Reinvent Your Career

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This just in from the Department of Duh: Our economy is in a heap of trouble: With one in six Americans currently unemployed or underemployed, you’ve either lost your job or know someone who has.

It is times like these that most men cling to the safe path, with hopes of emerging safely on the other side of the economic downturn.

Other men – bold men of action – refuse to be hampered by uncertain times. They throw caution to the wind. They go for it.

Are you one of these men? Maybe you have been thinking of changing careers, but you always think, “Now is not the right time.” Guess what – there is no right time. There is only the time you make the decision and follow through by charting a radical, new path.

Pick a Career, Any Career

If you want to set off on a new career path, the first thing you’ll have to decide, obviously, is what to do. If you don’t already have something in mind, you’ll need to engage in a little self-analysis. Some things to think about:

What are your marketable/transferable skills?

There are skills that you have acquired or demonstrated in your career to date that can be applied to another job, whether it be familiarity with different types of computer software, sales experience, team leadership, customer service, project management, working with unions, hiring, training, problem solving or something else. Make a list.

What are you good at? What do you like to do?

What tasks did you most enjoy in your old career? Are there things you enjoy doing in your non-work life? Ask your friends and family what they think you’re good at. Maybe it’s organizing Super Bowl parties or creating a system to draft and manage six different fantasy baseball teams. Try to figure out what kind of things give you a sense of satisfaction. Make another list.

What are you bad at/what do you least like to do?

Were there any tasks or responsibilities associated with your old career that you dreaded or avoided? For example, maybe you were OK with analyzing information and writing reports but broke out in a cold sweat giving presentations. List time.

What are your ideal work conditions?

Do you like being in an office or on the road? Would you rather be outdoors? What kind of corporate culture appeals to you? Do you want to be in a big city? Do you thrive on high stress? What kind of hours are you willing to work? You know the drill.

Look at your lists. Anything jumps out you? Sometimes the process itself is enough to kick-start a decision. If not, try plugging some of your skills into the search engines of the major online job sites to see what comes up.

If nothing piques your interest, you can also try taking a vocational test or seeing a career counselor. A word of warning: don’t choose — or allow yourself to be steered into — a new career purely on the basis of it being a “hot” industry. That is not the path to job satisfaction.

Not So Fast

Just as it would be foolish to base a decision to go to med school solely on years of watching M*A*S*H and House, so would it be unwise to pick a new career without talking to professionals already in the field. What is their day-to-day really like? If you have the money you can even test-drive a career with a service like VocationVacations.

And…Action!Had enough of all the introspection? Time to stop thinking and start doing. Here are some steps you can take to start you down your new path:

Talk to your current boss.

It’s possible that job happiness is a department switch away or that there is an opportunity that fits the bill at a sister corporation.

Network, network, network.

Talk to people you know socially and through business relationships. Do they have contacts in the field you are interested in? Follow up on any and all leads. Become an active (networking) alumnus. It’s likely that at least one person who went to your college or university has a relevant position.

Consider relocating.

If your chosen field is hot somewhere you are not (think Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue back in the day) consider packing your bags.

Make yourself more marketable to the industry.

Take classes, attend seminars or workshops, join a trade association, volunteer, intern or apprentice. Working in the field will build your resume and provide prime opportunities for networking. You’ll have one foot (albeit an unpaid one) in the door.

How do you feel about Ramen Noodles?

OK, so we’ve ignored the elephant in the room long enough.

Changing careers might not come cheap. And while less money is coming in — at best an entry-level paycheck, at worst an unpaid internship — more might be going out, whether in tuition for classes, trade association fees, or relocation expenses.

Could changing careers be a luxury you can’t afford? There’s no easy answer. Maybe you have to pick up extra work to supplement your income. Or you have to moonlight in your new career while holding down your current job. You have to think that in the long run, your happiness will have been worth the sacrifices.