The Big Leap: How to Make a Major Career Change

The Big Leap: How to Make a Major Career Change

By Daisy Whitney

Change can be one of the scariest words in the English language.  Especially if you're stuck in a rut.

That's because ruts are good for wagons, but not for life. To be precise, ruts are made when wheels continually roll over the same path over a long time, making them a perfect device to keep wagons on a road, but a recipe for disaster when it comes to a career. In those cases, ruts don't keep you on a steady course; they can make you feel trapped.

Maybe you have an overbearing boss, coworkers from another planet, or hours of dull, unfulfilling work. Maybe you've dreamed of getting a different degree and tackling a new profession. While big changes like a new career or going back to school are just that - big changes - they can be done if you are ready to invest the energy to get out of that rut.
Changing your situation may be tough and scary, but the payoff comes in doing what you love. The passion you'll find is worth the effort.

If you want to land a new job, go back to school or embark on a new career, the starting point is to reflect on your motivations for wanting out of your current job and your desires for another. Roberta Chinsky Matuson of Human Resources Solutions recommends asking yourself questions like:

  • What is it about your current job/career that displeases you?
  • Do the hours cut into your personal life? 
  • Is the work not challenging or stimulating enough? 
  • Do you clash with the personalities around you?

Then think about the type of career you want to have. Andrea Kay, author of "Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers," outlines several steps to help you understand what career path to pursue.

  • Think of the jobs you have dreamed of having. Write down all your thoughts without judging them.
  • List the skills you possess that you like using and want to develop. Write down the things you definitely do not want to do in a job. This can help you identify jobs you can perform and careers you want to have.
  • Visual the ideal working environment for you. Is it in an office or outdoors? Working with children or the elderly? 
  • Identify the issues and values that matter to you. Working in a career you care about will help you get excited to go to work everyday.

Once you have thought about these issues and have some focus on what type of change you are looking for, you can get started with the practical work in finding the job of your dreams, says Allison Schwartz, life coach from Here are her tips.

  • Proactively create your career instead of just responding to the want ads. 
  • Take charge of your career search. Research the companies in the industry you want to enter. Find out what work the career involves. Narrow down the companies in that industry that are most appealing. 
  • Networking is critical. Contact people in the companies you identify and ask them about their jobs, career paths, and how they feel about their companies. 
  • Let the enthusiasm you have about the industry show through. Share your own motivation to change your career. 
  • Ask about opportunities within the organization. If other people in the company are the ones you should be talking to, ask your contacts to introduce you to them. 
  • And don't forget to keep your resumé updated and be confident in how it is written, Matuson adds.

If getting your dream job requires some training that you don't already have, then going to school to learn the skills for a new career is the way to go for several reasons:

  • The number of schools that offer career training has grown tremendously over the last few years, and the quality of the education these schools provide is a great improvement from the old correspondence courses you've seen advertised on TV.
  • Career-training schools, community colleges, and even major universities offer part-time and night classes as well as online learning and teleconference lectures.
  • Many of these schools have career offices and placement advisors to help you get the job you are looking for once you graduate.

Make sure you choose a school that offers classes and degree objectives in the field you want to work in and a schedule that works for you. Once in school, however, it's not enough just to go to the classes and do the school work. Stever Robbins, of The Stever Robbins Company, offers some other tips for succeeding at school:

  • Get to know the people in school with you, especially those studying the same subjects. They can become networking contacts and also a friendly community and support system during school and after graduation.
  • Be aware of obstacles that may arise from your family and friends. Not only will the time required for school cause conflicts, but those closest to you may try to discourage you from setting a new course for your life. Make sure you stand up for what you've chosen to do.

Remember that deciding to change careers or go to school involves sacrifice, Kay says. Don't forget to consider the costs in money, time and the effect on your relationships. Make sure the path you choose is worth the price. If so, you can make a very long and rewarding career for yourself, and avoid ever being in a rut again. Then go for it!

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