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Dec 22, 2021

Five Ways to Prepare for a Career Change

By Nancy Mattia

Getting ready for a big change? Stash has some suggestions.

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Have you ever had a really bad day at work and thought, “What am I doing here? I should quit my job and open up a cat boutique”?  Ah, dreams. If you’re like most people, though, the fantasy of doing something different and moving into a career that’s a better fit never becomes a reality. But if you can hear your inner voice telling you to “get out!” why not listen? It takes reflection (“Am I making the right decision?”), determination (“I’ll do whatever it takes”), and planning (“I can sign up for online college courses to get the degree I need”). Making a career shift won’t happen overnight, and you’ll invariably encounter setbacks but being prepared for what’s ahead will help the journey go smoother. Below, five of the most important considerations while plotting out your big career move. 

1 Your motive

Recognizing your reasons for making a major career change is the first step in actually doing it. “Knowing what you are missing [in your current job] and the reasons you are dissatisfied is key to identifying a new career that will gratify you,” says Julie Jansen, a career coach and author of “I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Gratifying Work.” You may be bored with your job or want one that’s more meaningful, or you may crave a different work structure or environment, she says. “Once you know what your reasons are, you can really focus on finding work that will give you what you need and want.” At 42, Yolanda Crous left the publishing industry in New York after 20 years as an editor to study medicine in San Antonio. “I wanted to do something where I could work one-on-one with people,” she says, “and make a difference in a tangible way.” 

2 The research

If you need help figuring out a career path, research the possibilities. Read up on organizations you’re attracted to and people who work in industries that appeal to you. Look at listings on job apps like Indeed and LinkedIn to get insight into different types of work. Study the job descriptions, skills needed, education requirements, and salary ranges. “It’s also important to talk to people who are doing those jobs,” says Jansen. “They can become champions and introduce you to key people in the industry.” When Leah Gomberg, of Maplewood, New Jersey, decided to leave her job as a social worker at 37, she considered using her untapped design skills to become a house flipper. To find out more about the industry, she met with a local realtor. It was 2006, the height of the housing boom. “She told me it wasn’t a good time to flip houses,” remembers Gomberg. “She suggested I try home staging, which hadn’t taken off on the east coast yet.” Gomberg took the pro’s advice and soon launched a staging business, Sweet Life By Design, which is still going strong today.

3 The requirements

Once you’ve narrowed it down to the job that interests you the most, figure out what’s needed to get it. Do you have most of the required skills ? Do any call for extensive training? Are you willing to go back to school for a new degree or do an internship? Do you need certification or a license? Will you be able to support yourself financially if the starting salary is less than what you currently earn? Will you need child-care help? Crous, 47, the editor-turned-doctor, spent years preparing for her new career. “I had to take classes for a year before I was ready to apply to medical school, then it took another year of applying. Now I’m in a four-year program with at least three years of residency after that.” Has it been worth all the effort? “Every time I walk into a hospital room and spend time with a patient,” she says, “I feel lit up in a way I never did as an editor. I know that this was exactly the right choice for me.” 

4 Your goals and timetable

Creating a road map for your goals along with a timetable will help keep you on track and motivated as you try to move into another industry. “Changing your career can be a very overwhelming process,” says Jansen, “therefore  breaking your activity into smaller, tangible to-dos with deadlines is very important.” It allows you to see that you are making progress. Tracking that progress on a spreadsheet is a good way to keep the info up-to-update and in one place.

5 Skill optimization

Since you’re applying for a job you’ve never done before and you’re worried you won’t look qualified, focus on the skills and contacts you already have that could be used in advantageous ways in a new position. During interviews, “identify your transferable skills with examples,” says Jansen. For Gomberg, listening empathetically is a skill she learned in her social worker training and now uses all the time as a home stager. “[Getting their house staged] can be very stressful for some people, especially if they don’t really want to sell, but must because they’re getting divorced or downsizing,” she says. “I tell them, ‘I understand—this sucks.’” Think about your last job and what marketable skills you picked up—problem solving, meeting deadlines, communicating, teamwork—and how they will help you on the path to a more fulfilling future.

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Written by

Nancy Mattia

Nancy Mattia is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle topics and lives in the New York City area.

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