How to Prepare for a Career Change

Before you jump ship, ask yourself these questions to enhance your potential for success.


So you’ve had it with your current job, and it’s time for a career change. Once you make the decision to move on, it can feel tempting to hand in your resignation and dive into that change.

But that’s probably a bad idea. Before you jump ship, take some time to ask yourself a few questions to enhance your potential for career-change success.

Why do I want to make a change?

You know your current job isn’t cutting it, but is it really a new career path you need? Take a careful look at the source of your dissatisfaction. What is it? Is it something that can be solved while you stay in your current job? Is it something that could be solved by doing a similar job with a different organization? Or is it really something that is inherent in the work you’re doing, like the fact that it’s a bad fit with what you love doing and are good at? Look for the least disruptive, most effective solution. Before you dive into a career change, make sure you really need to.

[See 14 Secrets to Career Change Success.]

What do I want to make a change to? Why?

A story I hear again and again from my clients as they describe their frustrations with their career is, “I made a change (even multiple changes), but I kept winding up unhappy in my job.” They ended up jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. If you’re going to go through the challenge of recreating yourself in a new career, do yourself a favor and make sure you’re gravitating toward the new path, not just running away from your current one.

Reasons for choosing a career path like “it’s a growing field” or “it makes a lot of money” might be relevant from a purely practical perspective, but if you’re making a career change because you’re unhappy with the work you’re doing, they will do nothing to help guide you in a better direction. For that you need to ask the next question.

What energizes me?

Unless you spend some good introspective time to get a deeper understanding of what energizes you, any career direction you choose will be little more than a crap shoot. The last thing you want to do is to look back five years from now and think, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Take the time to get to know yourself, so you can take the guesswork out of deciding on a new career direction.

How am I going to make that change?

Jumping off the cliff and learning to fly on the way down might work for some of us, but for the majority of people it’s a recipe for going splat. Before you start out on that career transition, make a plan. How are you going to approach it? What steps do you need to take? What do you need to learn? Who do you need to know? What are the potential pitfalls? How are you going to get past them if they occur?

[See Don't Let Fear Control Your Career.]

When can I make that change?

You may want to make a change immediately—better yet, last week—but in my experience the overnight career change is the exception to the rule. They typically have to unfold over time. Unfortunately, that fact can lead people to lose their momentum and they end up making no change at all.

Get an accurate picture of your situation. How primed are you to make that change? Is it a slam dunk, or will it require some re-creation? How about your finances? Do you have the money to spend an extended time in the transition process without income, or do you need to keep a steady stream flowing? All those things will have an impact on how quickly you can realistically make a change. If it’s not an immediate change, set a date, and start taking steps towards it.

[See How to Mesh In-Person and Online Networking.]

Who can help me stay accountable?

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to stay disciplined about going to the gym when you have a workout partner you know will be there waiting? Why is that? Because it creates accountability. It would be so easy to slack off because you’re tired, or busy, or just don’t feel like it, but knowing that someone is expecting you gets you into the gym. It’s no different with this. Creating some kind of accountability can help you stay on track. That could be as simple as telling a friend each week (or each month) what you intend to do, then reporting back the results. Or it could mean working with a coach like me.

Who can help?

The less you try to go it alone, the more likely your career change is to be successful. Who can you enlist for help along the way? Think about it from different perspectives. Who can you turn to for emotional support? Who can you turn to for mentorship? For knowledge and expertise? Who can help you stay positive and focused? To start finding your support team, look at family and friends, colleagues, potential colleagues, and professional contacts.

As a parting thought, don’t mistake all these questions for action towards your goal. They’re there to give you a foundation to maximize your potential for career change success, but at some point, you have to start taking those steps. And when you do, you’ll be glad for the time and effort you invested in finding the answers.

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 Work, 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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