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Want A Career Change? Do These Five Things First

Avoid a few mistakes with a foolproof plan of action.

Workin' Girl

We all know that the pandemic has been an eye-opener for professionals forced to work from home, isolate, and now, deal with the back-to-office mania. In fact, research by insurance giant Prudential has found that 1 in 4 workers are looking toward new career horizons, and another recent survey of professionals ages 18-24 found that 66% have felt stuck in their careers since the pandemic began.


With realizations that come from new challenges, there's renewal, and with renewal there's the opportunity to get into new boss moves. And, per usual, we've got our xoNecole tribe covered with the tea on how to change your career and walk into the abundance you deserve.

1. Get real about what you really hate: the job or the career path itself.

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Before you send that resignation email, stop selling that product, or move out of town to start over, it's always a good idea to take account of your why. Write down the pros and cons of your current career and evaluate whether you're just tired of your current situation or whether you need to throw the whole career away.

Use a simple two-column method (with a space for pros on one side and cons on the other) and be totally honest with yourself. Then, evaluate whether the things you like and dislike about the work you do apply to just the job or the profession as a whole.

For example, my first job out of college was working as a copy editor at a small newspaper owned by a large publisher. I surely didn't get a journalism degree to be a copy editor. I wanted bylines and notoriety, and copy editors typically sat in an office all day, staring at copy, making corrections, and designing news pages. I took the gig because I had a mentor who advised me to try it, and many of my classmates—who only applied for the writing and newscaster openings—found themselves unemployed for longer than I could stomach. I eventually found that I hated being far away from my family and I felt like the slow, conservative culture in the small town where the newsroom was located was a horrible fit for me.

On the flip side, I loved my coworkers, enjoyed being challenged, and was offered a blog for the newspaper's website, which helped diversify my duties and scratch my writing itch. When I was ready to leave, I strategized for the opportunity for upward mobility (i.e. working at said large publisher's headquarters). I stuck it out, advanced, and after two years, ended up getting hired at the headquarters... in New York. I found that I loved all aspects of journalism and that it wasn't the nature of the job, but the environment. I also got to be in the epicenter of my industry, eventually moved on to magazine writing and editing, and the rest is history.

2. Dip your toe in new waters before taking the leap.

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I know, I know. If you're already juggling a demanding day job, how can you find the time to take on more? Well, sis, think outside the box on this one. Your current job might have opportunities to collaborate or lead projects with other departments, allowing you to really flex other passions and skills that have all but died in your current role.

Have coffee dates or virtual chats with coworkers who work in departments that are doing things you might be interested in or might allow you to tap into other aspirations. This is a great way to test out a new "career" without actually leaving your company or totally reinventing the wheel.

I'm one of those "geriatric millennials" who has always been fascinated by the Internet and what can be done online. (My brother's a computer geek and engineer, so I grew up intrigued and wowed by the things he could do or create.) I started working in digital media when the whole concept was super-new and "risky" for publishing houses. Print was king back then (early 2000s sis. Don't try me!). I'd volunteer, as a print editor, to take on website editing and writing that nobody else had the time (or desire) to bother with. Doing so allowed me to become somewhat of a tech geek, expand my knowledge of SEO, ad sales, traffic, video production, and website design.

I also got to work with IT professionals and tech disruptors who were already ahead of the game in that arena. In addition, I got promoted a tad quicker than my peers, becoming a manager before 30. While it didn't lead to a total career change to become a bonafide app builder or full-time blogger (which I actually regret because I missed the money boat on that one), it did enhance my experience at work and kept those nasty feelings of stagnation at bay.

Other great ways to test the waters of a new career: Volunteer for a role at an organization, take some courses on subjects related to your dream career, add just one or two new services of products to your offerings to see how they do with clients or customers, or start a part-time side hustle doing whatever that future dream gig entails.

3. Take an assessment.

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Don't shake your head, yet. This might seem like something super-boring, technical, and annoying, but there are so many assessments that can be super-helpful in your journey to figure out your next career move. They're a great way to find out more about your skills, your passions, and how best to use them. I was initially skeptical of these until I was forced to do more than a few for my master's program coursework. The insights were amazingly enlightening and helped me clarify what I wanted to do with the next five years of my work life.

Some are free (like this one and this one) and some are an investment (like this one. Trust me sis, it's worth it.) You can find out personality traits that match with certain vocations, pinpoint your leadership strengths and weaknesses, and get recommendations on various types of jobs or roles that are a great fit—or might not be.

