Changing careers can be stressful at any time in your life. When you add the recession, and lack tech-savvy skills for today’s job market, your stress level may go through the roof. You can keep your stress under control by recognizing that career change is a process, it takes time, and it progresses in different stages.
Just like other kinds of behavior change, the process begins with “precontemplation and contemplation.” In other words, you first have to recognize that maybe change is possible, and then you have to imagine what change could look like. This process involves self-assessment, and can happen in more formal or less formal ways. Because our society is so action-oriented (consider Nike’s “Just do it” campaign), it seems that people sometimes unnecessarily experience shame in being stuck. But being stuck can actually be an opportunity! If you are experiencing some dissonance about your current job, you can act without making a big move quite yet. This is a chance to really get to know yourself better; it is a chance to explore what you value, to better understand your personality, to assess your transferrable skills and interests. You may also need to overcome obstacles of self-criticism, reduced confidence, and/or life stressors.
Why not “just do it?” As Socrates said, you must “know thyself” to be wise. In other words, if you don’t develop self-awareness, you are more likely to lack the wisdom that will prevent you from experiencing career dissatisfaction all over again.
The next stage of change is preparation. Many people become “deer in the headlights” at this stage because they are intimidated by how self-marketing approaches have evolved and/or they don’t want to appear boastful. Resumes and CV’s are basically the same as ever, but you may want a professional to check it out. Make sure that your resume is constructed in a way that flows, fits for the job you may be applying, and uses some of the cue words that employers may be scanning for. Become familiar with Linked-In and develop an e-portfolio. Separate yourself from the pack (but don’t get too whacky) in your cover letter. Consider the possibility of portfolio careers… in other words, can you find satisfaction in blending your talents across disciplines (holding a variety of positions)?
And think carefully about your “brand.” Think about branding in two respects: 1) what personal qualities do you want to exude?; and 2) how will you take advantage of social networking to meet other people? For example, perhaps an accountant wants to be seen as “approachable.” If he walks around town with his arms crossed, and takes a long time to return calls, people may not find him approachable (even if generally, he is!). Create a first impression and back it up. Build a perception by using social networking vehicles such as your own website, Twitter, Linked-In, Plaxo, and maybe Facebook. These tools allow you to spread the word about what you are up to professionally in a manner that neither feels invasive, nor boastful. By putting these subtle “brag-bite sounds” into cyberspace, you create a background “music” (not “noise”) that someone is more likely to confidently tune into when they need what you have to offer, or when they have a position that you consider yourself ideal for.
Search and Network
The action-phase of this process involves taking more active steps. It is important to remember that it is unlikely that anybody will find your dream career for you. But, by engaging in good networking, you drastically improve your chances of finding it for yourself. Think of a network like a spider web. Are you in the center of a web, with lots of strands coming off you? Or are you on the outside edge of the web? If so, you need to expand your network. Some people worry about feeling “cheesy” by engaging in networking, but networking is a win-win. Make sure you prepare for networking interactions by doing your homework by thinking about what information or contacts you might have that would be of interest to the person you are contacting.
Most importantly, be genuine when you network. If you are a goal-setter, make sure that your goals are not about what you take away from the interaction. Rather, set goals around the process of the interaction: Truly listen, develop rapport and show respect, introduce people to other people, use the communication tools that others are comfortable with, and remember to thank people.
It’s also a good idea to set SMART goals(Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Relevant, and Time-Phased). For example, “I am having 3 genuine networking meetings by next Wednesday.” And recognize that some anxiety may be inherent in this whole process; an awkward moment is not catastrophic if you simply notice your anxiety and let it pass.
Maintain Satisfaction and Excellence
In interviews and once you have landed your job, you may want to approach your work in the same manner as an elite athlete or other peak performer, to get the most out of your job and the most out of yourself. Enhancing the following skills can help. Choose your attitude and embrace excellence. Take steps to keep motivation high, partially by embracing the process, not the outcome. Engage in regular self-assessment and set goals accordingly. Develop your people skills so that you can communicate well and handle conflict resolution appropriately. Steer any internal chatter in a direction that helps rather than hurts. Imagine success and ways to overcome obstacles. Accept anxiety and other emotions, and know that they can actually help you perform better sometimes. Take nice long exhales to calm yourself and allow your attention to shift to the big picture. You can work on these skills during every stage of your career change and after; this development will help prevent “relapse” into another bout of career dissatisfaction.