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Career-Change Gaffes

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Getting from Point A to Point B in your career path isn't easy. Along the way, you'll experience roadblocks and uphill climbs, and there's a good chance you'll feel pretty lost from time to time. Like most professionals, you can also expect to face a major fork in the road: the decision between staying in your current career or making the leap to another.

For some, the prospect of a new career is exciting and offers the chance to break free of a job stuck in the doldrums. For others, career change sparks feelings of terror, as though career change were synonymous with plunging into an unknown abyss. Either way, it's a situation almost all professionals are bound to encounter at some point.

In fact, 74% of U.S. workers reported they have changed careers at least once, according to a new survey conducted by Harris Interactive of more than 5,700 workers. More than a third of those surveyed said they were currently interested in a career change.



Of those who were unwilling to pursue a career change, 35% did not want to start over in an entry-level position, 39% were comfortable with their current career and viewed change as scary, 22% expressed financial concerns, and 16% said they'd need to receive additional education to successfully change careers.

Career coach Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed., author of The Career Coward's Guide to Changing Careers (JIST © 2008), believes it's not uncommon for these fears to hinder people who refuse to change careers or those currently in transition.

"When faced with a career change, chances are you're wrestling with a tiny voice inside of you that keeps whispering, 'What if it doesn't work? Wouldn't it be better to just keep doing what you're already doing and not risk failing?'" she says.

It's true. Sometimes a career change can be a huge mistake. Imagine leaving a ho-hum career to begin one that's even more dreadful. Or discovering your bank account's empty because you were unprepared to deal with a change in your finances. In spite of these roadblocks, a brand new career could be the very thing you need to revamp your life.

To prevent a career change from derailing your goals, finances, and happiness, Piotrowski says you should steer clear of the following gaffes:

Gaffe One: Jumping the Gun

It can be tempting to make a hasty decision when a killer opportunity comes along or the thought of spending another day on the job seems excruciating. Piotrowski, however, recommends taking baby steps to execute a new career strategy:

"Plan a timeline of one to two years to implement your career change. Gather information for four to six months, and then get moving on activities that will bridge into your new specialty over the next few months. Remember, you can make the switch over time. You don't need to do it all at once."

Gaffe Two: Skipping Your First Steps

It's not unusual for people to know they need out of their current careers but to have no idea which ones will suit them best. In situations like these, Piotrowski encourages people to turn to the yellow pages, the Internet, or books to learn more about specific careers.

"Make gathering information your first priority rather than putting a lot of pressure on yourself to change careers quickly," she says.

"Spend time looking through industry categories and a variety of jobs to get ideas about new-career areas that may appeal to you. This can open your eyes to a multitude of options you hadn't considered before."

Informational interviews — the best-kept career-change secret, according to Piotrowski — will also help aspiring career changers come to solutions. The key is to seek people already immersed in a particular career and pick their brains with questions such as "What training do I need to do well in this job?," "What kind of money will I make?," and "What's a day on the job really like?"

Finally, people should try a few career experiments to test their abilities and build experience to help them move into new careers more easily.

"A career experiment can be one of thousands of activities that allow you to learn more about a new type of work before you commit to choosing it," says Piotrowski.

"Career experiments include shadowing a specialist, volunteering, taking field trips, and designing projects to enhance knowledge and skills."

Gaffe Three: Forgetting to Present the New You

It's true career-change rookies are at a disadvantage when it comes to convincing a hiring manager that they deserve to make the cut when they've never had a job like the one they're looking to fill. That doesn't mean they can't find a few savvy ways to get around this roadblock.

When writing their resumes, career changers should include relevant information about their background that would appeal to the employers in question. Piotrowski recommends focusing on functions rather than previous job titles.

Finally, once an interview has been landed, career changers should take a few steps to ensure they have plenty of strengths to talk about, despite their lack of experience.

"Brainstorm examples of how your background ties to the new position you want. Next, make sure you've got a few powerful stories to share that include 'what,' 'how,' and 'proof' components to demonstrate your achievements and skills. Finally, create a portfolio to bring along on interviews," says Piotrowski.

Your portfolio can include letters of appreciation from customers, pictures or samples of work, training certificates, performance reviews, and anything else that portrays you as a powerhouse professional ready to take on a new and exciting challenge.
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