Changing careers takes determination, soul-searching and more

There is a very good chance that you are going to change careers two or three times in your lifetime. In fact, a study published by Future Directions for a Learning Society claims that the number of Americans in job transition at any given moment is about 40 million.

Many students who wonder, "What do I want o do for a living?", are ill-prepared to face that question repeatedly throughout their lives. When they are faced with a career change, they often think that their only recourse is to go back to school and learn a new specialty.

Although more schooling is certainly a good option, it is not the only one. You can do some investigation and career planning on your own. After all, no matter what seminar you take or degree you obtain, you're still faced with the question, "What do I want to do?"

Dear Joan:
I enjoy reading your column in The Milwaukee Journal. I'm considering a career change. What factors should I consider in making a change? Are there some guides to follow in moving from one career to another? How can I go about choosing a career that is challenging, motivating and satisfying?

There is no one "correct" way to go about changing careers. Each career changer must develop an individual plan because each situation is different. There are a few factors that seem to have broad application, however. Here they are:

In his book, "What Color is Your Parachute?" Richard Nelson Bolles says, "Successful job hunting systems are those which have figured out a way to help the job hunter keep at it. This is the key."

You must approach your career change as if it were a full-time job. If you're employed, that means after work, lunch hours, breaks and weekends. It must become your obsession.

It's usually much more difficult to get into a different career than it is to advance in your current one. If you tenaciously pursue your goal each day, your determination will pay off.

No one can tell you what career to pursue. It must come from you. One way to get started is to analyze where you are now. It's likely you were drawn to the specialty you're in because of some interest or ability you possess. On paper, write all the things you like to do on your current job and then do the same with all former jobs.

Next, break all the "likes" down into actions or behaviors. For example, if you like to write project reports, what specifically do you like about it. Do you like interviewing your sources, analyzing the data or writing the report itself?

If you "like working with people," break that down into more behavioral terms. Do you like teaching them, advising them, supervising them, helping them?

Common Threads
Look for similarities among your past jobs. Were you drawn to them because of some particular aspect of these jobs? For instance, they required certain communication skills like active listening, negotiating or persuasiveness.

If you find one or more common threads running through your past jobs (or hobbies), you should strongly consider pursuing career areas that contain the same thread.

On the flip side, if this pattern can be linked to major dissatisfactions with current or former jobs, you have more work ahead of you. At least you'll know what you don't like to do.

You stand a much better chance of convincing a potential employer that you can be successful in a new career, if you can prove you've succeeded in related areas in the past.

Identify Barriers
Barriers come in all shapes and sizes. List yours. Perhaps you've decided you want to work for a corporation, but your degree and experience are in the field of nursing.

You might list these barriers: "No contacts in business; don't know the kinds of jobs that are available; full-time job takes up much of my day," etc.

If you don't write out specific action steps to overcome each barrier, they will likely stop you in your tracks. If you list, for example, that having a full-time job while job hunting as a barrier, you might decide to call at least three employers a day for one of your action steps. If you fail to plan for these barriers, you might as well plan to fail.

One Kind of Job
It's often not enough to decide you want to "get into sales" or "work in personnel." You still have more homework to do.

Once you have narrowed the field down, look at it under a microscope and compare it to what you know about yourself and common threads you have discovered.

For instance, the nurse who knows she builds rapport quickly, has persuasion skills and wants to be rewarded monetarily for her results may choose sales as an alternative career.

Now the questions are: Where and what will she sell, how will she sell it and to whom? Once she analyzes these factors in light of her abilities and interests, her path will become clear.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.