Career heaven or hell? 7 commandments of career change
by Karl Fendelander | April 3, 2012
It's been said that if it were fun, it wouldn't be called work -- but there's a big difference between putting your nose to grindstone and hating how you spend the majority of your waking hours. If your daily grind is making your daily life a living hell, it's high time you seek out a new career.
More people are switching career tracks than ever before. Sometimes it's a forced change because of our changing economic climate, and other times it's a leap made for better pay, more stability, better opportunities or just a better work environment. Whatever the reason driving it, career changers seem to be rallying behind a happier slogan than one about work not being fun: "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life."
When it comes time to shift career paths, be wary of heading down the road paved only with good intentions -- we all know where it leads. To get on the path to a heavenly career, be sure you avoid these sinful pitfalls and take heed:
1. Thou shall not burn bridges.
Becca Givoli, who is in the process of moving on from her career as a successful lobbyist to start her own governmental outreach and PR company, knows what it's like to feel that burning desire to run out screaming. She cautions against upsetting your current boss. "It was a slippery slope for me, so I had to be very careful about getting caught up. I took as many measures as I could to prevent that, but I really didn't want to work there anymore." It's tempting to go out with a satisfying bang, telling everyone in the office exactly how you feel, but as she points out, "A lot of [success] is based on relationships, particularly if you're staying in the same industry or small community. If people think you're a jerk, it doesn't matter who you know." You may need letters of recommendation from your old employers, and as unfortunate as it may seem, that job is going on your resume.
"Don't rush. Take things slowly," advises Givoli. "It's easy to get caught up in the emotion of unhappiness, but if you can step back and assess your situation, you can move forward in a much more healthy manner." Don't give in to the temptation of walking out with your middle finger held high on the way out the door. Be reasonable, and leave with your head held high instead.
2. Thou shall not be under-educated.
"You can never get enough education," says Givoli. She credits her education, both formal and informal, for helping her get to where she is today. Formally, that includes certificates in grant writing and conflict resolution, both earned after she got her degree political science. Years of working with various businesses and non-profits in her community make up the informal part of her education. "The more thorough your understanding, the more education you get, the better prepared you'll be."
Changing careers is a frightening prospect, but focusing on what you don't know isn't going to help. "You'll never know it all," says Givoli. "Just accept that and look for opportunities to learn more."
3. Thou shall not fear commitment.
This might sound more like relationship advice, but it most definitely applies to your job life as well. As with romantic relationships, it's difficult to keep two full-time commitments going at once. Also much like romantic relationships, it's difficult to leave the comfort and safety of something you know. When Givoli was considering leaving her position to go independent, she faced this issue. "I wanted the safety net of having a signed contract, but I realized that staying on full-time was keeping me from opening up the time I needed to commit to bringing in work."
Don't quit your current job before you've started looking for a new job, but be ready to take the steps necessary to land the career you want, even if that means jumping before you're absolutely sure of where you'll land. Be rational, not fearful.
4. Thou shall not sell thine soul.
When you're fearful of what's to come, it's tempting to jump at the first thing that comes along. You don't change careers because you're completely satisfied and happy with the job you're leaving -- why put yourself right back in the same position? Putting out a few feelers before making the leap can help keep you optimistic. "I was fortunate because I had a few offers before I quit. I got a sense of what was out there, so I didn't just latch on to the first opportunity," recalls Givoli.
5. Thou shall not doubt thyself.
Natasha Bourlin has gone through several career shifts, moving from international affairs to marketing to her burgeoning career in public relations today, but each shift has been incremental, maintaining common threads from position to the next. "You are the architect of your own career," says Bourlin, emphasizing that "not all career changes have to be a complete 180 -- you don't go straight from practicing law to being a surgeon. Use your knowledge base. Tap into everything you've learned throughout your lifetime, and recognize the similarities."
6. Thou shall not be financially unprepared.
When you aren't completely sure of whether or not you'll land with solid footing after you take the career-change leap, make sure you've got a financial parachute. Things might not work out the way you planned, and it's important to keep yourself occupied, your wits about you and food on the table.
Bourlin had already left her last position before a friend in the industry dropped a bomb on her. "She said that it's not uncommon for proposals to sit for three to six months before a client responds. I about died." Fortunately, Bourlin landed a big client within the first month. "If I hadn't picked up [my client], I'd be panicking about every little bill right now, since it would all be coming out of my savings or my husband's paycheck."
7. Thou shall not have unrealistic expectations.
You can't become an expert in a brand new field overnight, and you won't find new work unless you start looking. Both of these seem obvious when you're not caught up in the emotional mess of hating your job or trying to find a new one. "You are your own best and worst critic," Givoli reminds job hunters. "Interview yourself; put yourself in their shoes." Would you hire you? Are you prepared for this change?
Remember that you shouldn't be doubting yourself, just making sure that you aren't acting straight from emotional upset and getting yourself into a bad situation. "Don't focus on what you don't know," says Bourlin, "focus on what you do know, and build on that -- but also know what you've signed up for. Be sure there's no one fooling you but yourself, and then fix that."
Changing careers can be hell, but it can also be the best thing you've ever done
If you're unhappy at work, there's no time like the present to make a change. Need more education? Take college courses at night or online. Need a financial buffer? Trade going out to dinner or your caffeine habit for a steadily growing savings fund.
"When I admitted that I wanted to quit," says Givoli, "I let go of the fear that was keeping me prudent, keeping me from action. You can't expect success unless you hit the pavement, so I did."