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Maybe you’ve just been laid off from your job. Or maybe you are still employed, but not entirely satisfied with your career field.
Whatever your situation, it may be time for a career change, which means it’s time to research a new career. But where should you start? What steps do you need to take to figure out what specific steps will lead you to the next stop on your career journey?
Career management expert Kathleen Brady suggests beginning that exploration by asking yourself this question: what is it about the new career that is appealing? Brady, author of GET A JOB: 10 Steps to Career Success, said that “shifts the focus from running away from something they don’t like about their current position and running toward something that is inspiring and motivating.”
Caird Urquhart, founder and president of Newroad Coaching, suggests that people conduct a values exercise when they want to begin identifying where they want to take their career. “Once they can articulate what their core values are and define them, they have a benchmark to use when looking at different career options,” says Urquhart. “They will know immediately if that line of work ‘feels’ right.”
Brady says that job seekers need to know what they want in a new job and what they don’t want. “They must also know what value they could bring to the new job,” she adds. “What do they really know about this new career? What natural abilities, transferable skills or knowledge and expertise do they possess that will enable them to add value?”
At the same time, you have to be practical and ensure that your new career choice is also a smart one from a financial perspective. Review your transferable skills, advises career counselor Robin Ryan and see how they can be used in a new career. “You’ll realize that you may start in a new field doing the new work, but you can sell your past experience so you won’t have to start at the bottom of the financial ladder,” says Ryan, author of What to Do with The Rest of Your Life.
Once you have a career in mind, you can begin your research online with the Occupational Outlook Handbook a free resource published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can find basic information on dozens of careers from architects to technical writers to software engineers. Visit sites like
Perhaps some the best information you can learn about a new field you may want to enter is what you can receive from people already working in that field or industry sector. They can tell you exactly what it’s like to work in the trenches and can offer insights into the health of the sector, as well. Often this is referred to as an informational interview.
“It is critically important to speak with individuals in the industry you are exploring to get a realistic, up-to-date view of roles, responsibilities and expectations,” says Brady. “Every industry is facing tremendous changes…some good, some bad. You want to hear it all. If the bad doesn’t scare you, you know you are on the right path.”
There are many ways to make connections. Local organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce, may be able to help you identify local companies in your desired industry and connect you with their leaders. Many industry organizations have local chapters where you can network with people in the field. College alumni associations can be a valuable resource when it comes to helping you make connections to the people you need to meet.
Don’t forget the people you already know. Ask your friends and colleagues for help. Maybe your friend’s husband works in the field you’re exploring. You may have a LinkedIn connection who is connected to someone you can speak with. Search your target companies on LinkedIn to find out how you may be connected to people who work there.
Urquhart says the best way to connect with these people in your new industry is through an introduction. But if you don’t get one, don’t let that stop you. Pick up the phone. “Most people, particularly if they are high up the ladder, are more than willing to give a few minutes of their time,” Urquhart says.
If you’re still nervous about reaching out, Brady suggests sharing your knowledge or providing names to friends or business associates to be helpful. “When you establish a specific and relevant basis for a conversation—to ask for ideas, opinions and a reaction to your own thoughts—there is no reason for you to be turned down,” she says.
Volunteering is another way in which to meet people in a new career field and build relationships with key stakeholders. It also provides an ideal opportunity to give that new career a “test drive” to see if you would be happy working in that field.
Depending on which career you choose additional education could be helpful, and in some cases, necessary. Conduct some research to see if an advanced degree is crucial or if some type of certification would help make your transition easier. The Occupational Outlook Handbook can provide some basic information about educational requirements.
Today there are many programs geared towards working professionals whether you choose to study online or at your local college. Also, visit industry association websites. Some, like the American Institute of CPAs, have information about careers including educational requirements. Some may offer continuing education programs geared toward professionals in their particular industry. There’s a lot of information just a click of the mouse away.
After conducting your research, talking to people, exploring what you really want to do next in your career, how do you know when you have found the right career path to take?
That “decision must go beyond a pragmatic checklist to have personal and marketplace sustainability in our more complex and competitive world,” says Cliff Hakim, founder and career consultant with Rethinking Work. “I am seeing that it takes more time for folks to materialize their dream, so that feeling passion for their new endeavor—their gut tingles—is vital.”
Brady agrees that when you find that right career path, you will know. “There is a sense of contentment and peace when people have found the right path,” she says. “There is no better feeling than when your job/career allows you to live the life you want to life. Your sense of purpose and balance is fulfilled.”
Even if you are happy and fulfilled in your current position, it’s still worthwhile to take the time to explore your options and a possible new career. “The best time to prepare for what is next is when you are satisfied,” says Brady. “You don’t need to be researching a new career, but you certainly want to focus on what skills, talents and expertise you need to develop to ensure that you continue to be relevant at this company/in this industry. Pay attention to market forces and economic signals. Always look for opportunities.”
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