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Time for a career change?

Q. Regarding a career change, is there a service or perhaps something online that could help me isolate some careers that I have not thought of before?

A. Ask most people how they got into their current careers, and they’ll answer, “I just fell into it”. But if you ask some follow-up questions and probe a little deeper, you’ll find that these careers “just happened” at the crossroads of preparation and serendipity. You can’t always control your luck, but you can figure out ways to prepare for a career change.

First, take an in-depth look at your work history, and at yourself. Ask yourself: What do I truly enjoy doing? What, if any, parts of my present job would I want to continue doing, even if I weren’t being paid? What was the best job that I ever had? Why? Worst job? Why? Are there any ways I can be doing more of what I love to do, and less of what I hate?

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Honestly assess your personal and professional strengths and weaknesses, and identify what you need in a job. What do you require in salary, working conditions, colleagues, commute, and level of responsibility?

As you answer these questions in depth, you may be able to think of at least one or two types of careers, industries, or job possibilities to consider. There are a multitude of resources to help during this phase of assessment, both online and in person. Some of the online sites include O*Net, a comprehensive free self-assessment instrument developed by the Department of Labor; and the Job Hunter’s Bible, which was designed by career guru Richard Bolles.

Or, if you prefer to work with a human being rather than the Internet, you can seek a referral to a qualified career counselor or coach through the career office of your college or university, or from the Career Counselors Consortium.

Next, start to explore “what’s out there." This is where the Internet rules. In the privacy of your own home, look at a lot of job and career sites. Check out the large job listing sites like monster.com or careerbuilder.com, as well as sites such as indeed.com and quintcareers.com, which consolidate jobs from a variety of sources. Try to identify what kinds of jobs appear most frequently. Also look at current hiring trends projections for the future by consulting the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 edition, from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Next, you can further explore your areas of interest by talking with people who are doing the kind of work you're interested in. For this stage, you need to walk away from the computer and get out into the real world. Consider some of the following ways to test out a new area of interest, before you commit fully to a career change:

1. Enroll in a related course or two
2. Shadow someone for a day
3. Pursue an unpaid internship or volunteer opportunity in a new field.

After following these steps, it will be time to evaluate your decision to determine if you are on the correct path. If so, then you may be ready to pursue a career change. If not, you can start the process again and explore a new alternative. Good luck!


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