After graduating from high school or college, most people were either glad it was over or sad it was ending.  In either case, chances are you felt a sense of maturity or even readiness to face the world and the life that lay ahead of you; which is why you may have been in for a bit of shock when you started to search for a job so you could begin your life as an adult, or at least begin saving for further education.

Whether it was a laboratory, oil-drilling rig, the local fast food restaurant, or even your dream job, not getting hired on the first attempt was always a rude awakening.

Changing Careers - arrows and people running graphic.pdfNevertheless, once you finally crossed the threshold and landed your first “real” job, it was through trial and error that you discovered how you work best.  Perhaps you were a vital part of the business structure, enabling, team-building, and helping others to reach their full potential; or possibly you were a leader, developing purpose and providing direction to the group.

Conversely, maybe you were the creative or independent thinker who discovered you were better suited toward working alone, traveling, or as a self-governing entrepreneur or sole-proprietor.  Nevertheless, it was only through the subsequently acquired maturity and experience of your earliest jobs that you discovered exactly what role you fit best.

Separating Myth from Facts

Overnight success is a rarity, and some may arguably go so far as to say it is even a myth.  While there may be a few individuals who achieve objectives of great consequence within the first ten years of their career, it is usually a matter of struggling, coping and finding your niche over time.

Once you had carved out your little spot, the temptation used to be to sit tight and ride out your career.  However that has all changed, as people now change jobs on an average of every three years; and almost as frequently, they also change careers.  Even retirees are returning to the workforce, but they’re not seeking a 60-hour workweek; they’re looking for something that allows them to contribute to the community; they want to make a difference.

Reinventing Yourself

If you’ve been doing the same job for years and suddenly conclude that something needs to change, it’s obviously not a good idea to immediately quit your current job and set out to “find yourself” or start a new business without proper financial backing or preparation.

Scouting the Terrain

Instead of being frustrated with your career and quitting, you need to do some changing-careers-professional-man-holding-glasses_smilinginvestigating and planning first.  Transitions are seldom quick; if you are lucky enough to have lots of wealthy contacts and are in an influential position, you might be able to go to the local opera house, art gallery, or museum and offer your services as a charity fundraiser.  The possibilities are quite diverse if you put your mind to it.  Find something which interests you, where you can apply your skills.

Perhaps you could be a career counselor, or perform consulting work for smaller companies that might not ordinarily have access to your level of expertise.  You might be an independent trainer collecting within range of $2,000 per day to teach staff about IT Security protocols, or how to use a freshly installed SAP or ERP system.  If perchance, you have some sort of medical background or experience, you could even conduct seminars on CPR and First Aid.

Whatever you choose, it is important to ascertain whether there is a need for this “Encore Career” of yours, and that the market isn’t flooded with what you plan to offer. It’s ideal to develop a skill-set and a service that is popular enough to be well sought after, but rare enough to make you a valuable commodity even against plenty of competition.

Assess your Skills

To successfully change careers means that it is time to examine what you’ve accomplished, and what provides your inspiration; what you’re good at, what you never want to do again, and what you want to do as often as possible.

If your skills aren’t quite up to par with the plans you have in mind, try to take some courses to upgrade your skills while you are still employed.  Are you technology-minded?  Consider obtaining a CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) ticket, which is almost like a “free-pass” to any high-tech security job you desire.  The initial goal is to discover what item within your field of interest is most valuable, and obtain it before you hand in your resignation.

Assess your Tendencies

Do you remain with tough situations for far too long, even when there’s virtually no hope of salvaging them, or do you give up at the first sign of difficulty?  Are you comfortable seeking advice about your choices?  Can you assess yourself frankly and honestly, avoiding comparisons to others, or do you need a third party (and can you listen to them honestly)?

Assess your Resources

It’s not a secret that changing careers can be expensive.  Before you decide to make the switch, see if you can save six months’ worth of expenses because it could easily take that long to turn a profit if you’re striking out on your own.

Even if you’re switching to a paid position elsewhere, remember: If anyone needs to be laid off, companies tend to protect their long-term workers and you could be first on the chopping block if things go sour.  In computer coding, it is referred to as “Last In First Out” (LIFO), but it applies equally well to hiring and firing.

Inspiration Vs. Money

A major career change isn’t necessarily about money, but it is always about finding a vocation you’re passionate for.  Chances are, you could have earned the same amount or more by staying where you were.

In other words, it shouldn’t just be a reiteration of what you were doing.  That just means you’ll be doing basically what you were before, with all the same frustrations that inspired you to change careers to begin with, without the vested time and security.

The Takeaway

Returning to the workforce after retirement, or electing to take a hard-right turn mid-changing-careers-professional-woman_victorycareer, comes down to the same thing.  Something was left undone; there’s a task that still needs to be completed.  So go ahead, grab that tiller and steer new course.

Nonetheless, be sure to take the time to investigate.  It might even be a good idea to engage in some A/B-testing on a small scale to minimize any investment you need to make to get started.  Whatever you decide, don’t just charge in blindly; as that is not the way to success.

Fred Coon, CEO


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