23 September 2010

Career Exploration Tips

By Nimish Thakkar



If fretting about your career is affecting your professional performance and personal life, it may be time to consider a career change. Sometimes a career change may not be necessary at all; rather, small changes in the way you do your job may do the trick.

Rule out job-related factors

Sometimes extreme work pressure, long commutes, bad bosses, lower salary, and a host of other factors may be contributing to your dissatisfaction and a career change may not be necessary at all. A new job or a different industry (using your existing strengths) may just do the trick and is much easier. If, however, you determine that it is your profession that you are unhappy with, it may be time to explore a new career.

Keep the following tips in mind before embarking on a career exploration.

Take stock

What is it that you like to do most? Why? Is there any activity or interest that you particularly love or enjoy? Example, do you love traveling? Is it because you get to see new places? Or, is it because you love nature? Or, is it for the thrill of flying? Or, the joy of meeting new people? It is not enough to know what your interests are; you need to go a step further and evaluate why. These underlying reasons may often hold the clue to your inner passions and a potential line of work to fulfill them.

Your skills, interests, values, personality -- all of these should be carefully considered during the process of career exploration. Avoid thinking about financial responsibilities, barriers, etc. Just let your fancies lose. Don't worry you are still at the stage of brainstorming; thinking about other things won't let the creative juices flow freely.

Assessments

Assessments such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Strong Interest Inventory and an assortment of assessments can help navigate options. Be careful, though, assessments need to be interpreted carefully (by an expert) and should in no way be considered a final verdict.

Develop goals

What are your short term goals? long term? Unless you know your life's purpose how can you make a meaningful change?

Research, research, research

Once you have narrowed your options to two or three choices, it is time to undertake extensive research. What growth opportunities exist in your industry? What is the median salary? What are the entry requirements? How stable is the career? Which area of the country are most jobs available? What are the work conditions like? Are there any certification requirements? What kind of experience is desired? These are just a few of the questions you need to ask. Familiarize yourself with every aspect of the industry. Our career planning resources and industry research section can be helpful at this stage.

Network

Informational interviewing, the process of gathering information through networking is an effective means to gather different perspectives from insiders. At times, these conversations may also open doors to potential job opportunities. Ask your network questions like what they love the most about that job? Least? What does the job entail? Prepare a list of questions and see if you fit the bill.

Try testing the waters

Internships, volunteer opportunities, opportunities within the same organization are just a few ways you can actually get a feel for the profession before making a full career change. Experiencing a new profession from within can really give you a good idea about what the job would entail. Sometimes, it may be possible to get your feet wet within the same company you are at. Try voluntarily taking on extra tasks in the new area you are interested in. It may mean more work but the effort could be worth the rewards.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Now, it is time to conduct some cost-benefit analysis. What will switching careers at this stage cost you? How much income would you lose? Is there a part time job or freelancing opportunity that you can add to supplement your income? A career change may at times require a new degree, certificate, or training; are you willing to get one? Sometimes, you may decide to take the cut and switch; while under other circumstances you may decide to stay put in your current position. In either scenario, conducting a cost-benefit analysis is absolutely essential.

Transition slowly if necessary

Depending on your personality, you may want to take the transition slowly. Adding a part time job in your new career and slowly transitioning to a full-time position may work for some, while for others it may not be necessary.

Stay financially strong

If you don't have a financial cushion or part time or freelance job to support yourself, the transition may be much harder due to financial worries. It is always a good idea to have a cushion or supplemental income during this process.

Work with a professional

Career exploration is a complex process. Having a coach or counselor on your side could make all the difference. Your local Career One Stop center, community college, university, or government sponsored programs may also be able to help.

How does your move impact your overall career goals

What is long term career goal? Does your career exploration lead you to a career in that direction.

Sometimes you may be able to keep your regular job while you explore new waters during nights and weekends. It may not be a good idea to burn bridges with your current employer for some companies do not appreciate the idea of a second career. No matter what or how you decide, carefully plan your move. You must also be careful to not alert your employer beforehand.


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