The decision to make a career change is tough under any circumstances. Take stock and consider your options before making the jump.
By Dave Willmer
"Like many workers, I'm worried about getting laid off. Even if that doesn't happen, I don't see much room for advancement at my company. At this point, I am contemplating a career change, either to another specialty within IT or to another field entirely. Is making this type of move a wise decision in such a bad economy, or should I just try to stick it out?"
Dave Willmer responds:
Even under more predictable economic conditions, the decision to make a career change is a difficult one. By taking a close look at your current situation, your professional assets and your interests, you can equip yourself to make the best decision for the long-term health of your career. That way, if you do decide to make a change, it's less likely to be a blind leap than a bold leap forward.
The stream of negative economic news continues, it can be difficult to separate dissatisfaction with your position from general economic anxiety. Before taking any other action, examine your current situation. Take the time to consider exactly what you don't like about your job. Would you be happy holding the same position with a company that offers advancement potential? Are you dealing with a difficult supervisor? Have you become unhappy with the work environment? Don't mistake such drawbacks for evidence that your field or specialty has nothing more to offer.
Next, note what you do like about your present position, your specialty and IT in general. It's easy to overlook these positive aspects under challenging conditions. With this information in hand, you'll be better able to decide whether a major career change is in order, or if a less risky adjustment, such as seeking a new employer, might be the smarter move.
Delve Into Your Options
When you fear for your job security, it can be difficult to sit tight and an unfamiliar field might sound more promising than it actually is. Avoid the greener-grass syndrome by learning as much as you can about a field of interest. How would a change to that field address the career problems you've identified? Are there other drawbacks you haven't considered because you don't currently face them in IT? Keep in mind that a hot industry may have cooled off by the time you've acquired any necessary education or certifications to successfully enter it. Consider your options carefully.After all, if you do make a switch and find yourself unsatisfied in a new field, it won't be long before you're standing at another career crossroads.
Assess Your Transferable Skills
Even if you decide to try an entirely new industry, a fresh start doesn't mean abandoning the assets you've developed throughout your IT career. Try to reassess your abilities from the perspective of someone outside your specialty. Make a list of your strengths -- not just your technical skills -- and consider how they might translate into a new role. For example, if you've enjoyed leading projects, you might consider a project manager position, even if you've never held that title. Effectively marketing your transferable skills will be key to landing a new position.
Rely on Your Network
Maintaining an active network is essential for career growth, and never more so than when you're considering a career change. If you've let yours go slack in recent years, online tools such as LinkedIn make it easy to re-establish contact. Attending industry conferences and local chapter events of professional associations, both in IT and any other field you're considering, is a great way to learn about career options while broadening your network. Daily networking will give you not only new ideas about specialties and industries to consider but also hard-earned wisdom others have gained through their own attempts to change direction. Ask for feedback about your own plans. In addition to seeking insight, consider what you can do to help others. The sense of camaraderie an active network provides can relieve the stress of a career dilemma.
Test the Waters
A career change doesn't have to be a sudden, irreversible shift. Look for ways you might be able to try out new directions without diving in head-first. Volunteering can be a useful way to explore career options and gain new skills. Project-based, consulting and temporary work can also broaden your perspective and lead to full-time opportunities.
A career change might provide a jolt of energy, but it shouldn't be treated as a quick fix. Instead, approach it as a long-term investment that may take years to pay dividends. Whether you decide to make that investment or not, taking a close look at all the reasons for, and ramifications of, a possible change will be time well spent. Instead of making a rash move or passively enduring an unsatisfying role, you'll be able to go -- or stay -- with confidence.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.