Five steps to changing careers

Switching paths mid-career might just be the change you've been looking for

At 45 years of age, I was a single, corporate career gal whose career path so far had been unplanned with no goal-setting whatsoever. I had the feeling that this would be my last chance to do what I had been too lazy, or most likely, just too afraid to do. I decided it was time to transition my career – leave what I knew and move to something that would make me happy.

Ask yourself the tough questions

The intent here is to ask yourself – are you serious about making this change or is it just something that would be nice to do? Understand what you’re willing to give up to get what you want. This was made clear to me when, with nothing else locked in, panic set in when I turned down the ‘same old’ job with a significant pay increase. It was not an easy decision, but once made, the relief I felt said it all. I knew there was so much more I needed from my career than a paycheque and prestige.

Create a personal statement

“How do you do? I’m…” How would you finish that sentence? Can you sum yourself up in a meaningful and relevant way? A personal statement sketches out what you can contribute and generates thought about your fit into a new environment.

Here’s mine: I’m a business development professional who has driven growth in a variety of industries using strategic marketing to develop, implement and measure the success of tactical plans while establishing, nurturing and managing client relationships at all levels of the organization.

Sounds like a mouthful, but this statement remains open while not being sector- or role-specific, and it idenitifies my key skills – two important points to hit within your statement. A note on objectivity: wherever possible, ask for professional help when developing your personal statement and resumé. You’re too close to give a truly discerning eye and it’s important to do both well.

Do the research

My version of research didn’t include going to the library, reading industry trade publications or making charts. Who has the time? Instead, I followed my contacts. Not knowing where to focus my interests, I wanted to explore. Preliminary discussions with colleagues helped me narrow it down to four sectors: not-for-profit, boutique marketing firms, publishing and financial services. Each had its own appeal whether it was doing good, expressing my creative side, thriving in a fast-paced environment or learning from a mentor for the first time. The critical question was, within those sectors, what organization would offer me what I was looking for the most?

Start talking!

It’s true what they say – it’s all about the networking. Until you get out there, you won’t see the progress. Who do you know? Who do they know? Don’t be shy – most people started out somewhere and are generous in sharing their time and networks. Use them! Informational interviews are the most valuable part of the transition process. Remember, you are not asking for a job. You are trying to learn about the industry: the roles, how your contacts got where they are, what the company looks for in people and future hiring plans. Inevitably, you won’t need to ask for other referral contacts because in my experience, people start scanning their mental Rolodexes the minute you sit down. But if they don’t, ask!