Big life events, — like, say, a pandemic — tend to make people question their life choices, particularly when it comes to their careers.
“When people go through a crisis and uncertainty and all those emotions, the first thing they think about is meaning: ‘What can I do to have a meaningful impact on this world?'” said Julie Jansen, a career coach.
But changing careers is a big undertaking. And doing so in the middle of a pandemic that has left nearly 43 million people filing for unemployment benefits, can seem next to impossible. But with patience and a plan, it can be done.
“The kind of life event that we are currently experiencing can be a huge motivator to try something new,” said Kerry Hannon, an expert on career transitions and author of “Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life.”
But it’s going to take some time.
“A career transition is not a rash move. They can take three to five years,” said Hannon.
The first step is making sure you are not making the switch out of boredom or frustration. We all have challenging days (or weeks) at work, but that doesn’t always mean you need a new career.
“You want to be moving toward a general goal or calling and not just trying to escape something,” said Maggie Craddock, an executive coach.
But sometimes we don’t really have much of a choice, especially if we just got laid off or work in a shrinking industry with bleak hiring prospects.
“Most people probably aren’t going to make a jump straight away. Career transitions require laying the groundwork, but there’s no time like the present to get started,” said Hannon.
Here are questions to ask when considering a career change:
What are my transferable skills? It might not seem obvious at first, but a lot of your work experiences and skills will likely transfer to a new profession. You just have to take the time to quantify them.
Write down your hard skills, like data analytics or marketing, along with soft skills like effective communication and leadership skills, and see where they could line up with your intended career.
Having this list will help you hone in on job postings and better pitch yourself to potential employers.
“Ultimately, you will be pitching your experience as it touches the new career field. You must show how those skills can help a company solve problems and create business,” said Hannon.
Who do I know that can help? Having an ally while you pursue your new career will help you navigate the transition and help you connect with others in the field.
To widen your circle of potential allies, join LinkedIn groups, reach out to friends and family members to see if they know anyone in your future industry and become a member of relevant professional groups.
Don’t be shy about asking people for informational interviews: just be clear about your intentions and keep the conversation to around 20 minutes.
“Ask them about their job and really listen,” said Hannon. “This isn’t your sales pitch. When you get off the phone, they will really like you if you let them talk about themselves. They will have a great first impression.”
After the call, follow up with a note of your appreciation and ask who else you should talk with to start building your network.
What skills or qualifications will I need? Some career switches are going to require additional education or certifications that you should take into consideration.
It can be helpful to review the LinkedIn pages of people in your desired role to get a sense of their background and training. And with everything virtual these days, there are many online courses, seminars and training classes available online.
Would I like doing this? Just because you like to cook, doesn’t mean you’d enjoy being a professional chef. Before getting too far along a new career path, try to get a taste for it by doing some contract work or freelancing.
“An employer doesn’t have to make any big commitment and you can start showing you have some experience and passion for the new field,” Hannon said.
If getting paid work doesn’t pan out, some industries like non-profits are often looking for volunteers. Raising your hand to help out can shed light on a potential career and also be a great networking opportunity.
Am I financially prepared for the shift? A career change often means a reduction in income — at least at the start. “Do a budget,” said Hannon. “Get lean and mean. You are probably going to earn a little less money when you make the shift, at least initially. Not always, but you need to be prepared for that.”
Now is the time to pay down as much debt as you can and look for ways to reduce your spending.
“Debt is the biggest killer to making a career transition,” Hannon added.
By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business