This is what to do if you want to radically change careers

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Go BIG or go home, right?  This post is about the person that wants to change their careers with a "HELL YES!!" and not someone with a lukewarm desire to make it happen.  While I hope others may find some bits and pieces of useful tactics here, the full meal deal is a pretty comprehensive and engineered approach to making a big career change happen. The benefits from doing the kind of work in this post reach well beyond transitioning to a new career. I have used many of these tactics with success and have seen others do the same.  

My hope is some mix of the following tactics will: 

  • Reduce uncertainty about your capabilities and how they map to your new careers market
  • Reduce fears you may be having
  • Generate a lot of creative energy and momentum that will lead to immediate action!

Let's get started!

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Step 1: Have the best mindset about it

  • In our economy, if you're a highly capable and qualified job seeker, there is probably an employer somewhere near you looking for you.  I'm not talking about job hopping in this post or merely finding another company to work for.
  • Know WHY you want to make the career change.  Dig deep and wide here.  Is it just because you're bored, don't like your manager, or think there are greener pastures somewhere?
  • Know WHAT new career you're going after.  The question of "what new career should I pursue?" is a whole different post but "Begin with the End in Mind" here.  This post is about the "how" to maximize your effectiveness and efficiency with the transition.
  • Know there is a spectrum of approaches to making a transition like this.  Some people would say "Just go for it and don't over analyze!" and others would say "Do your homework so you can cap any or ALL of the potential downside of it".  That's a personal preference for you based on who you are but also at it's most important, what kind of dependents or obligations you might have that to negatively impact them would be a non-starter to pursuing this change, at this point in time.  This post is for people wanting to do a comprehensive analysis and planning to cap as much of the downside as possible.  Otherwise, take MASSIVE ACTION NOW and gitterdone!

Step 2: Create a personal skills, capabilities, and/or capacities inventory

  • Be honest here, just because you took one Java coding course in college does not make you a programmer.  You aren't a master coder if you're pretty good at Microsoft Excel macros either.  You may even be really good at making databases but that isn't enough to be hired as a "programmer" of any sort.
  • To be specific, a capacity (as opposed to a skill/capability) is something you could do for long time (maybe more than most people) that you're also pretty good at doing.  Basically, you should enjoy applying this skill and get energy from it.  If you CAN do it but it drains you physically and/or mentally, you may be able to do it but you don't have a high CAPACITY to do it. Know where you are, today, with the skills you have. 
  • A skill is something specific that you can refine and improve.  Think dishwashing or running a milling machine of X model/type or something along those lines.
  • A capability is more like a general ability, like learning physical tasks VERY quickly or reducing complex concepts to simple and digestible formats.  I also think about this as something like "Master Machinist" which is composed of a variety of skills across various machines and manufacturing operations.
  • An easy approach to this is using something like a spreadsheet where in the "rows" down the left hand side you list out detailed skills and capabilities.  I say detailed because things like "project management" and "MS Office" aren't specific enough.  What we're going for here are transferable skills number one and then ensuring you can adequately describe HOW and WHY you're skills map to the needs of your new career field.  There may be differences in nomenclature that you'll need to be able to describe quickly and easily.
  • Ask your peers, friends, previous employers, etc. if you need help on skills, capabilities, or capacities they think you possess.
  • If you want to go deep here, you could list out your proficiency level as well like "basic understanding" through "mastery level" or some such scheme.

Step 3: Do Your Homework

  • This is about knowing the market for the career you're going for.  Know the general career description, job requirements, typical roles, responsibilities, and expected results.  Also knowing general salary range might be helpful too!  What is best in class or top notch?
    • Search existing job postings on Monster.com, Indeed.com, LinkedIn Jobs, or elsewhere and extract detailed capabilities.
    • Read books of the best in class, founders, or fore people that started it all. Extract from there.
    • Read blogs, articles, etc. written BY people in the profession first and then perhaps FOR them, then ABOUT them.
  • List out the skills, capabilities, capacities, and maybe proficiency's for not only the starting job/career role you're going after but the next 2 or 3 levels above it.  This is basically the "don't shoot for the next job, shoot for the job 2 or 3 times more advanced and everyone will benefit from it."  This is also about some anticipation of the future and what might be needed 1-5 years from now in the profession.  Some requirements never change for some industries, other times they change very rapidly, like in the case of knowing various coding languages.
  • Do your homework on your own financial situation.  Know where you stand on minimum monthly expenses (this is bare bones!), to your current monthly expenses, etc..  You may want to build up a buffer for the transition to reduce any major risks of mortgage defaults or credit card issues.  That's just me though.
    • Another potential thing to do is understand how much cash you could get with various liquid assets.  I mean FAST here, so likely you'll be quick selling things at rock bottom prices rather than trying to get high market values.  Examples are: your 2nd car (or first if you can float it!), that big OLED TV (probably for less than half of what you purchased it for), Grandma's jewelry (heartless I know!) that no one else wanted, isn't really an heirloom, and is reasonably valuable.  I'm not talking about: your old comic book, base ball cards, Magic the Gathering cards, or random small value things will take a lot of time to inventory, value, and sell.  If things got REAL rough and you really don't want to or can't go back to your old position, you could sell your blood (maybe not anymore) or a kidney....just kidding....

