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Scared to Change Careers? How to Explore Your Options, According to Experts

Topics: Career Advice
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It’s hard to say exactly how many workers change careers at some point during their lifetime.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people now change jobs about once every four years. That comes out to an average of about 12 job transitions per worker. It’s more difficult to figure out how often people move to an entirely new career, in part because many career paths evolve gradually over time. That’s good news for you, the potential career-changer: switching tracks doesn’t necessarily need to mean an abrupt shift.

In any case, it’s not a bad idea to keep it moving. You’ll spend an awful lot of time at work. (It comes out to over 13 years per person.) So, it makes sense to try to do something that you enjoy.

Want to Change Careers? Good News

Folks who change careers are often glad that they made the switch. And, even older workers are often successful in their new field. According to research from the American Institute for Economic Research, most older workers who want to change careers are successful.

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However, every case is different. If you’re considering a new path, it probably feels like a pretty big deal. Thankfully, there are ways to ease into the process before making a commitment.

Here are some tips from experts for ways to begin to explore your options:

1. Know Your “Why”

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Choosing an entirely new career is obviously a big decision — and a risk. To maximize your chances of success, it’s important to know why you’re thinking about making a change.

At the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Career Outlook, Elka Torpey writes:

In deciding to change careers, it’s a good idea to consider what’s driving your desire. “Are you unhappy with your employer? Do you want to use different skill sets? What is it that needs to change?” says career management coach Marie Zimenoff. You need to ask yourself these kinds of questions to know the type of change you should make.

Think about your most recent job. What parts of it didn’t you like? Perhaps more importantly, what parts did you like? Are you sure you want a different occupation—or should you just look for a new job?

Understanding your answers to these questions can help you learn more about the kind of change you need to make. Then, you can begin to work toward that goal.

Maybe a different employer would make a big difference, but you’d be content to stay in your industry. Or, perhaps you need a bigger change. Identifying that you’d like to work more closely with other people or do more creative work, for example, can help you steer your career in the right direction.

2. Take a class

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For many professionals, changing careers means going back to school. If the switch you’re considering involves this kind of commitment, you might want to try taking just one class first.

Getting more education is a great way to improve your skills and abilities, as well as your professional options. But, it’s also a lot to take on. It’s a huge financial commitment, and it takes a lot of time and energy, too. Taking one class can help you to get a taste for what it would be like to go back to school and study in your new field, without making a full commitment.

Just keep in mind that taking even just one class takes a lot of time.

“For adult students looking at a career change, finding the time and money to go back to school is the biggest challenge,” says Daren Upham, vice president, academic operations of Western Governors University’s College of Health Professionals, in an interview with Business News Daily. “At WGU, we tell out students to expect to devote between 15 and 20 hours a week to their studies, and for many working adults, finding that much time during the week is a challenge.”

3. Talk with people

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One low-cost way to learn more about an industry is to have some good conversations with people who are already working in it. If you’re interested in pursuing a new career path, think about who you know who might be able to shed some light on what it’s like. Remember to consider your online network, not just the people you connect with in your day-to-day life.

There’s no harm in reaching out for a little advice. You never know where these kinds of casual conversations could lead. It could even point you toward a job opportunity further down the road. Networking is great that way. Some even estimate that upwards of 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking.

So, talk with people who may be able to help build your understanding about this potential change. You’ll gain some new information, at the least. And, it could ultimately help you get your foot in the door.

Thinking about a career change? Take the PayScale Salary Survey to find out what you could be earning in your new career.

4. Reach out to your school

2018 job outlook

Educators and schools are trusted sources for career information. And, you don’t have to be a currently enrolled student to benefit from these resources. Even if you’re not a recent alum, your college’s career center might just have resources for you. Check their website or give them a call to inquire – it can’t hurt. Also, some schools post job listings in the area, which could be helpful. And, a drop-in visit, with your resume and cover letter in hand, could end up landing you some leads, too.

There’s a lot to be gained from talking with the experts at your college’s career center. Even if you simply end up getting connected with another alumni who works in the industry you’re considering, that conversation could be quite helpful.

5. Read about it

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Reading is obviously a great way to learn new things. It’s also super low-risk. It doesn’t require you to make any dramatic changes to your schedule or even tell anyone else about what you’re contemplating. Pick up a couple of books about the industry you’re interested in, the work you’re considering, or just changing careers in general. Do some browsing and see what strikes you.

Many successful professionals make time for reading. When Warren Buffett was asked the key to his success, he pointed to a stack of books and said, according to USA Today, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

Buffett isn’t alone. Bill Gates famously reads about a book a week.

“These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists, and watch a lot of lectures online,” Gates told the New York Times. “But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

6. Consider the Financial Angle

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It’s essential to fully understand the financial side of what you’ll be getting into if you do decide to change careers. So, before making any bold moves, be sure to do your homework. Use PayScale’s Salary Survey to gain a better understanding of typical salary ranges in your potential new industry.

Also, it might serve you well to do some investigating into how your current industry, and the one you’re considering, are likely to fare in the future job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles information on employment projections for the next decade. Although you shouldn’t choose a new career based on occupational outlook alone, it’s worth considering whether a given industry is likely to remain robust in years to come.

7. Try it on for size

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When all is said and done, the only way to really know what its like to do a job is to actually do it. But, that doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and dive headlong into this uncharted territory. Instead, consider wading into your new field.

That might mean taking on a part-time job, or freelancing or volunteering. If that’s too much of a commitment, consider shadowing a professional in the industry for a week (or even just a day). It’s amazing how much you can learn from just a short experience like this.

If you’re thinking about changing careers, remember that there are low-cost and low-risk ways to evaluate your options before taking the leap. So, stay open and enjoy the process of discovery. It might just end up being the first step toward a more fulfilling career.

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