Most of us find life transitions intimidating, especially on the work front. But now is actually a prime time to lean toward the next career adventure. Here are 10 important steps that will help get you where you want to be going:
1. Stay in reality: Some might say just follow your bliss, but in my experience that ends much better if you first have a well thought-out financial plan for your transition; including the time frame by which you want to be in your next job, and how long you can freely explore without running low on funds. Important: take the time to do the math up front. If you have six months worth of financial padding then the plan has to accommodate being situated in a new job where your basic life needs are taken care of in that amount of time. That's not to say you can't pursue a parallel path if your savings are insufficient, of course, but you may have to stick with your current employer or find an interim position that pays the bills while continuing to work toward your goal.
2. Hone in: Identify your top 5-8 most important VALUES in your work. Far, far too often people route their career paths based on either what they've done already or what they imagine various jobs to be like rather than on real personal agendas and desires. Once you are crystal clear what you'd love your career to be like and what you'd love your career to provide to you, only then can you really effectively hone in on the list of the handful of jobs/careers that are a match for your personal list of work values. How to go about this process:
a. Write out the elements you like in your previous work (e.g. being with people, exercising
leadership, doing email, etc).
b. What elements do you want in your career that you have not yet had in your day to day job or from your total experience of working?
c. What elements do you want to not have in your next career?
d. How much money are you committed to making?
e. What's the legacy you want to leave?
f. For each job you've ever enjoyed, write out:
1. what you loved about it
2. anything you didn't love about it
g. For every single career you've thought of in the last 5 years, make a bulleted list defining what it is about each choice that interests you.
(Don't worry about whether or not you have a PhD. People think insularly. Your task here is to broaden your thinking.)
Examples: Veterinarian--the pleasure of healing, being with animals.
Interior Designer--tapping into my artistic side, creating beautiful things and settings, working with people.
All this work this leads you to a list of things you VALUE in your work life.
Then go through this list and note the top 5-8 of them that are most important to you.
Now you have your list of 'deal-breaker' VALUES that must be there for you in your next job.
Then you can much more intelligently begin to brainstorm and begin a fact-hunting mission to develop a written list of the handful of jobs/careers that are an actual match for you (based on your personal and very YOU career values).
3. Soak up information like a sponge: Talk to everyone appropriate (which will be more people than you first imagine) about your interest in transitioning. Most people are chasing a mirage, and far too often they make job choices based on fantasy thinking or simply on poor information. "Live research" allows you to hone in on the very real elements you want to move way from and gravitate to the ones that match your desires.
Get the word out to the people you know about what you're interested in pursuing and ask them specifically who they know that would be useful for you to speak with. Find every opportunity to talk with people who are in the jobs or fields you're considering.
This is one of the MOST CRITICAL elements of a successful career transition and the piece that is most often missing in a difficult one. Not only does this process refine your decision making, but the ancillary benefit is that the very individuals you reach out to for your "live research" become a critical part of your network that ultimately parlays you into your next job and career.
4. Talk to people: Get away from the computer! Through every phase of your entire transition, authentically cultivate relationships. This is the single most powerful force leading to successful job transitions. So much energy is thrown into reading job boards, blind resume submission, searching the web, etc. This can be a useful component, but overall, get away from the computer! Nurture and expand your network of people you know. This is not about "selling yourself", just be sincere, and get on their radar screen by fostering a genuine connection.
Go to industry conferences, parties, cocktails, morning breakfasts; and create and develop relationships. Ask not what others can do for you, but what you can do for them. This reciprocity will have you be "top of mind" when the right opportunity presents itself.
5. The art of re-positioning yourself: If you're looking for a job in a new industry, spend time getting extremely clear about your "portable value". Know and be able to concisely communicate your unique worth and just how your skills will benefit your future industry and new employer. Practice succinctly articulating - in your 'elevator pitch', as well as your resume - how your distinctive talents, abilities, and accomplishments perfectly position you for what you're seeking to do. Every person's experience can be re-packaged to meet the demands of a new industry. Spending the time to do this succinctly makes an enormous difference between success and failure.
6. Find your ROI: When preparing to look for a job in a new industry, clarify and focus on the measurable contributions to the bottom-line result you've achieved for your former or current employers, and show how it can work anywhere. Explain your significant skills and how you're ready to out-compete even in another industry. Every time you are asked "What do you do or want to be doing?" answer this question instead, "Why should you pay my salary?"
7. Action: Daily action is required. Create a strategic plan for your transition; with daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Start with where you want to end up: figure out what you need to know about your new career, and what you need to do to get there. Build a pipeline of actions from there. Actions can be small; but be in daily motion.
8. Build in accountability: Get a partner to hold you to your plan and keep your word, without regard for disappointments or your mood. Ask people to champion you when you face set-backs, but to hold you accountable for sticking to your DAILY actions and driving yourself forward. Too often people get bogged down by disappointments and then buy into in the belief that the work world is too tough right now. Daily actions that stretch you, and maintaining accountability to your plan not only reduce overwhelm and anxiety, they're a powerful impetus to get you to your ultimate goal.
9. Momentum: There is an "effort equation" when starting something new; for example, for every 100 'units' of effort you put in, you can expect 1 result. As you gain momentum, this equation improves, to perhaps 1 result for only 50 'units' of effort in. This means...play...put the energy in. If you're impatient, you may get discouraged by not seeing the results as quickly as you want. But it is mathematical. Put the energy in, consistently, no matter what, and the results start flowing in.
10. Courage: When setting out to do something different you may have a crisis of confidence; a feeling like "I am a charlatan" or "There's no way I can pull this off!" There is often a period of time when you are gaining credibility with yourself. Have patience during this phase and know this period is finite. In the mean time, fake it. Don't be wishy-washy: when introducing yourself - statements like "I'm trying to be an author" or "I'm sort of working on becoming a therapist" sabotage you. Get in the habit of saying, "I'm a writer" or "I'm a chef". Once you get your feet under you for long enough, this turns to genuine confidence.
A final note: The days of linear careers are over. Be pragmatic; take all your differing agendas into account, including how much you need to be making, what you love and hate doing, the legacy you want to leave, the transition time you have available for making a career move.
When you finally free up your thinking and accept that reality and desire can be accounted for - you discover so much more is possible - and you get to real actionable answers. Now it becomes a matter of breaking up the transition into 'Lego pieces'; individual manageable blocks that build on one other to get you out of your head and into action.
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Meredith Haberfeld is an Executive Coach and Life Coach and co-founder of www.meredithhaberfeld.com and www.instituteforcoaching.com