New year, new you … new career? As you start to think about what your year will look like and how you’ll grow and change, your professional life is certainly fair game. And you’re not alone: in a recent survey by Fiverr and YouGov, more than half of American workers—59%—are looking to make a job or career change to kick off this new decade. But before you start hustling those resumes out the door, there are a number of important factors to consider first.
1. Do you really want a career change, or do you just hate your job?
When things aren’t going well at work (like when there’s stress, performance issues, poor leadership, or general malaise), any change can feel like the right one. The romantic ideal of going off somewhere and becoming a park ranger like you always wanted to be can sound like the right call when you’re tired of working as, say, an accountant or a customer service specialist. But when reality kicks in and you’ve exchanged your career path for a totally different one, will it turn out that you didn’t hate accounting so much as you hated doing it at your former company?
So before you make major changes, ask yourself if you’d be happy staying in your field if you had a different position or a different company. Making a lateral change is usually easier than changing tracks altogether.
2. What are your career goals?
Often, our career goals are job-specific—but not always. It’s always good to do a quick values check and think about what you want to have achieved by the end of your career. For example, are you passionate about making the arts accessible to all people? Do you want to look back and say that you had a career that helped the environment? Do you want to make a difference in your community? Think about what’s important to you and what you’re interested in achieving. It doesn’t have to be a pie-in-the-sky, pageant contestant answer about world peace—it should be about your own personal values and priorities.
As you think about changing careers, your goals and values should help guide the process of choosing your next phase.
3. Are you prepared to take a step back, if necessary?
The hardest truth about changing careers is that it may involve sacrificing seniority, pay, and experience in order to get re-established in a different field. Now’s the time to think about whether you’re truly prepared to do that. This planning includes number-crunching. Are you prepared to take a pay cut to get an experience-building foothold in your new industry? If you’re used to being a manager, are you ready to be a bit lower on the org chart?
It may be that you decide these smaller sacrifices are worth it for your broader career goals, but it’s essential to factor them in before you commit to a big change.
4. What transferrable skills do you have?
Making a mid-career jump can be especially tough if you’re starting over in a field that’s totally different from the one you’ve been in. But even though it may involve losing some of the career steam you’ve built up, it doesn’t mean you’re starting with nothing. Even if your work experiences don’t apply so directly anymore, you still have a ton of useful skills and on-the-job learning that can help you.
When you’re ready to start preparing your new resume, think about your skills in general terms. How have I showed leadership? What kind of a problem solver am I? Once you start realizing the universality of your skills, it becomes easier to apply them to jobs that may seem totally different than what you’re used to doing.
5. What does your network look like?
In any job search, your network is one of your best assets. Word-of-mouth opportunities, knowledge-sharing, support—all of those things can help put you in the right place. Your existing network is likely geared toward your current career and job—so now is the time to start branching out a bit. Start looking for and engaging people in your hoped-for new field. Ask questions. Gather information about what it’s like to work in that industry.
And you don’t necessarily have to abandon your current network. You never know when putting out feelers with your existing contacts can yield something interesting: “Hey all, I’ve been thinking about moving into beekeeping. Anyone have any advice or contacts?”
6. What tools will you need to make this change?
Choosing a new career may mean that you have to do extensive training, or maybe even go back to school for a particular degree or certificate. Making the decision to change is great, but the timing and expense of these educational needs should be considered before you hand in your resignation or start applying for new jobs. For example, healthcare is an extremely hot career path right now. But many jobs—even entry-level ones—in the industry require baseline education or certification. So going back to school, taking online courses, or starting down the path to getting certified or licensed should be part of your thinking from the very start.
If you decide to go for it and change up your career path this year, good luck! Put in the time, effort, and careful planning, and you’ll be set up well to try something new and switch up your professional life.
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