Since you know you are going to have multiple careers in your life, changing is not high stakes. Don’t make a huge deal about it and don’t spend five years searching your soul. Just start testing the waters — put a toe in the current to see how it feels. Then take a leap, and if you don’t like where you land, reframe your landing pad as just a stepping-stone. And start putting your foot in the water again.
But first, before you do any of this, make sure it’s time for you to change what you’re doing.
Here are some bad reasons to switch careers:
1. You hate your boss. (Switch jobs, not careers.)
2. You want more prestige. (Get a therapist — you’re having a confidence crisis, not a career crisis.)
3. You want to meet new people. (Try going to a bar, or Club Med. What you really want is to get a life. Pick up a hobby.)
Here are some good reasons to switch careers:
1. You want a role that is more creative, more analytic or more management-oriented.
2. You want to live in a location that does not accommodate your current career.
3. You want more flexibility or fewer hours.
Once you decide it’s time to try something new, you should act fast. Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, in France conducted scores of interviews with career changers that lead to her book, Working Identity: Uncovering Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. She concludes that career change is not so much about time spent philosophizing as time spent actually trying something new — anything.
Step 1. Conduct a perfunctory soul search. When you know you want to change, you need to understand what you don’t like about your current situation so that you don’t duplicate it. But don’t assume your current job is not right for your personality. And don’t assume that if you zero-in on your personality you’ll know exactly what you should be doing.
Daniel Gilbert psychology professor at Harvard University, says that in pursuing happiness, “we should have more trust in our own resilience and less confidence in our predictions about how we’ll feel.” Like Ibarra, Gilbert is a fan of jumping into the mix and just trying something.
In fact, Ibarra finds that finding our true soul mate in a job is not so important. There are many. “People have multiple selves. So changing careers means changing our selves, but this is not a process of swapping one identity for another. Rather, it’s a mater of reconfiguring the full set of possibilities. In any of us there’s a part that’s very pragmatic and there’s a part that’s very creative, and there are times in life when we give more time and space and energy on one side than the other. But if it’s in you, eventually it kind of bubbles up, and it wants some airtime.”
You can take personality tests till you’re blue in the face, but Ibarra thinks they have limits. In many cases, you can’t know what you love to do if you haven’t done it. And “all the research says that adults learn by doing.” So less analysis and more action will help you find the best change for you faster.
Step 2. Try it out. You’ll never know if you fit into the career environment until you try it. A baby step, like volunteering, or taking a part-time job will allow you to go back to your original career if need be.
The most effective way make a serious move in your life is to do it in a not-so-serious way. “Play with new professional roles on a limited but tangible scale, without compromising your current job,” says Ibarra. “Try freelance assignments or pro bono work. Moonlight. Use sabbaticals or extended vacation to explore new
And by all means, do not enter a degree program for a career change until you are positive that you know what you’ll be doing with the degree. If you don’t know what you’ll be doing once you get the degree, then how do you know you need it?
Step 3: Take a leap. Getting your first job in a new career is hard, especially if you don’t want to work as the copy machine operator. So first try to make the change at the company you’re at, because they already know they like you; ask for a department switch.
If that doesn’t work, use your network, which you probably developed during step two. Headhunters and help wanted ads are geared toward people who have skills in a certain area. People who change jobs probably do not have a lot of skills in the new area, so networking is the best way to get someone to give you a chance.
Sometimes there is room to sell your skills, during a career change. And if you can, you should. For example if you’re a teacher and you want to go into technology, apply for jobs at software firms that sell to the education sector. You’ll be worth a lot more to an education company than a video game company even though both sell technology.
A career change is a chance to address a change of heart by building on proven skills. Done right, this is a chance to show another side of your successful self.