They're especially helpful when you're at a place of transition and are not quite sure which way to go (which is where I was a few years ago. I hit a peak in my career that led to major feelings of fear, inadequacy, and utter confusion).

When you're armed with information and resources to at least point you in the right direction to find the answers you need about your next career phase, it's easier to navigate the bumps that come with that journey. (Check out another great list of assessments here.)

4. Get a coach.

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Investing in a transitions, career, or life coach is something that can bring priceless returns. Just like you'd get a realtor to help find your dream home and navigate the sometimes lengthy and complicated process of searching and closing, it's a good idea to get a coach for a major decision like a career change. You might say, "Well why pay them? What do I get for my money." Uhhhhh, peace of mind, clarity, organization, and direction.

I'd been working in media for over a decade and never thought I needed a coach until I decided to up and quit my job in management to work for myself. I'd always had decent-paying, health-benefits-offering positions at prestigious companies, and when I got my first big client within 2 weeks of going solo, I thought I'd made it. Wrong. I eventually lost that client, had nothing to fall back on, and had to really come to terms with the fact that I had big-talk entrepreneurial aspirations with a spoiled, scared, check-to-check, nine-to-fiver mindset.

I broke down and finally connected with a mastermind coach who was not only a successful entrepreneur herself, but someone who could relate to the shame and trauma I felt after not being an instant and consistent success in self-employment.

She helped me map out a better plan of action for my freelance projects, sift through my jumbled ideas and turn them into feasible concepts that were sellable and scalable, update my time management approach, and she provided a sounding board for times of frustration and utter failure.

If you can't afford to hire a coach, check out free resources from organizations like the National Urban League, via your local library (which sometimes lists opportunities to connect with local coaches), and through scholarship, grant, and nonprofit initiatives. And don't forget to look in your own backyard: Many sorority, alumni or civic organizations offer free coaching services, and there are Facebook and LinkedIn groups dedicated to it.

5. Check your lifestyle and finances.

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Baby, rent is always due, and don't let IG fool you. I really don't have to tell you this but I will: Making a career change can be scary, super-risky, and utterly stressful. At one point, I thought I could be a full-time social media manager. I'd been in media for a while and had dabbled in various aspects of the industry, so I thought, "Hey, why not? How different can it be?"

Chile, talk about a hot mess. I hated the monotonous and tedious scheduling, I was not that great nor competitive at creating awesome videos and graphics, and I began to feel that feedback was more like annoying nitpicking (which it really wasn't. I mean, they were paying and deserved to get what they wanted). Also, I didn't like being on-call due to the nature of managing social, and I'm really not into the constant pressure of increasing audiences through that medium. It just wasn't something I enjoyed doing at all

The change was a big mistake that cost me lots of money and time that I really couldn't afford to lose at the time. I'd stopped taking on clients for other services to switch fully into social media management, so, again, I had no alternate income to fall back on. I parted ways with several clients at that time because, let's face it: I hated being a social media manager and really won't give my best to a role I hate. That put a strain on my pockets and led to burnout that negatively impacted my true passions: content management, editing, and writing.

Ask yourself the hard questions: Can I afford to make a change right now? If it's not a good fit or happens to be a mistake, will my savings cover me for a while? If my new career shift includes taking a pay cut, investing more money in overhead costs, or losing a current audience or client, am I OK with that? Does my dream future lifestyle fit with what that industry normally pays people, and if not, again, am I OK with that? Will I be able to leverage opportunities in order to be financially free? Will the shift actually lead to more financial gains or more debt and little return on investment?

And I'm from the school of You Really Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To, so I'm not going to get into the narrative of avoiding taking action due to money issues. (I mean, I get it: Some folks are scared to make a change if the circumstances for doing so aren't perfect. Well, not me.) Let's reverse that: As my mother would say, find a way and get it done. If you have to adjust your budget, take on more hours to earn funds to put in your "I Quit" account, lean on friends and family (word to Granny and Ma!), work with an adviser to map out the financial part of your transition, or take a leap of faith, do it.

Changing your career or totally shifting professional focus can be a roller coaster drama with crazy characters, several acts, random mini-failures, and many intermissions, but I liken the process to anything beautiful and fulfilling in one's life: If it's something you're called to do, the not-so-sweet stuff is well worth it.

For more job search tips, career advice and profiles, check out the xoNecole Workin Girl section here.

Featured image by Getty Images

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