Career Change: The Five-Step Process

Quite honestly, when it comes to achieving career success in today’s world, there’s only one BIG QUESTION that professionals have to answer.  They have to figure out which employment path, among all of the different options out there, is the right one to pursue.

Aside from this one big issue, I find that everything else about job hunting is pretty simple and straightforward.  While not to trivialize steps like resume preparation, networking, interviewing, and the like, all of these tactical elements are pretty black-and-white — and fairly easy to address — once a person has the “direction” component figured out.  Thanks to the Internet, there are few great secrets left to putting a decent resume together (despite the hard work that might be involved) and every job search strategy under the sun pretty much boils down to 1) finding as many relevant companies and contacts as you can in your target field and 2) getting out and talking to them!

It’s the career direction piece, however, that still has so many folks lost, confused, and feeling like they’re stuck at a crossroads.  In my practice, I run into a steady stream of people who no longer enjoy the career path they have been working in for years.  Or who recognize they’re in a dying industry and need to make a change.  Or who are trying to change careers in order to address new priorities, values, and realities that have surfaced as they’ve gotten older.  Whatever the exact case may be, though, all of these individuals share the same challenge, which is to break from the past and reinvent themselves in some new future direction, going forward.  Sadly, it’s not enough to know what you DON’T want to do.  You have to figure out, with conviction, what you DO want to do.  And unless you’re lucky enough to be sitting on a hefty pile of financial reserves, you’ll need to figure out this next compass heading pretty darn quickly!

So how does one figure out a new career path when the old one no longer seems viable?  What process should one go through to get these answers?  While I don’t presume there’s only one effective approach to this issue, my noodling over this problem for many years has convinced me that there are typically five critical steps people need to go through to identify their most likely options:

#1) Clarify Your Priorities

Would you take a job that’s twice as fun as your last job, but that paid only half as much?  Would you telecommute to work, knowing this option carried with it a 50% greater chance that you might also be laid off?  Would you trade a career with outstanding benefits for one that offered no benefits, but allowed you to do work you felt was extremely meaningful?  Pragmatic career planning revolves around these types of hard choices, since no job is perfect and every career path out there involves tradeoffs of one form or another once you get past any “grass is greener” illusions you may be carrying around.  So the first step I’d recommend in career reinvention is to get clear on what your non-negotiable NEEDS truly are, as opposed to the much larger list of nice-to-have WANTS we all have swimming around in our heads.

#2) Conduct a Detailed Self-Inventory

Once you’re clear on what satisfaction actually looks like to you, I’d recommend you conduct a thorough assessment of all the marketable skills, qualifications, and attributes you have to offer an employer in exchange for the “outputs” you’re seeking.  What experience and education do you have?  What specialized problems do you know how to solve?  What natural strengths, talents, and aptitudes are you able to bring to the party?  What passions can motivate you and supercharge your effectiveness?  If you take this step seriously, you’ll be able to come up with a list of DOZENS (if not hundreds) of marketable attributes you could potentially offer an organization.

#3) Brainstorm Your Options

Once your long list of marketable attributes is in place, it’s time to pick the handful of items you feel most strongly about using in a new career, going forward.  Or if you’re in a position where finding a job quickly is absolutely paramount, you might have to skew your choices toward those elements that clearly are more tangible and marketable than others.  Once you’ve isolated the “building blocks” you’re going to be building around, however, you can then start the brainstorming process in earnest — and not only conduct online research into where your talents currently fit within the market, but also talk to lots of people in relevant roles to gain their thoughts and insights, as well.

#4) Research Your Top Possibilities

Got it narrowed it down to the 3-5 career alternatives that appear most suitable for consideration, based on your brainstorming efforts?  If so, you should bear down and conduct some “deep dive” research into these target professions to find out for a certainty what they truly involve, what they pay, what the future prospects are, and what shortcuts might exist for breaking into them.  Only the people who actually work in these professions can tell you these things, with any accuracy, so leverage sites like LinkedIn to make contact with people who are in the roles you might ostensibly want to hold in 3-5 years.

#5) Make a Decision!

Now comes the hardest part of all.  If you’ve faithfully completed the above four steps without cheating or cutting corners, you should now be in position where you have a comprehensive and realistic grasp of your options, going forward.  You may love some of the choices that have arisen.  You may not like any of them all that much.  Or you may decide that your current field really isn’t so bad, after all.  But now the time has come to get out of your head, hoist a sail, and start heading somewhere.  If you’re switching careers, it’s likely you’ll need to set some time (and money) aside to retool/retrain in the new field, unless the transition is a more gradual one, in which case you might be able to start job hunting immediately.  Either way, though, you owe it to yourself to choose a direction and start pursuing it.  In 18 years, the only thing I’ve seen solve this problem is action and outbound activity; nobody “thinks”  or “web-surfs” themselves out of this box!

So for those facing the exciting anxiety of a potential career change, this is the path I suggest you follow, whether through a course of solo exploration or within the context of a facilitated framework such as my Conscious Career Planning program.  Hope it helps — and for any of my readers who might be facing this issue here in the Seattle/Bellevue area, I’m going to be launching a low-cost workshop in just a few days where I’ll be taking a group of people through these steps as a facilitated peer group.  If you’re interested in this offering, the first meeting will be taking place from 7-9pm this coming Wednesday night, 5/26, in Bellevue.  E-mail me here for details!



  1. Careers Plus Resumes - September 26, 2011

    Careers Plus Resumes…

    […]Career Change: The Five-Step Process « Career Horizons: The Blog![…]…

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