By Kathleen Sullivan
You are over forty and have decided to make a career change. Whether your decision is based on your desire to pursue a dream or your need to find a new career due to a job loss, use these career change strategies to make your transition successful.
Vet your new career choice carefully: Choosing a new career can be exciting, filled with new possibilities and potential. Rather than be carried away by the romance of a new career, be wise and vet your career choice carefully. Typically, a career change involves transitioning both to a new role and to a new industry. Before making a move, thoroughly investigate the new role and the new industry you are targeting. First, learn as much as you can about the role and the industry. Conduct research using career exploration websites for information about required skills, occupational outlook, career paths, and salaries. Two of these career websites are: www.onetcenter.org and www.jobstar.org. Speak with practitioners in the field. Identify people who currently hold your desired position and work in your target industry and ask for an informational meeting to discuss qualifications, trends, compensation, and career entry. Gather additional insights and information by attending professional meetings and industry or trade association conferences. A key focus of these organizations is to support the development and advancement of individuals in that specific field or industry.
Next, assess your current qualifications for your desired position. To evaluate how you would measure up for this position, look for an example of your target position on a company web site or job board. Review the key competencies, level of experience, and results expected. Do you have the transferable experience and skills to meet the criteria for this role? If not, what kind of knowledge and training will you need to meet those requirements? Is there is a sizeable gap in your knowledge and skills? If so, how much time and money would it take to bridge these gaps? Also, get an expert opinion on how a hiring manager would perceive your qualifications for this position by speaking with recruiters for this profession or industry. Would they see you as a viable candidate? If yes, ask how you would market yourself effectively for the position. If not, ask if there are alternative paths for you to make a transition to this role or industry.
Use multiple methods to assess your career choice. Be realistic in determining your strengths and weaknesses to make this change. In some cases, you may have to pause and revise your career target. As you vet your career target, you will discover risks involved with pursuing your goals. These risks usually are to your current professional status, reputation, and compensation. To make a successful career change after 40, you may have to make a lateral career move or take a step back, sacrifice your current standing and become an unknown in a new field, or accept a lower salary or fewer benefits. Are you willing to undergo these risks for the possibilities of new rewards and new challenges? If not, you may wish to reconsider making this change. If yes, you can minimize the professional and financial risks.
Assess the value you would bring to the new role and industry. Just because you are making a transition, you do not leave the knowledge, experience, and results you have achieved behind. Develop a value proposition for your new career and communicate how you can contribute your current assets to impact your new role and industry.
Put your new career to the test: How do you know whether you will really enjoy or fit in with your target career? You have conducted research and spoken with people in that role and industry and evaluated the risks, but next you must put your choice to the test. There are several ways to test out your new career choice: a part-time job, job shadowing, an internship or apprenticeship, or contract or consulting work. All of these options provide the opportunity to evaluate your target career while contrasting it to your current career. The benefits of testing out your new career are that you can learn the expectations, meet the people, try out your skills, and experience the environment, while maintaining the security of your current career. If you enjoy the test experience, you have further validation that you are making the right choice and can move forward with transitioning to your new career.
Build a new professional network: Your current professional network has helped you to get you to where you are now, but you will need to build a new professional network to support your career transition. First, create the framework for that new network: who are the key people who could offer advice and assistance in moving you towards your target career? These key people would include: professional and industry experts, business and organizational leaders, future colleagues, consultants, and vendors. You can identify key people by participating in professional and industry and trade organizations, reading business, professional, and trade periodicals, and reviewing social networks and blogs. Once you have a list of key people, use networking and informational meetings to ask for introductions to these people. Initially, when you make contact with these key people, you will be asking for advice or an introduction to a company or hiring manager. However, your longer term goal is to build a professional relationship with them. Developing and maintaining a strong new professional network are critical to your career transition and to future opportunities.
Enlist a mentor: A mentor can champion your career change and open professional doors for you. A mentor provides guidance and feedback as you navigate your new career path and then as you continue to move your new career forward. He/she can assist you with networking, provide insights and information about your new career, make you aware of any pitfalls or politics, and support you in landing and executing new job assignments. You can identify potential mentors from within your new professional network or take advantage of any formal mentorship programs available from professional and industry / trade organizations. You have an advantage in making a career change when you have a mentor.
Re-brand yourself: When you are making a career change, you are reinventing yourself. To solidify your new professional identify and develop your new reputation, build a new brand. Think of yourself as a new product that you are taking to market. Define the key aspects of your product brand and communicate them through your presence, your written collateral like resumes and business cards, and online. Create awareness of your brand by developing a marketing plan that conveys your value proposition. Developing and communicating a strong brand will make you credible in your new career. You can make a successful career change at 40+ if you are realistic, focused, and determined. Six strategies to your success: carefully evaluate your career choice, minimize risks, put your target career to the test, build a network for support, have a champion, and communicate an authentic brand. Your dream can become reality.