You’ve been feeling it coming for a while now: you’re frustrated and unhappy in your job, and it’s time for a career shift. As exciting as the idea is, the decisions you make next must be tailored for you personally and approached professionally. Taking the time to create a clear path now will keep you from stumbling mid-transition.
While we don’t want to throw obstacles in your way, there are various pitfalls that you may not have thought about. Here are six mistakes to avoid when making a career shift.
1. Not knowing who you are
In every endeavor, you must begin at the very beginning. When it comes to career transitions, the very beginning is not the job as most people believe – it’s you. Take the Myers-Briggs Personality Test and find out what makes you tick, how you manage personal energy, how you learn. Once you take the time for introspection and know what matters to you most, you will be able to use it to your advantage in a career search.
One of the first things your potential new employer will ask you to do is introduce yourself. The next thing they want to know is why you are seeking a change. If you’ve already acknowledged the ways you’ve contributed to the challenges you face in your current job, you are in a great position to answer this question with authenticity. You might also come to realize that it isn’t your career that needs shifting so much as it could be your own mindset.
2. Not having a clear plan
While you can leave your current position without your next one signed for, you should at least know the destination you’re heading towards next. Every step between the two requires a clear plan with timelines and specific, actionable goals. Evaluating the target is imperative. Is it truly the right career shift for you? Are you underestimating your abilities and accidentally selling yourself short? Are you relying on a wing and a prayer instead of the education and experience it calls for? Don’t look naïve.
Evaluate where you are now. Are you moving too soon? Were there opportunities for growth or advancement that you’ve overlooked? Are you in an industry that requires a long view with future potential? Don’t look eager or use the shift as a way to jump steps that are necessary in your field. Perhaps you have family or other outside obligations coming up in the near future. Does it make sense to postpone your career shift for them?
3. Not being in a financially secure position
Shifting careers is a physical, mental, emotional, and financial strain under the best of circumstances. If you aren’t prepared for a fluctuation in finances until a new salary is in place, consider postponing the shift until you are. If you have others depending on your paycheck, be sure to communicate with them and forge a path that is mutually stable.
If money is your only motive for making a career shift, you’re making a mistake. No amount of money will make up for being in a new career you end up hating. Potential employers can sense when you’re not interested in them or their company. Feeling that you absolutely must get this new position will put you under a great deal of stress that will show during the interviews and not in a good way. Don’t look desperate.
4. Not doing your homework
It makes sense to know the different paths that lead to your goal. Are you making a career shift or a job shift? Career shifts change the industry you’re in – sometimes quite fundamentally. Job shifts are the tweaks you make within the industry you love. You could be in the right industry but the wrong company. Focus and decide if it makes more sense to improve on the skills you have or learn an entirely new skill set.
Look before you leap. Talk to the people who are already where you want to be. Learn what’s typical about the company’s salary, bonus, health care, flex hours, advancement opportunities, and educational benefits. Get an understanding of the intangibles like company stability, culture, and contentment. What will your commute look like? What are their views on issues like work-from-home programs? Don’t romanticize the career or overlook the fine print in your enthusiasm. The grass isn’t always greener.
5. Not using your head
Emotions are bound to get involved in a decision to make a career shift but they should never be your motivation. Don’t reach for someone else’s career because they appear to be so happy or successful in it. Don’t jump into their company because they’ve told you what a great choice it would be for you. Refer to mistake #1 above. The only correct decision is the one you’ve made for yourself.
Don’t wait to shift careers until you are so desperately unhappy in your current position that you either bolt or break down. The last thing you want to rise up during an interview are feelings of hostility or vindictiveness. Burning your bridges is a bad professional move. Having a midlife crisis is no excuse to jump careers without a solid plan in place. There is no such thing as the perfect career.
While we’re on the subject, here’s a quick reminder to have a support system in place for the inevitable stress management that’s needed for any life change. A healthy perspective helps you remember there’s more to life than your career.
6. Not asking for help
This is the time to leverage your professional network. Go to networking events, find a mentor, and foster those working relationships. Don’t assume that people know you are looking for a new position, put out the word. If you’ve been investing in others all along, don’t be afraid to do some asking. Open dialogue with peers in the industry and ask how they arrived at where they are. Ask if they’d be willing to let you shadow them in their jobs. Better yet, ask if they can introduce you to a few key colleagues and expand your network.
It's time to polish your resume and update your LinkedIn profile. You can rebrand yourself and tell a fresh narrative, letting people know how you wish to be viewed and avoiding stale roles you are trying to leave behind. Make sure you are current in the job you’re trying to get with marketable skills, specialized industry vocabulary, and education. New careers aren’t usually achieved through a straight line, but through a maze of people and opportunities. Having these tools in hand will clear the path for your career shift.
In conclusion, if you know it’s time to make a career shift, take the necessary actions to make it happen. Overanalyzing can result in paralysis and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Let’s bypass the last most common mistake to avoid when looking to shift careers and never, never, never give up.