At some point all of us will go through the process of changing careers, whether it be of our own choosing or someone else’s. The average U.S. worker will change careers at least 7 times in his or her lifetime. I suspect this number to grow as life expectancy continues to increase and more people pursue meaningful work well past normal retirement age. With that in mind it behooves all of us to become masters of career transition. Here are some tips to help you avoid the most common pitfalls that come with career transition.
1. Know when it is time to leave your comfort zone. You have been doing the same job for several years and are ‘feeling in the groove’, as Neil Young would say. If the job has become second nature, it’s time to speak up and ask for a new project or assignment. Don’t expect it to be handed to you. Worse yet, because you didn’t speak up, your office mate next door gets the goods and you are left in the dust.
2. Keep your skills up to date. Sound career management means keeping your skills fresh. What skills do you need to acquire to make your next move? Can these skills be learned on the job or do you need to pick up an online course or attend a seminar?
3. Nurture your network. Ignoring your network when you are gainfully employed is a recipe for disaster. If you are considering a career change, now is the time to reach out to colleagues and explore new areas of interest. Think of how you can help them too. Networking is a give and take relationship. Don’t wait until you are out of a job to tap into your network. By then it will be too late. Need a good primer on networking does and don’ts? Have a peak at Harvey Mackay’s book, ‘Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty’, for some great networking advice.
4. Find a mentor. Seek out someone you admire and trust who will be there for you when you need them most. This should be someone you can learn from and who is willing to offer advice when you need it. This person will most likely be older than you and more experienced. You will find this support invaluable when you are at the cross roads of career transition.
5. Don’t ignore the pain. Are you finding it more difficult to motivate yourself at work? Or worse yet, do you find yourself slipping into depression on Sunday evenings just thinking about returning to your desk on Monday. Are you losing sleep at night worrying about work the next day? Ignoring signs of job stress can lead to more serious physical and emotional problems down the road. Don’t wait. Think of it this way. You wouldn’t drive your car on bald tires or fail to repair a broken window in your house. Neither should you ignore the signs of job stress and the need to move on in your career before your job takes its toll.
6. Plan for the unexpected. The recent recession reminded us all how important it is to have plan for the unforeseen loss of a job. Most career transitions will involve some financial sacrifice, particularly if you are making a significant change such as leaving the corporate world to start your own business. Ideally, you want to have at least 6 months savings to cover any uninterrupted employment. If you don’t have enough savings what other expenses can you get rid of or minimize? What interim temporary jobs could you qualify for while you pursue your desired career position?
When it comes down to it, the best advice for avoiding a difficult career transition is to take charge of it. No one else will look after your career like you will. You own it so take care of it! Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.