Career Change 101

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsIf you wanted a new car, you’d plan for it.  If you wanted a new house, you’d plan for it.

If you want to change career directions, you should plan for it, too. In other words, don’t quit your day job just yet. Be a little methodical in your quest to move from what you’re doing now to what you want to be doing in the future.

Planning for a career change is stressful because  there is often so much uncertainty and stress in the mix. There are lots of questions and so few concrete answers. You have to start somewhere, right? A journey starts with a single step, or so I’ve heard.

So, what kind of questions should you be asking yourself? Surprisingly, they’re not all grounded in dollars but in sense. (Like what I did there? Coffee is my drug.) While your own personal situation may have its niche concerns, here are few basic questions to start you thinking:

  • Is the time in your life right to make the change? Listen to your gut here. You may want to change career fields, but is it a wise time to do so? Why or why not?
  • Who makes the short list of your potential future employers? You can always add to your target list but identify the big contenders first.
  • Where could your new job be, logistically speaking? Are you going to potentially need to budget gas money for a daily commute from hell or perhaps spring for a whole new ride?
  • Will you be earning as much or more than you do now? Less?
  • Will you be able to afford the neighborhood of your dreams or at least one you feel safe in? Will a move even be required?
  • How much will you have left over after paying your rent, mortgage or child’s college tuition bill? And yes, you need to eat.

Keep thinking about it. I’m sure you’ll come up with even more areas to fret over. Either in concert with your stress fest or afterwards, incorporate the following strategies into your career change planning process:

Consider the scenarios. Play the “what if…” game. Identify all the potential outcomes to various scenarios. By thinking through and planning for each possible contingency, you lessen the potential stress of it.

Stash your cash. You may not anticipate every associated expense that will be coming your way, but you can be certain they will come anyway. Be as prepared as you possibly can by saving routinely for it. Putting an allotment from your current paycheck on autopilot isn’t difficult and it’s true what they say. You won’t even notice it missing if you’re not seeing it in the first place.

Consider the fate of your benefits. What happens to your TSP or 401(k) when you leave your job, assuming you are lucky enough to have one? Do you have continued healthcare coverage for that time in-between employers when the need for medical care always seems to occur? Really? What about your life insurance policy? Does it end on your last day of work? Figure out the right questions to ask and then figure out the correct answers. Your benefits are just as important as cold, hard currency so include them in your transition planning and in your future negotiations for a new position.

Surround yourself with expertise. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert in money management or job search techniques. You will be a savvy soul, however, if you identify those who are and take advantage of their services. If you don’t want to lay out the bucks for financial or career counseling at this time, educate yourself. You’re teachable and there are ample free resources online and in your ever so old fashioned public library. Depending on who you are (yes, I’m talking to you college student or service member), you may even have access to real live experts free of charge in your college or university career center or your military family and transition centers.

Face your financial reality. If you don’t already have a feel for what goes in and what goes out of your wallet on a daily basis, get a grip on your cash flow. If committing to a budget seems like extreme accounting to you, then at least commit to tracking your income and expenses for one month. Develop a realistic snap shot so you can distinguish the necessities from the extras when and if the time comes to rein in the spending. Order that Starbucks pumpkin spice latte if it helps you deal with the process but just don’t forget to write down that cost, too.

Project the numbers. Search long and hard enough and you will eventually find that new job. Know the right questions to ask before actually accepting a job offer, however.

  • What kind of salary do you want to make? Need to make?
  • What is the going salary for someone with your amount of expertise in the geographical areas you are targeting? Don’t know? Research it.
  • What benefits are important to you and to your family?
  • Will you be able to negotiate some of the benefits in the process?
  • If you have to relocate for the job, who pays and what is covered?
  • What happens if the job goes away? Is there a severance package in the deal?

Look beyond the numbers. Scoring a higher salary in your next job is always a plus on one level. Make sure, however, it is a plus on other levels as well. Think long and hard about what you want in your next job and why you want it. Make sure this big move will be worth it on a quality of life level for yourself and your family members.

Life’s too short to hate your job, so don’t.

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