Career Change Best Practices

While January is the typical time for revaluation ­– of one’s diet, habits and direction in both life and work – it doesn’t have to be the only one. Many of the successful people I’m lucky enough to know pilot their lives, as they would cruise ships, making subtle course corrections as they go. They understand that fine adjustments are easier to make than sweeping turns.

If you’ve been thinking about switching jobs or careers, but the magnitude of the impending change has left you frozen, fear not. Transformations are possible. I’ve made the change – twice actually, first from Fuel Broker to Learning and Development Executive and then again to Change Consultant and Executive Coach.

Whether you are planning a major career change or a subtle shift within the same disciple the following tips can help you successfully navigate the transition.

  1. Leverage Transferable Skills: When making the move from business development to L&D, I leveraged my prior experience to break into the desired profession by selling training services. Like any good salesman, I learned everything I could about the product, people, and profession. Before long, I was designing and instructing courses and consulting on future products. This opened the door to an even more profound career change later on.
  2. Use Prior Experience as Point of Differentiation: Too many would be career changers see past experience as a limiting factor, when it may actually be an advantage. My prior business experience gave me training on vendor management, contract negotiation, and a half dozen other skills that other trainers (i.e. my workplace competition) were never exposed to. This gave me an edge when the time came to look for a new leader for the function.
  3. Think Beyond the First Move: Full career transitions often require more than a single job change. I knew that classroom instruction was a great first step, but it wasn’t my end game. I wanted to consult in the space on an international level. To make that happen I had to work first with smaller companies (who would take a chance on me), learn as much as I could, and then take another risk by moving to larger organizations.
  4. Be Willing to Take a Step Back to Leapfrog Ahead: It was humbling to take a downgrade in title when I changed professions. It was even more painful to experience the dip in salary. In the end however the risk was worth it. But that is not always the case. I’ve seen many corporate executives who ditch the rat race to open a franchise for example, only to regret the move. While some have fared better financially, they miss the status and perks of their old life. Before you leap, make sure you are truly okay with the reality of the new world.
  5. Be Ready to Learn: If you want to make a move you have to prepare. That means both formal and informal study. More importantly, it means connecting with a series of mentors who can help you on your way.

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