Step 4: Cap the Downside

  • By downside I mean make plans and take actions that reduce how large of a negative impact to you, your dependents, or your obligations will happen if things don't go according to plan or even if the worst case scenario happens.
  • Plan and take a long term vacation or sabbatical.  You may have a lot of banked vacation so use that, if not, some companies offer unpaid leave or longer term benefits like paid/unpaid sabbaticals.  You could use this time for a wide variety of things or even as the period of time you're really chasing that new career, either way, at the end, you have a job to go back to.  This might be controversial to not be explicit about the intent of the sabbatical with your employer but the way I see it, in the big picture, it's better for you and the company for you to take this time off and find something that is your current best fit or new calling.  It does NOT do your current company any service if you don't like your job or at worst, you're actively unproductive because of your current situation.  You may also find that your current career and job role are perfectly fine you just needed an extended vacation and to reorient your mindset/approach to your work.  That's entirely possible!
  • Plan and create a fast path back to your old position.  Network more and deeper in your current role and company and really develop rich relationships with supervisors, managers, senior managers, peers, etc..  These relationships might come in handy for coming back but also for the general benefits of having a really good network!
  • Plan some way to make side income if you need it: Talk to your Uncle Joe that owns a restaurant, tell him what you're doing and why, and see if you got a in a pinch, if you could get a job as a cook or waiter.  Perhaps you have a couple friends in the construction industry and you happen to have some really good painting or finish work skills.  Reduce the time to get to getting some income by putting out feelers and perhaps finding out if there is a waiting position close to you and available should you need it.

Step 5: Create the Transition Plan

  • Cross reference your inventory with your future careers needs.  Are there large gaps, small ones, proficiency differences?
  • For the priority gaps (the ones most needed in the career or most sought after), craft a development plan to rapidly get up to speed.  This could be finding near term training courses online or at a local community college, on through internships, job shadows, etc..  This may require SOME investment on your part but there are likely free or cheap routes if you work hard.  There are a growing number of online courses offered by places like Stanford and MIT that are FREE, just without the degree/credit at the end, but you get all the learning you want and need!  This should also consist of finding a mentor or two in the field and can help you fine tune the plan and help you along the way.
  • The most rapid route is total immersion in your chosen field and its subject matter.  Piece-mealing in schooling or training over a long period of time will more than likely result in burnout as well as issues with retention of the new material/skillsets.  Plan as much hands on experience and training as possible as well as reading about the new career, networking with other professionals in the field, or cultivating mentorships as well.  GO to seminars, conferences, trade shows, etc. in your new field.  Do all this all at once if possible during your sabbatical or Gap Time between your current career and the next one.
    • Try out PivotPlanet and it's resources to go trial run a new career or pursuit so you really know what it's like!
  • Craft your message, for yourself and to share with others.  Follow the simple approach of writing out a full page of the why, what, when about your desired future.  Boil that down to a paragraph then to 1-2 sentences to the real ESSENCE if your vision.  This is now your mantra as well as various ways you'll describe it to your current relationships and potential new ones on the path to transition!
  • Create a simple timeline of actions from your current career to the next one.  Simple actions like when and how much time off, giving reasonable notice to your current employer, when conferences or seminars might be, and when the "absolutely must have that new job started" date is really good information to have in a visual to get an idea of the road ahead, major hazards, and things that need time to develop, among plenty of other uses!

Step 6: Take Massive Action (as Tony Robbins says)

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  • This is about spinning up that big flywheel and generating a LOT of momentum very quickly.  Hemming and hawing a bunch, endlessly iterating the analysis you did, doing just a LITTLE bit more planning, research, or networking, will only delay the transition and likely will demotivate you in the long run.  Get energy now, creativity now, and results now and you'll find you'll be to the next stage in no time!
  • As always, make sure you have a solid support network and people that can and will hold you accountable.  It will make a difference!

I hope you found something useful here and if nothing else you are inspired to find your own way to a new career and calling!  As always, I welcome feedback or other comments in the Comment Section.  Contact me if you'd like tailored help with your career change or finding your Next Callings by scheduling a FREE consultation!

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