Career change success: How to improve the odds

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Are you making a career change harder or more out of reach than it needs to be? Are you sabotaging your potential for career change success, or your willingness to even try?

Since 2001 in my Passion Catalyst work, I have had a front row seat on people’s career changes. And one of the biggest things I have seen get in people’s way is the notion that career changes need to happen quickly, with the flip of a switch.

Why does that get in the way? Well, note least because it’s often unrealistic. A more accurate view is that career change typically – though not always – happens over time. It can be a months-long (even years-long) process.

The immediate-change obstacle

There are a couple ways that seeing a career change as a flip of the switch becomes an obstacle to career change success. First, it can lead to a false negative in people’s assessment of their potential to make a change. They look at where they are currently and say, “I’d love to, but I can’t.”

And from the limited perspective of their current here-and-now, they might be right. They might not have the experience, or the network, or the money it would take to jump out of one boat into another. Or they might have obligations that stand in the way. And so they decide not to even try.

The other way the immediate-change perspective creates an obstacle is by directly diminishing people’s potential for success if they do jump ship. While it might be gratifying in the short-term to dive out of one career and into another, it can also be more challenging than necessary if you don’t build a foundation for that change.

Immediate or longer-term change: Which is right for you?

If making an immediate change works for you, great! Far be it from me to discourage that.

But just because you know you want to make a wholesale change right doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready for it. To explore whether immediate or longer-term change is the better option for you, ask questions like:

  • Could you get hired today in your new career, based on your current knowledge and experience?
  • Do you have the money to fund time in transition? (e.g., the time a job search would take, or the time it takes to build a new business)
  • Does making the change immediately feel doable, or overwhelming?
  • Is your response to the idea of making a change, “I can’t because ______”? (And are any of the reasons you give valid?)
  • What would support the success of this change (e.g., a network, experience in the new path, training)? Is it currently in place?

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Take a dual-track approach to change

When people look at their current situation and decide a career change isn’t possible, I encourage them to question that assessment. Often what they really mean is that a career change isn’t possible “right now.”

If they add time as a variable to the equation, they often find possibilities begin to appear where they saw none. What feels impossible from the perspective of the here-and-now might start to feel more doable in the context of, say, two or three years.

But for time to have a beneficial effect, they can’t just sit and wait. If they don’t want to be at the same place, just two or three years later, they have to incorporate action into the mix.

That’s where the dual-track approach to changing careers comes into play. Let’s say you have identified a new career path, but from the vantage point of the here-and-now it doesn’t look doable.

But then you pull out that trusty question, “I can’t now, but could I with time?”

Let’s say the answer is yes. You are now ready for a dual-track career change.

From there, you start asking still more questions, like:

  • What steps will get me from here (my current situation) to there (a new career)?
  • What is getting in my way? What can I do to reduce or eliminate those obstacles?
  • What do I already have that I can build on (skills, knowledge, experience, connections, etc.)
  • What skills and knowledge do I need to build? Where can I get them?
  • Who do I need to know? What relationships do I need to build? What communities do I need to get involved in?
  • How can I start getting experience (e.g., taking a class, volunteering for a non-profit, etc.)?

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Action & accountability

The clarity you’ll get from exploring questions like this is vital. But it means nothing if you don’t take action. Without consistent action, you risk finding yourself several years down the road in the exact same situation – waiting for the time to be “right.”

It’s all too easy to let the demands of life get in the way when you’re working toward an important but not immediately urgent goal. One way to counter that is to create some structure and accountability.

Maybe that is as simple as scheduling time for action each week, and holding yourself accountable for doing it. Or maybe that accountability comes another person, someone you can tell “this is what I plan to do in the next week” and set up a check-in about what you did. It might even be working with someone like me.

However you do it, action and accountability are integral parts of a dual-track approach to changing your career.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide