By Nisa Chitakasem is Founder of Position Ignition and the Career Ignition Club, the UK’s leading Career Consulting Company and Career Resource.
A career change is an even more challenging life transition than changing jobs within the same profession. It’s not enough to update your CV and brush up on your interview skills, as important as these tasks are. Changing careers requires a particular kind of preparation and a willingness to open your mind to new possibilities, meet new people and try new things.
1. Make Time
Looking for a new career in itself is a full-time job. Even if you’re not currently employed, you’ll still need to fit the job search around your family and other responsibilities.
Get organised by making a list of long-term job search goals, a list of shorter-term goals and, finally, a list of daily tasks related to your job search.This will help you stay on course during the career change.
Once you know what you’re doing each day, you can prioritise.
Use these lists to make a timetable, including both career change tasks and other tasks and appointments.
2. Clarify What You Want
Don’t even start trying to change careers until you’re clear on what you want. This means deciding upon a suitable career to target instead of adopting a ‘scatter-gun’ approach where you’re focusing on several different careers at once.
Target one career field that’s aligned with both your strengths and preferences and go after it. If you’re not clear on what your strengths and preferences are, take the time to work them out by having a brainstorming session on what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at doing and what you’ve done a lot of.
3. Take a Psychometric Test
Get a little extra help identifying career areas that are suited to you by doing a few online career personality tests.
These psychometric tests won’t give you a definitive answer on your ideal career, but they may give you a few ideas you may not have thought of yet. Don’t rely on these for an answer but instead, use them to fuel new thoughts, suggestions and alternative ideas.
Once you have a shortlist of potential new careers, narrow it down by thoroughly researching each career until you find the one for you. Do your research by reading a lot—take a look online, borrow relevant books from your local library or see what the press is saying. It’s also important to research different employers you’re thinking of applying to.
Employers have wildly varied approaches to managing employees who are joining them from different fields so research each company’s policy and attitude towards career changers to help you find a good fit.
Along with research, the best way to find out what a particular profession is really like is to try it out. You can do this through voluntary work, work shadowing or offering to do pro bono work for people you know. There may also be an opportunity for learning via secondments, depending on your current role and organisation. If you want to get a regular feel for your target area of work, join a club, group or specialist network that will allow you to participate in relevant activities.
6. Learn New Skills
Chances are, if you want a completely new career you’ll need to acquire new skills to get an employer to give you a chance and also to perform well in your new position once you’ve landed the job.
There are several ways to pick up skills relevant to your desired profession. Contact your local further education college to see what courses they have on offer. Arrange a skills exchange with a friend, where you teach one another a new skill. Look online or in the bookshop for how-to guides that show you how to master a specific skill step-by-step.
7. Use Your Network
When it comes to actually finding jobs to apply to within your desired field, your existing contacts can be invaluable mines of help, support and information.
The best way to find out about the current labour market is to ask people who you already know are in the know.
You might be surprised by which of your close contacts can give you some interesting inside information on your chosen career area, or who they can introduce you to. Pick a contact who might be able to help and arrange to meet up for a coffee or lunch.
8. Make new connections
New contacts can be just as useful as old ones, so expand your network by getting out there and meeting new people. Attend business networking events within the industry you want to get into, but remember that these events are not about who can hand out the most business cards. Take the time to talk to each person you meet. Really listen to what they have to say and if you find them interesting, believe they could be beneficial for you, or even that you could be beneficial to them, give them your card and be sure to get theirs.
9. Promote Your Transferable Skills
Make this clear to everyone who stands between you and your new profession: you have skills that can be transferred from your past experiences to your future career. When networking, on your applications and in your interviews, stress that you understand what skills you would need to transfer to which aspects of the new job. Give examples of times when you’ve transferred a skill from one part of your life to another.
For instance, you may have transferred the ability to multi-task as a young office junior to parenthood.
10. Get a Good Career Guide
Each and any stage of the career change process can seem both daunting and isolating. It doesn’t have to be like this. Seek help and support from where you can and consider working with a career guide.
A good career expert will be able to give you guidance as you work out what you want and how to get it, without making the decisions for you. The very best career guides take the time to get to know you in order to help you and will use whichever technical tools and processes are best suited to you and your objectives.
Nisa Chitakasem is founder of Position Ignition, the UK’s leading Career Consulting Company. Nisa co-founded Position Ignition.com to provide career consulting to people looking for guidance and support through their career change, new career direction, job search and career development. She is also co-author of their popular eBooks: Make Your Career Change Happen and 85 Mid Life Career Change Tips.