As a career transitions coach, more and more women have been asking me how to get started making a career change. Usually they are mid-career – and often very successful – and they worry about taking a big risk. They talk about the need to balance career satisfaction with the realities of family and financial responsibilities. Plus, they don’t want to “throw away” all of their successes in the pursuit of something unknown.
Because a career transition can sometimes seem like driving off a cliff “Thelma and Louise” style, I suggest five steps to ease into the process:
1. Identify what's behind your desire for change. Get really clear with yourself about what is prompting the desire for change. Sometimes office politics or long hours may be dragging you down. Or you have a vague feeling of being in a rut from doing the same job for years. But it’s never enough to want to move away from something bad; you must also define what you are moving towards. Before you make any change, take some time to think about what’s motivating you.
2. List the most important outcomes you want. Depending on where you are in your life and your career, you will be seeking different outcomes. Perhaps you want to climb the ladder and make more money. Perhaps you want a short commute. Perhaps you want a job with more flexibility to spend time with your kids. Knowing this in advance will help you select a new career that fits with your lifestyle and long-term goals.
3. Leverage what you've already done. A big mistake that women make when thinking about a career change is believing they have to start from scratch. Instead, keep in mind your transferable skills, like "good at managing people" or "enjoy complex data analysis." You will likely find that your best strengths and talents will serve you well in all sorts of careers. You don't necessarily have to take a big risk to make a big change.
4. Build a group of cheerleaders. Identify key friends and family members who agree with your plan of a career change. You may even want to find a mentor, another woman who has recently made a career change. Explicitly ask your cheerleaders to support the change you are trying to make and to help you keep up your resilience and courage during the tough times.
5. Take a deep breath and make a small change. Change is hard! Sometimes the first small change is actually the biggest of all. So, take a deep breath, have faith in yourself, and get started walking your path towards a new career.