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Prepare for a Career Change

Read 201 Make a Networking Plan and 166 Organize Your Job Search for more information on career transitions.

Evaluate what's most important to you. (Read 16 Set Goals.) Is it a good income, challenging work or independence? What do you do well and what do you enjoy? If your career fits in with your basic values, you'll like it more and stick with it longer.

Ask yourself what you don't like about your current job so you don't end up facing the same issues the next time around.

Write down your interests without considering the barrier of skills, education, income and so forth. Try to find intersecting points between your list of interests and desires, and your needs in terms of income and working conditions.

Consider what new skills you need to meet your interests, and whether you can realistically obtain those skills. Do you need to go back to school? Can you learn on the job? How much time would it take? Is there something in your current job or skill set that you can use as a bridge to help you acquire the skills for your target job? Can you do volunteer work concurrently to enhance your skills?

Explore ways to make your present career more satisfying before you make the leap into a whole new field. Taking a new position or switching employers might be enough of a change. Work with a career counselor to help you figure out your strategy.

Draft a plan of action. Include a timetable for writing your re'sume', researching jobs and the job market, and going to school for retraining if necessary. See 6 Meet Deadlines.

Acknowledge the challenges and obstacles you may face, such as your age, education and financial obligations, and create options.

Visit a career or employment center. You can take a battery of tests that evaluate your personality, skills and interests, and suggest appropriate fields. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (, a standard personality test, and the Strong Inventory ( or are popular ways to determine your interests. You can also take career tests on the Internet, but you'll miss the face-to-face interaction with a counselor as you interpret the results. Sometimes just talking about what is happening in your life and what you want helps. The tests may complement other activities, but they certainly don't provide all the answers.

Work with a career counselor who charges by the hour. Get referrals from friends and co-workers, and make a few introductory appointments until you find a counselor who's tuned in to your job market and your needs and personality. A good career counselor will suggest ways to identify--and snag--your dream job.

Pick up one of many other books available on career options such as What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. You may find types of work you never knew existed.

Learn everything you can about the careers that appeal to you-- what training they require, what they pay and whether jobs are easy to find. You can get this information at job fairs and career centers. Ask at your librarian or YMCA about upcoming events-- they're usually free or cost very little. Contact professional organizations for a particular field. They usually have helpful newsletters, Web sites, member directories and conferences.

Seek out people who work in a field that interests you. Conduct informational interviews to find out how they like their work and what they do day to day. Learn what they did to get started in their career. People generally like to talk about themselves, so ask plenty of questions and listen carefully.

When you've narrowed your choices to two or three fields, volunteer or intern in those areas to make sure you enjoy them before giving up the security of your existing job. This will offer you a realistic, nuts-and-bolts feel for the work and let you assess whether that job or field meets your needs. (See 161 Set Up an Internship.)

Find out what it will cost to train for your new career, and look into ways to finance it. You may want to stick with your old job while you prepare for the new one. Explore online education, adult classes and other ways to get training without disrupting your current routine or income.

Learn about the best ways to land jobs in your field. Networking is crucial--so don't be shy about using your connections, such as alumni organizations and family friends. Talk to anyone who will listen about what you want to do. You never know who will have contacts or will be able to give you helpful input. Also, explore online job sites, newspaper ads and career centers.

Develop a support group of friends, families and colleagues. They can offer new ideas, provide encouragement and offer a reality check: "Are you sure you want to be an astronaut?" (See 492 Become an Astronaut.)

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