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A Guide to The Questions to Ask and Steps to Take When Changing Careers

New year, new career?

If you’re thinking about shaking up your professional life in 2018, you’ll want to make sure you’re covering your basis, asking the right questions, and taking some sage advice into account. We consulted Manhattan-based psychologist and career coach, Dr. Lauren Appio (who has been through a major career transition herself!) to get her expert tips on how to execute a career change that you won’t soon regret.

Deciding What’s Right for You

Introspection is important, so before you make any big career moves, take some time to reflect on what you like — and don’t like — about your current position and career path. Appio suggests asking yourself a series of questions:

1. How do I feel at the end of each day?

2. What are the skills and strengths I’m most proud of and how often do I get to use them?

3. What job or what industry what would I be able to make better use of my skills?

4. What could I do in my current job to really amplify the opportunities to use these skills?

5. If by some miracle I woke up tomorrow and money was no object, what would I do for work, and what would my ideal workday look like?

6. Which aspects of that dream match up with my current job, and which don’t?

7. What would I gain by leaving, or by moving to a new job or industry? By staying?

If you’re feeling burnt out, drained, anxious, or even just bored, it might be time for a change, Appio says, noting that it’s also wise to consider that any decision you make is going to come with challenges.

“All decisions come with loss, [so be] clear with yourself about that, that there’s going to be some loss on either side, but you can really maximize your gains if you approach the search in a strategic way,” Appio says.

Your First Steps

Find a Mentor

“I always encourage people to speak to their mentors who are in the field,” Appio says. “People who they can trust, who aren’t going to run and tell people that they’re looking and they’re on the market.”

Of course, people who are currently in your industry are going to lean more on the side of convincing you to stay. But as Appio points out, with their industry knowledge, they may be able to help you find creative ways to get what you want out of your job without switching gears entirely.

Use Your Network

Networking is key for a few reasons. First, if you can find people who have made a similar career change, they can help guide you on what that transition was like and how they did it. And second, it’ll help you get hired in the long run, since you’ll have connections in the industry to vouch for you.

“Most jobs are never even posted,” Appio says. “They’re filled by hiring internally or through a networking lead, so networking is the way that you let people know what you’re looking for, and then they can help you get connected to other people who are looking for you.”

Do Your Research

Appio says, “This is the time to really research and gather as much information as you can to look into the industry [you want to go into].” She suggests people look into what kinds of positions are available, and most important, what the preferred qualifications are for the roles you’re interested in.

And there are a couple of outcomes here: You might learn that you can easily pivot from your current job, or you might learn that you need additional training or education to get there. Either way, that will help you figure out what to do next.

What’s Next?

You must take control of your career narrative, Appio says. “You may understand why your skills would transfer well or why you’d be a good fit for the position, but if the people looking at your application or interviewing you don’t get it, you’re not going to get in the door.”

This is where your research comes in handy. Appio points out that industries often do similar things but use different terms for it. Figure out how to translate your skills and experience into your new industry’s language, and you’ll have a better shot.

Depending on the industry you’re planning on moving into, you might have to start over at an entry level position to get to where you ultimately want to be. In that case, Appio says you need to be very clear with yourself on what’s calling you to make this change. In short, you have to really want it, and you should never make the decision from a place of urgency.

Her advice is to create a timeline for how long you’ll be in that position and what your growth and earning potential will be. Be realistic about how you’ll adjust your lifestyle to a lower income, and be teachable and open to being managed by someone younger than you.

In some cases, you might need to go back to school for an advanced degree. For people furthering their education (whether they’re working as well or going to school full time), Appio says the best thing to do is figure out your support system. You want the people around you to understand what you’re doing and be willing to help you when you need it.

If seriously pursuing higher education, you should not only go to open houses for the schools you’re interested in attending, but contact the admissions office so they can put you in touch with current students and alumni who can share their experiences.

Words of Wisdom

Along with developing a strong support system, Appio specifically recommends having an accountability buddy (this can be a mentor, a friend, a partner, a coach — anyone you trust.) “You need someone who can help you get grounded on you know how awesome you are,” Appio says. “They can help you rebound from disappointment and encourage you to not procrastinate.”

Appio also pointed out that the job search can take longer than you might expect; she typically advises clients to expect it to take at least 3 to 6 months (and that’s not factoring in career changes that require going back to school). The more senior you are, the longer that time frame may extend itself. And if you can, she advises keep your current job for as long as possible while you’re searching — not just for the financial stability, but because it’ll help you be a more attractive applicant.

By Brittney Morgan