Taking at least some risk is necessary for your career.
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch wrote, “Companies cannot promise their people lifetime employment. Global competition is too fierce and economic cycles too frequent for any such guarantees. But they can promise their people every chance for employability — skills that will make them more attractive if they are forced to part ways.”
In the time since, Welch’s claim has become even more relevant. The speed of change in our workplaces has made it necessary to learn new skills and be proactive about getting them. Just think about the amount of new software you’ve had to work with in your office. In mine, we’ve been through implementation of SharePoint, Office 365, Outlook — and the list goes on. Consider all the devices you have at home. What happens if we don’t update our software, or replace a laptop after five years?
My point is that if we just do our jobs and wait for great things to happen, we’re taking a risk. I would argue it’s a fairly big risk: of not having the skills to excel, advance, move up in — or even change — our careers.
Here’s why: As Welch said, no employer can guarantee lifetime employment. Long gone, for the most part, are the days of spending 20 to 30 years at one job. I don’t think people should wait to get downsized, outsourced, or stuck in an unfulfilling job or career.
Is the job you have now going to be the same — or even be there at all — in five years?
First and foremost, recognize that it’s scary to contemplate a career change. There’s an emotional and financial component to switching jobs and industries. It’s OK to ask questions like, “After all these years investing time and money for education in my field, how can I move on to something else?” or, “How will I afford changing careers, or shifting to a new sector, from profit to nonprofit?” “Can I take a pay cut? Will I start at the bottom again?”
These are all valid, good and healthy questions to ask because there is risk in changing careers or shifting jobs or sectors. So, how do you minimize these risks? Here are some tips and tools to consider:
Think Really, Really Hard
Ask yourself, “Do I want to change careers and why?” Write it down. Discuss it with your network and trusted friends. Determine if this is really what you want to do. Life is too short: If you are unhappy and want to make a change, make a plan to change — just be certain it’s what you want to do. Run your ideas by a trusted friend or colleague and see what they think. Having a second objective opinion is very helpful.
Prepare To Branch Out
Once you’ve decided to make a change in your career, create an action plan outlining how you are going to make the change. When you begin building your action plan, consider the following:
Training: Don’t wait to pursue skill-building opportunities. Anticipate and participate in company training programs. If your organization offers tuition assistance, use it. Learn as much as you can, and think about what you need to learn to advance in your organization and in your field. Or, if you want to change careers, what are some courses that would help as you plan a transition? For example, could you take a course in accounting if you wanted to change to a finance career?
Mentoring: If you have access to a mentoring program, take advantage of it.
Networking: Go to company networking events or events in your chosen field. Attend a conference. Meet and network with people. If you can, perhaps find a volunteer or part-time role like the one you want to gain experience in, and see if it’s what you want. Use social media tools like LinkedIn to reach out to people who you’d like to connect with.
Social media: Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Many recruiters screen in and out through LinkedIn first.
Financial: Plan out how you can afford the transition and potential financial implications of a job change.
Emotional: Give yourself time to reflect and come to terms with the change, and that it will take time. And remember you’re not alone: As many as 75% of people want to at least change their jobs.
Review and reflect: Give yourself the opportunity to review your action plan, noting your progress and areas to work on. Give yourself the time — it’s not going to happen overnight. And don’t neglect self-care: It might be helpful to see a therapist or coach during this transition.
If you plan to change careers some degree of risk is necessary, but it can be managed. Consider the following common pitfalls and how you can avoid them:
Don’t wait until you’re burned out. It’s really difficult, if not impossible, to think about a new job or career if you’re too exhausted. Try to be proactive and give yourself thinking time on a regular basis to ask yourself, “Is this the job I want to do?” “Am I using my skills the way I want to?” “Am I happy?”
Understand the emotional aspects. It’s going to take time to change jobs or careers. Give yourself space and have a support system.
Have a financial plan. Really map out how you will meet your financial needs during the transition.
Once you’ve decided you want to make the change, stick with it and don’t give up.
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