When Changing Careers, Avoid These Pitfalls

These suggestions will help you transition smoothly into a new job.

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Changing careers is seldom easy, but too many people make it even harder on themselves. Some all but guarantee their own failure, simply because of the way they approach the transition.

If you’re considering a career change, avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Jumping blindly out of the frying plan.

Tempting as it might be, don’t jump blindly out of the frying pan. Especially if you’re uncomfortable at your job, resist the urge to hotfoot it out of there. If you don’t bother to prepare, don’t bother to determine which way to jump, there’s a high chance you’ll follow that leap with the proverbial “into the fire” experience.

Before you start working toward the change, invest plenty of time into exploring what makes you tick and which career paths would keep you energized and engaged. Otherwise you’re likely to find yourself wanting to make yet another change soon.

[See 14 Secrets to Career Change Success.]

2. Picking a career because someone else thinks you should.

You’ll never find a shortage of opinions from other people about what you should do with your career. While those ideas can sometimes be spot on, they’re just as likely to miss the mark by a wide margin. Making your decision based on what someone else thinks you should do is a good way to wind up where you don’t really want to be.

Listen to other people’s opinions—they might actually be valuable—but never take them as gospel truth. Give yourself time to critically evaluate whether that’s really the right move. Only you know what’s best for you.

3. Going for speed.

If you want to careen into a career-change implosion, by all means jump in at mach speed. Otherwise, take the time to look carefully at how you should prepare and where you may hit trouble spots. Don’t jump in and wing it.

Regardless of how impatient you are to start something new, invest the time in advance to think through how it needs to unfold. A change is challenging enough without spending energy on confusion or problems you could have anticipated and avoided.

[See Why Job Hunters Should "Settle" for a Less-Than-Dream Job.]

4. Dabbling.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, far from jumping into a career change at breakneck speed, some people just dip their toes in the water and explore, little by little. This pitfall doesn’t lead directly to failure. Instead, it allows their career-change ambitions to die a slow, lingering death.

Dabbling works when you’re trying to get a sense for whether a career is right for you, or starting small to build momentum. But if you want to succeed, at some point you have to wade into the deep end and start swimming.

5. Listening to the naysayers.

You can always find plenty of people to tell you that you’re being impractical, that it will never work, or that you need to suck it up and accept that work is a four-letter word. Don’t listen to these loud-mouths. If you surround yourself with naysayers, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.

Instead, fill your life with people who help you believe in your dreams, while also making sure your feet stay planted firmly on the ground. Look for friends and mentors who encourage and inspire you, but who also aren’t afraid to constructively point out danger zones and things you could do better.

6. Doing it alone.

For some of us, it’s tempting to think, I can do it myself! But in reality, you can’t. You need help. Sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. As you take steps toward your career change, ask yourself, What help do I need? Where can I find it? Who do I know? Who do I need to know? How can I find them?

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers.]

7. Quitting when it gets hard.

This misstep has probably killed more career changes than any other pitfall. Substantive change is unlikely to happen without some bumps and bruises along the way. It’s unlikely to flow effortlessly into your life. That could happen, but the odds are against it. So set your expectations realistically from the beginning. Know that there will probably be challenging patches that you’ll need to work through.

Then, when you hit those patches, remind yourself, Oh yeah, this is just one of those bumpy spots I was expecting. Reach out for help. Go into problem-solving mode. Buckle down and redouble your efforts, or back up and look for more effective ways to get there. Revise your plan if need be. But if the new path is what you really want, resist the urge to quit.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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