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Making a Radical Career Change

By Marty Nemko

Most of my clients come to me wanting a radical career change: They’re sick of being lawyers, high-tech managers, teachers, etc. All they know is they want to do something completely different.

Before starting a radical career change, there’s a dirty little secret you should know: most aspiring career changers usually end up deciding to stay in their old career.

This should help you figure out whether you’re likely to make the change. Most successful career changers fall into one of four categories:

§ They went back to school. Do you have the time and money for that? Beware: The university may claim that master’s program’s “expected time to completion” is two years, but many people take longer. And are still you good enough at school? Many people find it harder to cram in all that material in their 30s, 40s, and especially 50s, than when they were 18.

§ They are self-starters who learned their new career on their own and have the persuasiveness and persistence to convince a new employer to hire them despite lacking formal training or experience. Are you smart and self-motivated enough to find mentors, read on your own, and dig up opportunities to learn on the job?

§ They had a close friend or relative who liked them enough to offer them a job in the new career despite their lack of training and experience.

§ They became self-employed. Self-employment requires not only a self-starter, but someone who can quickly solve problems on the fly, without help. Do you have a business head: for example, someone who can figure out how to buy at the lowest ethical price and sell at the highest ethical price?

Okay. Let’s assume you feel you fit into one of those four categories. What should your new career be? One approach is to focus on the low-hanging fruit: the careers in which jobs are relatively plentiful. The other option is the “find your passion” approach. Ideally, you find your new career using both methods.

Low-Hanging Fruit Fields

Apply for jobs in these fields and you’re unlikely to have to compete with 100 other applicants. These also are careers that many people find enjoyable and that pay reasonably.

For helper types: speech/language therapist, social worker, optometrist, audiologist, pharmacist, police officer, 911 dispatcher.

For hands-on types: electrician, locksmith, commercial security installer, wiring/cabling installer.

For science/data types: network administrator, radiologic tech, registered nurse, science teacher, laboratory technician (biotech and medical), regulatory affairs specialist..

For entrepreneurial types: manufacturer’s sales rep, retail sales.

For detail-oriented types, surgical technologist (assists in the operating room) medical information specialist (coder or billing specialist), accountant.

Are you likely to be significantly happier in one of the careers above than in your current occupation?

Questions to help you find your passion

If you didn’t care what society or anyone thought, what is your highest aspiration?

What items do you save? One example: articles on a certain topic.

On what productive task do you spend a lot of time while enjoying the process? Consider both at-work and outside-of-work tasks. One example: planning parties.

Look around your room, including in your drawers. Does that offer a clue as to what you’re passionate about?

Is there a product or service that makes you so unhappy you'd like to provide a better one?

Is there an aspect of society that makes you so unhappy you'd like to do something about it?

What do you want? What do you really want?

I’ve adapted these last questions from Carol McClelland’s Changing Careers for Dummies:

When talking about what does your voice get animated?

What problems do you like to help your friends solve?

What have you been fascinated with since you were a kid?

Which personal experiences have sparked passion in you?

Now, look back at your answers. Do they suggest a career direction?

Advice I’d Give My Daughter

Changing careers usually takes a lot of time and money, and too often the person isn’t any happier in the new career—he brings his problems with him. Before considering a career change, try a career tweak: for example, try to get your job description changed to suit your strengths.

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