Previous generations have been known to stick with one job their whole lives, but that’s hardly the case for workers today. Now young people who are just starting out are told to do what they love, and moving around to find that perfect position has become the new norm. But the older you get, the harder it can be to hop around. You have greater financial obligations, retirement planning, and maybe even a family to take care of. So before you take that leap into another field, read these seven tips for launching a second career.
Assess your strengths and weaknesses
Experience counts for a lot. When you’re young, it’s not only hard to figure out what you like, you probably don’t know what you’re good at either. But after 20-plus years of work experience, you should have a pretty good idea of whether you’re better at managing or taking direction, working solo or in groups. Looking at your weaknesses can be just as helpful. In fact, something that’s perceived as a weakness in one position—being hardheaded or working strange hours—could actually be a strength in another. The real key, though, is to find something that comes natural. It’s good to be challenged from time to time, but no one wants to struggle with their job day in and day out.
Do your homework
Don’t base your decision on a few Google searches. Do your best to get a feel for what the job’s really like—talk to people already working in the field and even ask if you can shadow them for a few days. Another great way to understand a position, or even an industry, is to volunteer. You might not be in your dream job, but you could probably find something underneath it or, at the very least, in the same environment. But finding out if you’re going to like the job is only half the battle—you also need to determine whether or not it’s going to be possible to land that job in the first place. After all, you don’t want to switch careers only to find out that you’ve moved into a dying field and the job you’ve always dreamed of is going to disappear in a few years.
Leverage your connections
This is another one where age and experience comes in handy. When you’re starting out, you don’t have a wide network to rely on, but it doesn’t take long to realize that it really is “who you know.” In fact, studies show that candidates who are referred to an employer are far more likely to be called to an interview and offered a job, so make sure you utilize all the connections you’ve made. But don’t wait until you have everything sorted out to start talking to people. Not only is networking important for finding job leads, it could also open up your eyes to an opportunity you never knew existed.
Figure out your finances
No you’re not going to live forever, but that doesn’t mean you need to make any rash moves. Once you’ve done your research, you should have a pretty good idea of how long it will take you to land that first job in your new field. You should also get a sense of what to expect from your future employer (whoever that may be) in terms of salary, benefits, and anything else that could impact your ability to retire. And if it’s not a given, always include a bit of a buffer. The benefits of changing careers don’t outweigh the costs if you deplete your retirement savings in the meantime, so build a few-year plan that allows you to save, add key skills, and even apprentice if necessary.
Consider a complementary career
If a completely different direction appeals to you or suits the lifestyle you’ve been trying to achieve, there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing a 180. But if you’ve been having trouble taking that leap, moving into a related field or something that utilizes your current skill-set might make the jump a little smaller. Whether it’s journalism to PR, marketing to teaching, or account management to sales, there might be something out there that your skills are perfectly suited to, even if you don’t have any official credentials yet. Start by taking stock of everything you’ve learned over the years and what you like about your current position.
Understand your limitations
Sure, you’ve gained lots of experience in X, Y, Z, but in today’s world, there are certain skills that are expected of nearly everyone, even if you didn’t grow up with them. It may only take a few night or weekend courses to get you up to speed, but in nearly any job, it’s imperative that you have good computer skills—especially if you’re going to be competing with and working alongside younger people. Your prior work experience is valuable, but no one will notice if you can barely open a web browser.
Do what interests you
Everything else aside, this is your second chance (and perhaps your last) so make sure you’re doing something that truly interests you. If not, why bother going through all the time, money, and stress involved in switching careers in the first place? You’ll be even more satisfied if you take a cue from younger generations, who are more concerned about giving back. If you can find meaningful work that ties into the skill-set and interests you already have, we guarantee you’ll have no regrets. After all, studies have shown that meaningful work makes people happier than money does.
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