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Guide to Career Change

By Susan P Joyce

The vast majority of people experience at least 3 career changes during their working lives, and the pace may be picking up in the 21st century.

Some career changes are voluntary, and some are involuntary. Both work for you, if you take the right approach and have the right mind set.

Prepare Your Job Search Tools

In the 21st century, the toolset for a successful job search has changed substantially and new tools, as well as new obstacles, have been added.

These are the most important tools for your job search today:

  • Resumes and cover letters
    These have new formats and new requirements. The automation of the process has created new obstacles as well as new opportunities. Best strategy is to understand how to meet these new requirements.
  • Job interviews
    A job seeker who is not prepared will most likely fail because of all the resources and information available today. So, be prepared to demonstrate the quality of your work as well as the level of your interest in the job.
  • Social media for job search
    Social media is the newest key player in this process. Having an effective profile on LinkedIn is now a requirement and expected.
  • Reputation management
    In the past, we were all relatively anonymous. Now we are not -- or we shouldn't be -- if we want to be hired into most jobs. Being "invisible" now is BAD, not good!.
  • Contracting and freelancing jobs
    For many, this is the start of a great new career. For others, it's a way to survive until they land that next job. Either way, it can be a valuable learning experience as well as an income. And temping can be a great way to evaluate a potential new employer.

When you have your 21st century job search toolbox prepared, you can launch a successful job search and career change.

Career vs. Job

So, if you haven't already been through a career change yet, you probably will be in the future. The most successful career changes are usually the result of a thoughtful, methodical process, and we'll help you step through that process here.

A "career" is your profession, and it hopefully has a "career path" of jobs with increasing responsibility and reward.

A career change is typically more significant than a job change. Hopefully, a career change leads to more meaningful and personally rewarding work for you.  Although it may not always bring a greater salary, at least initially, it should bring greater satisfaction - so that Monday when you head back to work isn't the worst day of the week as it is for so many (the day that people in the USA typically have a heart attack, too).

A "job" is what you do every day.

For many of us, a job is not a "career" - it is "just a job."  It pays the bills but it doesn't do much more for us.

For those of us who are incredibly lucky or who have paid attention to their own priorities and interests, a job is part of a career.  Typically, we don't think of it as a job, when it is something we love to do.  It is "my work" or "what I do."

Career Change vs. Job Change

Hopefully, when we make a voluntary or involuntary job change, we take the time to make sure the new job fits into our career path. If we don't, chances are good that we'll be in another job search sooner than we need to be because the job isn't a good fit. Which means we won't enjoy doing it, won't do it as well as we could, and may not be good enough at it to keep it for very long.

The best solution is to take the time to think about what you "really want to do when you grow up."  If not now, when?

This section of Job-Hunt will hopefully help you with that transition from job to career, or from one career to another one, as times (and people) change.

Before You Invest in Additional Education or Training...

With most careers, you can migrate into the new field choosing your jobs and employers carefully, as described in this column (see the articles in the list on the right).  Set your goal, make a plan, and then implement your plan to change your career.

Many other careers may require that you invest additional money in education or training to meet the professional requirements of the career or the entry-level jobs for that career.

You don't want to spend a great deal of time, effort, and money on a degree or a program which will not payoff for you when you have graduated.  Before you invest in a degree or certification program, do some careful investigation:

  • Is the career projected to grow in demand over the next 10 years?
  • Is the median salary (the salary earned by people with several years of experience in the job) sufficient for your needs?
  • What is the track record for the school?
    • Is there any independent rating of the quality of the school? 
    • How many of the graduates found jobs in the appropriate fields?
    • Does the school support an internship program which allows students to gain experience in the appropriate job?
    • Does the school have a career center that supports graduating students?
    • Does the school have a career center that supports alumni after they have graduated (both new grads and alumni several years after graduation)?

Do your best to choose field that is growing and, if additional education is required, choose a school with a good rating, successful graduates, and long-term career support for graduates.

About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management since 2012, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

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