! However, isn’t it a more manageable task if you took many little bites over a month? Making a major career shift all at once also seems impossible. However, as smaller, more discrete tasks you can make progress toward a new job that makes you happy. Look to the long term future: setting a goal to be in a new field in 3 to 5 years is not unrealistic.
BABY STEPS TOWARD A CAREER CHANGE
- Set a reasonable time frame. It may take as long as a year to decide on a career direction. Calibrating expectations will ensure you don’t get frustrated and give up too easily. Allocate time to write out your ideal job characteristics, and then to find jobs that match. Next, find people doing those jobs, and ask them for advice and perspective on the job. Lastly, you need to make a plan for any retraining or experience needed for the position.
- Evaluate your finances. Calculate the minimum living expenses you need. Investigate loans, refinancing, and other sources of money. Examine school scholarships and whether your company offers tuition reimbursement. Even though it is tough, evaluate what lifestyle choices you are willing to sacrifice in the short term for your long-term happiness.
- Create a detailed written description of your ideal job. You can’t make a career change without a clear and detailed picture. Forget about job titles in the beginning. Focus on the tasks, environment and output. Include the following:
- Physical environment: office type, setup, dress code, work hours, office atmosphere, and working conditions.
- Describe the kinds of people you work with: peers, subordinates, bosses, clients. Describe how you help these people, and how they support you.
- Team or individual work: state your preference for working alone, or always with others? If both, under what circumstances you prefer each. Decide when you are happiest and most productive.
- What is your work output, or what do you “DO”? Do you make something, provide a service, work with data, or share information?
- Share your list with others and ask them what jobs and careers might fit with your criteria. Don’t be shy; people love to give advice! Develop a list of potential careers and jobs you need to learn more about. Don’t prematurely reject jobs because of a perceived barrier. Find out the truth first.
- Find ways to safely explore whether this new career might be right for you. Once you have defined the job you think you want, research information about what it might take to get into the field. Think about ways to make sure this is the correct choice. Examine alternatives carefully. Ask the following questions:
- What skills might you need that you can get on your current job? Are there additional responsibilities or projects you can volunteer for that will boost your skills in a needed area?
- Do you need retraining or additional certifications?
- Do you need a new degree? Can you take night or distance classes? Does your current company offer tuition reimbursement?
- Are there professional associations you can join to network and learn about the field?
- Are there industry conferences you can attend? Many are on weekends.
- Can you use the network of people you know to find someone who is doing the job you want to do? Arrange a conversation where they can tell you about it and give some advice.
- What Internet resources are available to research the field, find companies that might hire you, and meet others who work in the field? Are there chat rooms, message boards, or E-lists to meet people?
- What books can you read to help make decisions about life choices?
- What volunteer opportunities are available to grow your skill base in the areas you need?
- Are there second jobs you can take to gain experience or test out your interest in a job?
If you are miserable in your current job, remember that taking slow and steady baby steps in a new direction can be very empowering. It’s your choice.