“I don’t know what I want to do with my life” is the usual line you expect from recent grads or floundering 20-somethings. But increasingly, it’s a complaint among workers of every age. Studies suggest that the average American will have as many as seven careers in a lifetime, and that 60 percent of American workers regret their initial choice of career.
But a trend towards multiple job changes hasn’t made the process of switching career tracks any easier. Those looking to reshape the kind of work they do are faced with unique challenges: They have to learn new skills, stake out new professional networks, find ways to use unrelated professional experience to their advantage and handle potential drops in seniority and salary with grace. But, redirecting a career isn’t impossible and it can be hugely rewarding, so we’ve broken down the process into seven steps, each informed by books from career coaches and job placement experts that can guide your way.
Step 1: Find your new work focus
Whether you have only a vague sense of what new line of work interests you, or you’re prepared to home in on a specific occupation, start your career-change journey by researching which industries and positions are best suited to your skills, experience and interests. “What Color is Your Parachute?”, the classic, annually updated guide by career expert Richard N. Bolles, offers readers advice, games and exercises to help narrow down the vast array of career paths to specific trades and industries that excite you. “A career choice,” Bolles writes, “is essentially the choice of what [artistic] medium you prefer, to express who you are.”
“The Pathfinder,” by Nicholas Lore, offers inspiring wisdom on doing what you love, but it also includes no-frills guidance for when the grueling process of choosing a new career has you feeling stuck. Lore, a career coach and social scientist, breaks down the top reasons why people get discouraged in their job search (he calls them the “Yeahbuts”) and offers frank advice on staying motivated, making crucial decisions and maintaining reasonable expectations.
If you’re really unsure what kind of work suits you best, you can try a personality test. In “Do What You Are,” career experts Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger help readers to choose careers based on the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types. If you’re an ENTP (Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceptive), they suggest a job that’ll bring out your inherent entrepreneurial spirit, while ISTJs (Introvert, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) tend to do best in low-key workplaces that value competence over speed.
Step 2: Plug in to its network
Once you have your sights set on a specific occupation—or even company—you’ll have to do some hobnobbing to make connections and get word of opportunities. And with as much as 80% of jobs going unadvertised, networking may be your best shot at finding an opening. “The Power Formula for LinkedIn,” written by Wayne Breitbarth on behalf of the leading professional networking site, shows you how to create a standout profile, gives a rundown of the site’s most valuable features and offers etiquette tips on connecting.
Of course, networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Even if you’re not a walking business card dispenser (or don’t want to be), there’s still hope. Career consultant Devora Zack’s “Networking for People Who Hate Networking” dismantles traditional ideas about networking—namely, that it’s an extrovert’s game—and identifies unique approaches to building and strengthening professional connections that more subdued types can deploy.
Step 3: Redesign your resume
All job seekers should make edits to their resume that are specific to any position they’re applying for, but career-changers should do a more thorough facelift. In “The Career Change Resume,” Kim Isaacs and Karen Hofferber, both resume advisers to Monster.com, show readers to how to highlight skills from former careers and market them as advantages which will serve them well in the different jobs they’re seeking.
Step 4: The job hunt
Don’t rely solely on your professional network to discover job opportunities. Orville Pierson’s “The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search” presents job-hunting tactics used by LHH, a leading global career services company, with tips on creating the ideal “target list” and staying abreast of your application’s progress to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. For tips on searching for jobs online and via social media, look to job career management expert Martin Yate’s “Knock ‘Em Dead 2013,” the latest installment of the highly successful series.
Step 5: Look and act the part
Once you’ve nabbed a meeting, you may find that the differences between your old and new job aren’t limited to the actual work you’ll do. Maybe you’re planning an escape from cookie-cutter cubicles to the open atmosphere of a startup. Or maybe you’re aiming to move from a homespun operation to a competitive, high-octane corporation. Different industries engender attitudes, vocabularies and looks all their own, and while it’s important to stay true to yourself, a new career often means fitting into the new professional culture. “Executive Presence,” by consulting firm president Harrison Monarth, breaks down the mechanics of looking and communicating like a polished professional.
Step 6: Nail the interview
In addition to revamping their resume, career-changers will have to work harder than industry veterans during the interview process. In “Acing the Interview,” job placement and recruitment expert Tony Beshara shows how to convey your adaptability to new types of work and how to impart the relevance of prior experience.
Step 7: Mark your territory
Often career-changers find themselves in less than ideal ranks or salary ranges. In order to thrive and move up in your new workplace, you’ll have to go further than appearances. “The Etiquette Advantage in Business,” from the Emily Post foundation, offers authoritative guidelines on issues big and small, from choosing the wine at a client dinner to how to deal with workplace dishonesty. “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills,” by communication and leadership expert Peggy Klaus, looks at workplace challenges that lie beneath the surface but can make or break a career: How to manage workloads, deal with critical coworkers and cultivate a “personal brand” are among the issues Klaus explores. “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics,” by career coach Marie G. McIntyre, provides tips on honing your “influence skills,” managing problem bosses and laying out a dream career path that’s rooted in the realities of your new workplace.