Thinking of a Career Transition? Here are Five Simple Steps on How to Begin
Are you feeling dissatisfied and stuck in your office job? Do you daydream about spending your endless workdays doing something creative that you really enjoy? Were you recently laid off from a management position, which you felt would take you to the next level in your career? You have plenty of company.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American changes jobs twelve to fifteen times in their lifetime, about every five years. They may switch careers up to seven times. Between 2015 and 2016, 6.2 million people—equal to four percent of the nation’s total workforce—changed from one occupational sector to another.
Does this sound surprising? Not really, considering the rapid rise of entrepreneurship, massive losses in domestic manufacturing and retail jobs, and the frantic pace at which we scramble for the next big thing, not to mention our paychecks.
So where does this leave us? The negative feelings about our jobs perpetuate a continual state of confusion, anxiety, and frustration. We lose sleep wondering what to do next and how to pay the bills. Should we grind our teeth and hang in there to fund the mortgage?
Or do we take a leap of faith that there might be a better way to live and work, and find peace of mind in the process? The answer is yes—it’s time to take that leap, but one small step at a time.
Here are five simple steps that you can follow to transition to a fulfilling new career for yourself.
Step 1: Understand where you are now
Are you truly frustrated with your profession, or are the demands of your current job driving you crazy? First, determine what you like and don’t like about what you do every day. Decide what has to change, and whether that change is possible where you are. If you’re really good at what you do and enjoy it, but the office politics have gotten out of hand, perhaps you need to make a lateral move, instead of something more drastic.
Assess the tasks and responsibilities that give you satisfaction, whether you get props from your boss or not. Are these daily assignments accomplished with skills that you can transfer to another position, and one that is related to your industry? If so, that’s great news.
Valerie Bishop, a dynamic and talented Brooklyn-based commercial artist, spoke to Your Best Edit about her recent evolution from four decades of working as a highly sought after graphic designer to mediator and dog-walker. “Slow down, turn off the noise, and tune in to what really makes sense for you. Get back to basics and remember it's a process. A big career change like this will likely take longer than you're expecting or what you have budgeted for.”
Step 2: Figure out your motive for making a change
After working as a successful independent designer with such high-profile clients such as American Express, JPMorgan Chase, Barnes & Noble, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bishop explains that her motivation to make a career transition was initially economic, and then became more of a holistic search for something meaningful. “The industry was disrupted and I had to research what would be viable for me in the near and distant future.”
Her first steps were to focus on pursuits that were aligned with her values and personality. Good advice for anyone contemplating such a major shift. Bishop undertook professional training as a mediator, aimed at serving fellow soloprenueurs in the creative community. She continues to network within her established community and further afield. Dog walking and pet sitting not only help with the bills, but feed Bishop's heart and soul as well.
Step 3: Assess your financial situation
Changing careers can be costly. Can you afford professional training or accept a lower salary as you climb up the ranks in your new occupation? Consider whether you can realistically afford to undertake the financial risks of investing in a new occupation. Research current salary ranges in the fields you are gravitating toward. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has listings and statistics for more than 800 occupations in 400 industries at bls.gov. These stats are also categorized by city, state, job characteristics, salary ranges, and the level of difficulty and complexity of the work.
Are those sectors growing or diminishing? You will want to carefully check the information in the Bureau's online Occupational Outlook Handbook to find out. Their data charts hundreds of career sectors by highest paying, fastest growing, most new jobs, and career outlook. You can search specifically for your target occupation by median pay, entry-level educational requirements, on-the-job training, and projected numbers of new jobs and growth rate.
Step 4: Determine your skills and interests
Perhaps you have a creative hobby you love that you want to turn into a full-time business. There is a big difference between sewing quilts or making pottery for friends and family, and creating enough stock to sell on a vast online craft marketplace like Etsy. How will you feel when you're cranking out placemats and ornaments under a deadline for a holiday artisan fair? If you've turned your basement sewing room into a sweatshop, you won't encounter the same satisfaction that comes from crafting personal pieces of art. Think long and hard about the dynamics of that kind of career transition before diving in.
“Imagine the life you want to live and build it,” says Mary Jo Romeo, an executive coach, trainer, entrepreneur, and co-founder of UP Business Communications, who spent 28 years in the high-pressure world of advertising sales and management in New York City. Talk about Mad Men. “In 2012, I decided that I first needed to get out of corporate America, and secondly, New York,” Romeo explains, “I relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, with my family and love being a part of the community there.”
Imagine how the positive rewards of a career transition can often spread beyond the boundaries of an office. Romeo recently received an award from the Charleston YWCA for her pro bono work training other women in the coastal city. Her management and leadership skills, honed over nearly three decades, are helping to bring Romeo success and gratification in her varied and challenging new career.
Step 5: Take Action
“I have intentionally created a patchwork life, focusing on helping professionals and companies grow. My passion has always been executive coaching and training, and now I get to do it full time. I couldn’t be happier,” says Romeo of her new life in Charleston. However, she goes on to caution that it takes longer than you might expect to get established in a new career.
Are you a self-starter who prefers working alone, and revels in the silence of your home office? Or do you need the daily interaction with colleagues during brainstorming meetings and coffee breaks to get your juices going? “It can get lonely when you’re used to being in a more social corporate environment," says Romeo, "You need to build your network and circle of advisors. Be aware of your identity and how different it is when you are working on your own.”
CareerOneStop, the Department of Labor's all-inclusive hub for job seekers, both traditional and transitional, offers a wealth of free information. Their comprehensive site covers career exploration, training, and job search resources for entry-level workers to experienced executives, veterans, the disabled, recently released felons, and the unemployed.
Another excellent free resource for budding entrepreneurs are the thousands of business mentors you can find nationwide through SCORE, at your local Small Business Administration office. Every counselor is a retired professional, who will meet with clients for one hour per month, for as long as you need them. The SBA also sponsors free online courses and affordable, targeted seminars on writing business plans, tackling social media, marketing, and finance for small business.
Bishop advises others transitioning to a new career to be generous with their talents and abilities. “Find allies. Trust your intuition. Collaborate with worthwhile partners and clients, especially people who share your values,” she says. Ultimately, through research, hard work, and soul searching, you will find the right career to achieve balance and happiness in your work life.
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