Career Change Tips: The Dos and Don’ts of Navigating Your Next Step
In our coaching business at Skillful Communications, we work with people in all sorts of industries (and age groups) who are pursuing career changes, and there are plenty of reasons they’re doing so.
With rapid developments occurring in technology and the digital space, sometimes a career change is necessary just to keep up.
Perhaps you began your career in sales but discovered you love to code. Perhaps you’ve realized you have a skill set that brings you joy but it is currently being underutilized in your field, or perhaps you are simply ready for a change. Whatever your personal reasoning is, this article will share our top career change tips to help you navigate the path forward.
The good news is, you’re not alone. In fact, the average person makes up to 12 career changes throughout their working life (when you include promotions and internal transfers).
The modern job market forces us to make choices and take risks that may not have been necessary in a different time, but with the speed at which job trends and technology change today, frequent career changes are often inevitable.
If you find yourself on the cusp of a career change, it’s time to do some evaluating.
Take a deep breath and dive into some of the Dos and Don’ts to consider as you are taking this next step. Starting with some tips for things to Do…
Career Change Do’s:
Identify Your Values
Employers understand the importance of matching a person’s values with a job role, which is why some employers require personality testing during the hiring process.
Working in accordance with your value system has a much greater chance of increasing your workplace and overall life satisfaction.
Financial security is wonderful, but if padding your savings account is coming at the cost of your happiness, it may be time to do some honest self-evaluation. How do you go about assessing what your career values are?
You can start by asking yourself these questions:
1. What Have You Consistently Prioritized in Your Career?
Looking back over your working life, it will be easy to spot the things you have consistently prioritized. Have you emphasized more flexibility over a raise in pay? If so, your actions show you value autonomy more than increased financial gain.
Have you prioritized duties that require you to think fast on your feet? If so, it would suggest that you value a fast-paced work environment as opposed to a calmer one. Really take some time to think through the choices you’ve made in your previous roles and make a list of the values that keep popping up.
2. What Made You Happy When You Were Young?
When we’re children, we have the ability to enjoy things with a purity that begins to dim with the responsibilities and expectations of adulthood. Take some time to think back to the things you really enjoyed as a child.
Chances are, the things that made you happy then are still things that you value now.
With some creative thinking, it’s completely possible to find ways to integrate them into your working life as an adult (even if you don’t plan on becoming an astronaut or firefighter).
3. How Do You Spend Time Outside of Work?
How you spend your free time can give you a lot of insight into the things you value. Do you spend a lot of time volunteering? You might consider a career that is more service-oriented. Do you enjoy spending time with children? Perhaps you would enjoy teaching or working in child development.
(Read more on similar brainstorming techniques in our Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years? article)
Take an Active Role
Inertia can be one of the toughest things to overcome when seeking a new career.
Fear, overwhelm, or simply have no clue where to start can lead to a stagnation that will keep you from getting closer to the job you’ve been dreaming about.
As the old saying goes, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had.”
If you want to make a career change, looking for the same type of job at a different company isn’t going to solve your problem. If there’s one truly powerful career change tip you should implement now, it’s to start pushing yourself to think outside your normal patterns.
Some ways you can begin to do this are:
If you’ve been focused on one career trajectory your entire life, you may not be aware of how many different options are available to you in the job market. You may be the perfect fit for a role you didn’t even know existed. Do some research about the skills, knowledge, and values you know you have and see what careers other people with those same tools have built.
2. Talk it Out
Seek out people you trust, who have known you a long time, and will be honest with you.
Ask them what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. These conversations can be very enlightening and open up avenues you may not have considered before.
You can also enlist professional help in a career coach or therapist to help you identify what you need in your working life and how to achieve it. Whichever route you choose, seeking the input of people you trust is an excellent way to get your mind working in a new direction.
3. Evaluate Your Reasons
Not everyone in your life will understand why you are making the decision to leave your current career path, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you understand why you are doing it. There will be moments of fear and self-doubt, but if you have worked out for yourself what your reasons are, it will be a great help in those moments of anxiety.
4. Do Some Soul Searching
Sometimes feelings of profound unhappiness have unexpected roots. Maybe the source of your melancholy isn’t coming from your job, but something else. Again, enlisting the help of a professional counselor or trusted friends and family can help you sort through some of the discontents you feel about your current situation.
5. Make Space for Change
Allow yourself space to grow and change. In a digital world, it’s easy to see ourselves as machines and expect the same level of effortless, perfect output that we demand from our digital devices.
