Plan Carefully, Methodically for a Career Change

If you've been contemplating a career change, make sure you have a solid plan to guide you.

November 18, 2010
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Everyone fantasizes now and then about changing jobs or even careers, particularly when stress and pressure in the workplace intensify. But if making a change has been on your mind persistently for a prolonged period, it may not be an idle daydream. Even in a period of high national unemployment, if you find yourself longing for new opportunities or a wholesale change in your day-to-day work, it could be the time to at least make plans for revamping your professional life.

Making a fresh start is a powerfully attractive idea, but there can be drawbacks associated with changing the course of your career, and these must be carefully considered. Foremost, you need to have a solid plan in place to guide you through the transition and keep you on track to meet your goals.

Pause and Reflect

A career switch represents a major life change, with many possible consequences. Before leaping feet first into a new opportunity, you’ll be wise to take some time to consider your motivations. Begin with an honest, objective assessment of your current situation. Look at both internal factors and the external environment. A look inward should include a frank review of your values, interests, goals, skills, strengths and shortcomings. These variables tend to change considerably over time, and are shaped by external circumstances and opportunities.

You may decide you’ve reach a point where there are significant gaps between what you want to do professionally and the work you are actually doing. Or, your current workplace may be at odds with your ideal environment. If you determine that you like your work in general but are dissatisfied with your current job, it may not be necessary to make a broad-based career change. Rather, you may just need to find a new position that will challenge and stimulate you while giving you room to grow professionally.

Explore Your Options

If you decide, however, that your current career has reached a dead-end, investigating other possibilities is warranted. Some people switch to a completely different profession -- from accountant to, say, schoolteacher. But it may not be necessary to go so far afield. In fact, it’s often better to start by looking into similar jobs in other sectors. For example, if you currently work in the private sector, one option is to explore government or non-profit organizations. Or you could investigate academia, with an eye toward becoming an instructor or professor of accounting. Another option would be to work as an independent consultant to start-ups or small businesses.

While it’s important to look in the directions that your interests and passions take you, beware of industries that are glutted with candidates or are struggling to survive. Likewise, if your dream career would require you to go back to school for an advanced degree, make sure you’re entering a field in which there will still be demand for your skills a few years from now.

Once you’ve identified a few viable choices, do your homework. Research the current employment picture, hiring trends, health of the industry, salary ranges and skills required. Conduct research online, read trade journals and speak to individuals employed in the fields you’re considering. The newly released 2011 Salary Guide from Robert Half International, for example, offers up-to-date information on compensation trends for various accounting and finance positions. You can also use Robert Half’s online salary calculator to access salary data for financial positions in your area.

Find out as much as you can about each career option, so that you can make an informed decision. It’s also helpful to arrange informational interviews with individuals in the field or position you’re exploring so that you can get real-world perspective.

Focus on What Is Feasible

Try to conduct an honest assessment of the time and cost involved in switching jobs or careers, factoring in the skills you already have that are transferable. For example, senior level management skills are portable across industries. Other skills, such as specialized industry knowledge, may take time to acquire. If you’ll need to devote yourself full-time to education or training, how will you support yourself and your family during that period? Will you have to defer retirement, relocate or revise your household budget if you switch careers?

Test the Waters

Depending on the industry or career you’re targeting, you may be able to take a “trial run” and test the fit through volunteer work and temporary or project-based assignments. A recruiter or staffing firm can help you identify opportunities and make new contacts.

Seek Guidance From Trusted Sources

Although a career makeover may seem like a private undertaking, it’s a good idea to involve your mentors and trusted colleagues. Objective third parties can help you spot flaws in your plans or recommend specific courses of action that will support your goals. 

Even if your exploration of potential new careers does not ultimately lead to a change, the process can be illuminating. Once you start thinking about your ambitions and goals in this context, you’ll gain clarity and fresh perspective. This will in turn help you redefine the steps you need to take to realize greater professional satisfaction and fulfillment.

For more career tips, follow Robert Half Finance & Accounting on Twitter at @RobertHalfFA.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 360 locations throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.roberthalffinance.com.