June 26, 2009
Switching careers: A four-step plan for going after your dream job
Kyle Kosey needed a sign. He wanted to ditch his 20-year career as an engineer to become a financial planner. It was a daydream he replayed in his mind for years.
His cue to make a move finally came in February when his employer at the time, Caterpillar Inc., announced it was offering voluntary buyouts to 25,000 workers.
“I thought, this is an opportunity to take advantage of my dreams,” says Kosey, 41, of Garner, N.C. He thought his knack with finances, which he honed on his own portfolio, could be especially useful in the current economic climate. He’s now enrolled in an online course on financial planning and is preparing for other hurdles that lie ahead.
As layoffs across the country rattle Americans’ sense of job security, some are taking it as incentive to go after their dream careers. Others are wondering whether it’s time to jump ship into a more stable industry.
Whatever the case, landing on your feet in a new career takes methodical discipline, particularly with so many people jockeying for positions. So before you take the plunge, map out a game plan.
STEP 1: TAKE STOCK OF YOUR SITUATION
Ask yourself why you’re not happy in your job. Any number of factors could be leaving you cold: your hours, the city where you work, a moody co-worker or lack of encouragement from the top. Consider whether switching jobs -- not careers -- might be the solution.
It sounds obvious, but putting the pros and cons to paper can crystallize matters. “Is it the people? The role? You have to understand what turned you off,” says Lynn Berger, who runs a career coaching and counseling business in New York City.
Once you figure out what’s making you unhappy, consider the financial repercussions of a career change. It might turn out that you can’t afford to make a switch yet. Or you may realize the sacrifices aren’t worth it.
STEP 2: REVAMP YOUR RESUME
Scrap the traditional resume that lists jobs chronologically. Create one that itemizes your talents instead, says Jennifer Grasz, a spokeswoman for CareerBuilder.com. Beneath a heading like “Team Leader,” for instance, outline the experience that gave you that skill.
“Focus on specific accomplishments and quantify the results you achieved,” Grasz says. “Even if you’re applying for a different job, presenting those numbers shows what you bring to the table.”
Next, zero in on your target by tailoring your resume for each position. One way to do this is to read the job posting carefully and echo some of its language. Address the specific qualifications listed.
STEP 3: BEGIN THE HUNT
Keeping your job while looking for a new one is optimal, particularly in this recession. But juggling work and a hunt for a new career requires organization.
Set clear goals for yourself; commit to at least one daily task to advance your quest. That might mean waking up a half-hour early to send e-mails or working the phones during your lunch break.
Establish contacts by joining a professional association or seeking out like-minded groups on social networking sites.
You also need to build a body of work in your targeted field.
“Find whatever way you can to volunteer, take a class or help someone with a project,” says Berger, the career coach. “You need to fill in that gap of experience.”
STEP 4: CLOSE THE DEAL
Once you’re in the door for an interview, focus on the future, says Eric Winegardner, a spokesman for job-search site Monster.com. Your career switch should be addressed, but don’t get tangled up in lengthy explanations.
Show that you’ve done your homework on the company, too. Ask questions that demonstrate your familiarity with the company’s mission and clients.
“In times like these, it’s more about the employer than it is about you,” Winegardner says.
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