When you’re thinking about making a career change, how do you know when the time is right? We don’t want to wait forever for the perfect moment that never comes, but on the other hand, we don’t want to be too rash and risk our financial security, harming our relationships, and throwing away all our hard work.
Many of us have high expectations of when the time is right to make a change. We wait to feel strong, powerful, and confident in our decisions.
Confession: I never feel completely confident before I try something new. My mind is always manufacturing some reason to be anxious. It’s how I’m wired. Honestly, I wouldn’t get anything done if I waited to feel the right feelings. I certainly wouldn’t be in business for myself. But that doesn’t mean I just leap and hope for the best.
Here are some signs you’re ready:
You’ve Analyzed Your Situation
You’ve taken time to consider what else is going on in your life. Have a new baby on the way? A family member who is seriously ill? Do you have some health issues your working on for yourself? The more you have to deal with, the less resources you’ll have to make a big career change. That’s not to say you should put off the change indefinitely, but if you have a choice, you should take these factors into consideration.
The more you’re in control of the decision, the more positive the experience can be. Do you feel forced out of a career because the industry is going through a tough time? Are you letting a bad boss push your buttons? Do what you can to regain a sense of control. Can you begin learning about a new career while keeping your current job? Can you take steps to improve your relationship with your boss even as you job hunt?
Sidenote: Beware of birthdays and anniversaries. Are you coming up on a big birthday? Did you lose someone close to you a year ago? If you’re approaching a birthday that ends in a 0 or coping with a loss, take some time before making big decisions.
Often times I talk with people who feel like they haven’t lived up to their own expectations when turning 30 or 40. Before you make a big change, evaluate those expectations honestly. Was it really realistic to expect you’d publish your first book by 30? Or be promoted to management level? Talk with someone you trust if you’re having trouble deciding what’s realistic for your career path.
You Know Yourself
You’ve taken stock of your resources. These include your knowledge, skills and abilities and also your ability to acquire those things. Do you have time, energy and money to spend on education for your new career? If not, explore how to get those resources. What commitments can you pull back on while you make a change? Whose help can you enlist?
Don’t underestimate the power of passion. Do you have a strong interest that you’ve tested by dabbling in the field your considering? A good experiment is to spend a day reading something that a person in your future career would read for continuing education. Does it hold your interest? Can you picture yourself applying this knowledge effectively on the job?
Another way to generate enthusiasm for your change? Imagine life after it’s over. Go into detail. What could this change mean for you and the people you love? What will your day-to-day life be like?
These are small exercise, but they can give you valuable information. The key is to experiment and then pay close attention to your reactions.
You’re Not Alone
Big career transitions require a team. You’ll need supportive family and friends, but you’ll also need to seriously evaluate your network. If you don’t know anyone in your new field, you absolutely must begin meeting some of those professionals.
This is non-negotiable, but sometimes we try to tell ourselves we can just sit at the computer, rewrite our resume and then email it off. Chances are you’re competing with people who have years of experience in that new field. You need someone to take a chance on you, and people don’t take chances on people they don’t know.
If you do feel alone, it may be a good time to contact a career coach. Having someone to accompany you through the process can be just the boost you need. Also consider a job hunting support group, or even attending a resume workshop at a local library. Go where other like-minded people are and connect.
You Have a Plan
Once you’ve done your soul searching and rallied the troops, you need to create a plan. Many careers have a clear path to entry. Doctors have medical school, for instance, but if your field doesn’t have such a clear path, you’re going to have to create a plan that gets you out in that new world.
You need to create action steps that you can accomplish. These should be manageable, and measurable. You should be able to see progress in your transition. Career change can be incredibly discouraging without signposts along the way. Set up benchmarks and then track them for yourself.
Professional associations can be great resources for this. Online profiles of people in your chosen profession can be gold mines too. And LinkedIn profiles can show career progression. Consider seeing what fellow alumni from your school did to enter that new profession.
It can be challenging to be sure of a big career change, but paying attention to these four categories can give you clarity. If you’ve got these bases covered, you may be ready for that change.