If you’re tired of your job, you have lots of company. Many daydream of more fulfilling, lucrative, or just plain interesting careers. Fewer actually take the leap and switch careers. And, statistically, we’re less and less likely to do so as we age.
There’s a strong case to be made, then, for striking while the iron’s hot. If you’re intrigued by the possibility of a new lease on your professional life, start by boning up on these common career change mistakes — a blueprint for what not to do during your transition. Then, follow these five tips in sequential order.
1. Take Stock of Your Skills
Break out your last performance review, if it helps. Sure, it’s just one supervisor’s opinion, but it provides an unvarnished external look at your strengths and weaknesses. You might just learn something from it.
Poll your colleagues, too, and take a hard look in the mirror. It all comes back to one simple question: What do you do better than those around you? That’s your guiding light as you work toward a successful career change.
2. Think Outside the Norms
Don’t put too much stock in external expectations, even when they’re expressed by people you respect.
“One way or another, we are always going to be embedded in the set of social, political and cultural conditions in which we find ourselves,” writes Arnold Siegel, contemporary American thinker and founder of Autonomy and Life.
“What enables us to escape from the pressure to mindlessly conform to the dictates of our enculturation,” he goes on to explain, “is the quality of our autonomous enterprise.”
In other words: Be true to yourself, and don’t conform to the (possibly intense) pressures that assail you from all sides. Your decision to change careers is yours alone, and you answer to no one but yourself in choosing it. Free yourself from what you think others expect of you and make the best decision for yourself with the information at your disposal.
3. Decide How Far to Leap
Next, decide how far you want to take this career change thing. Are you going to change specialties entirely? Work in a completely different industry? Merely refocus on a slightly different niche? Or something in between? Your answer will determine just how much work you need to put in to make your transition successful.
4. Get Credentialed
If you’re planning a significant career shift, your resume will need more than a cosmetic update. Wait to send out feelers to employers until you’ve secured the credentials you need to stand out from your fellow applicants. That might mean enrolling in a less-selective MBA program, updating an existing technical certification, or taking programming classes in your spare time. In any case, have patience — and don’t quit your current job until you’re ready.
5. Find a Trusted Mentor
Finally, find a professional mentor whom you can talk to — really talk to — about your hopes, fears, and to-dos. You’ll need to keep in touch with them well after you actually make the leap, especially if you’re planning to go into business for yourself.