Avoid these 5 mistakes when you change careers

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Most of the experts say that the average person can expect to change careers (not just jobs) 3 to 5 times in their working life. The reasons? Many people are burnt-out, underpaid, stressed out, bored, unsatisfied, or at a career dead end. For some, their careers have changed on them –thanks to corporate mergers, changes in technology, company restructuring, age discrimination, and a thousand other reasons.

After counseling thousands of people in finding new careers and jobs, we have found that there are 5 classic mistakes most career and job changers make:

MISTAKE 1: NO CLEAR GOAL.

Not having a clear goal is like trying to run a race when you do not know where the finish line is. Many career changers have only a partial goal. They KNOW that they want a job with less stress, or more money, or more of a future, or more independence, or more satisfaction. A career goal, however, should be comprehensive, specific, clear, and realistic. It should include not only the practicalities of your situation, but also who you are, the realities of the job market, and the potential pitfalls.

MISTAKE 2: NO CLEAR PICTURE OF YOUR STRENGTHS.

Most career changers (and job seekers) spend more time worrying about their weaknesses than their strengths. Most people don’t even know what their strengths are. But it is your strengths–not your weaknesses–that determine your career success. Get a professional assessment. This should also include your personal characteristics, motivation, aptitudes, goals, values, interests, and talents. A career and job decision is too important not to have this picture.

MISTAKE 3: NO CAREFUL PLANNING.

Sure, most people think about it for a long time, but thinking is not the same thing as detailed planning. Most people plan a night out with friends more carefully than they plan their careers. Planning would mean researching the new career, talking to people who are in the new career, getting some hands-on experience, reading (books, trade journals, industry newsletters), developing strategies for any possible negatives or problems, consulting with a mentor, knowing what education or training you would need, and other actions.

MISTAKE 4: NO MOTIVATION.

As a psychologist who has worked with underachievers of all ages, I can tell you that many have good intentions but fail to take action. This is, of course, a normal human trait. There are times when all of us procrastinate, give ourselves excuses, and do not do the things that will lead us to our goals. If you are changing careers, however, you had better be motivated. Only consistent, daily, well-considered action will get you where you want to go.

MISTAKE 5: NO INDIVIDUALIZED JOB SEARCH STRATEGY.

If you are changing careers, you need something more than the usual job search tactics. You need a strategy that fits who you are as a unique individual and the fact that you are changing careers. For example, if you tell a job interviewer (or anyone else) that you are “changing careers,” it is the kiss of death. You see, if you are changing careers, then you are starting over–from square one–and are competing with kids just out of school. Instead, you should say, “I am taking the next step in my career” (which, actually, is closer to the truth for most career changers). Another example: Make sure your résumé is rewritten so that it doesn’t “lock you in” to the old career. Go light on the jargon. Emphasize skills in the old career that would be a real advantage (not just “transferable skills”) in the new career.

If you avoid these classic mistakes, you are well on your way to making a successful job and career change.

Sander Marcus, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Professional Resume Writer in Chicago. He has over 3 decades of experience in providing career counseling, aptitude testing, job search coaching, and resume writing. He is the co-author of 2 books on academic underachievement, various tests, and numerous articles. He can be contacted at marcus@iit.edu, 312-567-3358. http://www.center.iit.edu/careermotiv8.htm



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