Human beings are not stagnant, mechanical devices, however, and change is a necessary part of healthy growth.
While big life shifts can be scary, they are also exciting, enriching, and can lead to more happiness and life satisfaction than you thought was possible for yourself.
Career Change Don’ts:
You may be 100% confident in your decision to leave your current career situation, but make sure you do so in a graceful and considerate manner.
The world is much smaller than you think and burning professional bridges can and will come back to haunt you.
To circumvent creating a bad environment for yourself, avoid doing these things as you plan to leave your current position:
1. Don’t Start Workplace Gossip
Be selective about who you share your discontent within your current work environment. While sharing your struggles with trusted friends can be a big help during a career change, you don’t want to start the rumor mill and create trouble for yourself before you are ready to take action.
Gossip can spread fast and create a lot of damage, so be wise in your choice of confidants.
2. Don’t Leave Angry
When you are living with a lot of internal frustration, it can be all too easy to let your temper seep out in your interactions and create disharmony in your life. Be sure to keep a check on your irritation with your current work-life and practice patience in fulfilling your job role and interacting with your colleagues.
While your discontent may be completely justified, giving in to anger will not be worth damaging what you have built at your current job.
You want to make your exit gracefully, with an intact reputation and good references for your new career.
3. Don’t Leave Without Ample Notice
Giving ample notice when choosing to leave your current position is paramount to easing a smooth transition.
Be as considerate as possible when giving notice, taking in to account any pending projects that may be dependent on your expertise, how long it will take to find and train your replacement, and the current climate at your company. It would not be advisable for a CPA to resign in the middle of tax season, for instance.
Your boss will greatly appreciate the care and consideration you show while giving and working out your notice, and you can rest assured knowing you are not burning a bridge with your current employer.
Don’t Let Fear Make the Decision for You
Getting comfortable with a certain level of fear is an essential skill to have as a human being. Change is inevitable, and, to a certain extent, so is fear.
While there are legitimate reasons to be anxious about making a career shift, the biggest obstacle standing in your way is often your own fear.
It’s easy to give in to these feelings of doubt and anxiety and tell ourselves we are making the pragmatic and mature decision by staying where we are, when actually we are giving ourselves an easy out because of our fear.
Some of the most common anxieties about career changes are:
1. Reduced or Uncertain Salary
This can be a legitimate fear, but it can also be assuaged by remembering the things you value. As you have discovered in uncovering your values, financial stability is only one facet in what make a human happy in their working lives. Furthermore, finances can be deceiving. We sometimes think we need more than we actually do.
Honestly assess your current financial situation, making budgets and exploring what all of your options are can give you some hard facts to use when battling your fear of financial instability. Keep the long view in mind; temporarily foregoing more financial gain in exchange for a fulfilling career where your earning potential is still high is a good trade-off.
2. Loss of Stability
If you are considering a career venture that will require going back to school, freelancing, or simply starting at an entry-level position, your stability can begin to feel very shaky.
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable with change, but remember that it is leading somewhere.
In the end, you will be more stable and happy than you were before the change, and the momentary shifting of your stability will feel 100% worth it. Do not fear the shake in your stability, but embrace it excitedly as you plan for the future ahead. For more inspiration (and career change tips), check out our podcast with Ben Brooks of PILOT called “The Best Time to Work On Your Career”.
Don’t Expect to Start Where You Left Off
Lastly, if you are majorly shifting gears, be prepared for the fact that you are going to have to establish yourself all over again.
The people in the industry you are trying to break into have already established careers there, and you may lose out to people with more experience than you when you first try to get your foot in the door. If you have been in your current position for a long time, you may have taken for granted the respect and privileges you enjoy.
Starting at the bottom and having to prove yourself in a new industry with new colleagues can be quite a shock if you are not prepared to pay your dues and start at the bottom.
There will be a learning curve, and some days you may feel lost and confused and wish you hadn’t left the comfort of your old position, but don’t be discouraged. Take a breath and stay the course. You will be glad you toughed it out.
The career of your dreams is completely in your grasp. If you are unhappy in your working life, it is not too late to make a change.
Use these career change tips– Identify your values, quiet your fear, be wise, kind and considerate of the people you are leaving behind, and then go for it. Trust that you have planned well, understand your reasons, and set your sights on your goal. Your new career is waiting!
(Looking for a good next step and more career change tips? Don’t miss these 7 Resume Tips for Career Changers!)