Career Change Questions

Lisa answers readers' questions about making a career change and choosing a career.

Question About Making a Career Change
Eden Prairie, MN

I am a 41 year-old who started in the civilian work-force late (27). While in the military I got a degree from Southern Illinois and two years ago I got my MBA. The problem is that I've been a Business Systems Analyst for over 10 years and I don't really know what's out there.

Can you tell me where I can look to find out how my skills translate into other, non-computer type job qualifications?

Thank You,

Lisa's Response to Career Change Question

Rick, I'd suggest breaking your career change strategy into five stages. I'll briefly outline each stage here, but because my space is limited, I'll also provide links to a more in-depth discussion of each step in order to give you a thorough answer.

1. Assess Your Skills
When I worked with clients who needed to make a career change, the first thing we worked on was a Transferable Skills Analysis (TSA). A Transferable Skills Analysis is simply a thorough list of all of the skills and qualifications that you can offer an employer.

Understanding your skills may sound simple enough, but it's really surprising how many people don't fully understand all of the skills they can offer an employer. Typically people either under-value their skills, falsely thinking that everyone has those skills (this assumption is common with soft skills), or if they've been doing a job for a long time, things come so naturally to them, they aren't aware of all of the skills they use on a day to day basis.

There are some very good, free tools available, including the American O*Net and the Canadian NOC that can help you to understand your skills.

You'll find detailed information on using those resources and doing your own transferable skills analysis here.

2. Assess Your Needs and Expectations
Once you understand what you have to offer an employer, you also need to understand what you need and expect from your career. You didn't mention specifically why you are interested in making a career change, but it's safe to assume that there is something about your current career that is no longer meeting your needs. Instead of focusing on the negatives about your current career and what you don't want, focus on what you do want from your next career.

For example, if you've struggled through a tough labor market in your industry and are determined to avoid that in the future, change your focus toward seeking out careers with a good employment outlook. If you were someone who worked in an intense front-line job, and you were exhausted from that type of work, instead of focusing on negative feelings about front line work, I'd suggest changing your focus toward pursuing more behind the scenes work.

It's a simple but important shift. Most people in career transition know what they don't want, but few can clearly identify what they do want. Knowing what you want is an important step toward achieving those goals.

3. Find Career Options That Fit With Your Skills as Well as Your Needs
There are thousands of different career options that exist, so if you haven't actively researched your options, you've probably missed out on some great possibilities that would be a good fit with your skills and expectations.

There are several good tools for researching career options including the previously mentioned American O*Net and the Canadian NOC, which you can access for free online, as well as Career Cruising, which you can also access online. Career Cruising is not free, and it's also not cheap. Many employment resource centers and libraries have subscriptions to Career Cruising. You can call your local library or employment resource center to see if you can access that program (or something similar) for free in your community.

For instructions on using O*Net for researching career options, see the article Career Research. You can also use the NOC, but I'll stick with the O*Net for the sake of simplicity.

4. Thoroughly Research the Career Options on Your Short List
Once you've developed a short list of career options, I'd suggest thoroughly researching each option by conducting a few informational interviews. An informational interview is simply a conversation with someone who does the type of job you think you'd like to do. You ask for information about the job itself (you don't ask for a job in this type of interview).

I usually have to do a bit of arm-twisting to get clients to set up informational interviews, but they are extremely valuable, and most people are willing to grant this type of interview. A job may look fantastic on paper, but until you've spoken with a couple of people who actually do the job, you won't really have a good understanding of the full scope of the job. I personally would not make a career change without doing a few informational interviews first.

For tips on setting up and conducting informational interviews see the article Information Interview Guide, and for sample questions to ask during an informational interview, see the article Informational Interview Questions.

5. Apply Smart Job Search Strategies
Once you have determined the next step for your career, you'll be ready to job search. Of course, old fashioned networking will be key here. You'll find plenty of effective job search strategies on this site.

Making a Career Choice

Am a girl 18 years old. I completed my high school the year 2007 and got a grade of a B-. I want you to help me choose a career which is not popular and is marketable.

Lisa's Response to Making a Career Choice

Mercy, the question you're asking is a huge question that is beyond the scope of what I can answer in this form. It's smart that you're working on making smart career choices. So many people just fall into the first job that comes along when they finish school instead of taking the time to research careers that are a good fit for them.

A well thought out career choice takes into account many factors, including:
Your aptitudes (the things you are naturally good at)
Your skills (the things you are already good at)
Your interests
Your personal style (the way you like to work and do things)
Your values
Family and personal needs (any responsibilities you might have to others)
Physical needs (if you have any physical disabilities or limitations, those need to be considered)
Your goals
Your financial needs and expectations

So, in order to make a good career choice that is a good fit for you personally, it would be wise to consider all of those factors as they apply specifically to you (which is why the question is beyond the scope of this form).

An excellent resource that can help you to consider all of the factors that go into making a smart career choice is the book What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles. It is one of the most thorough and helpful career planning books I have ever read (and I've read a lot of them).

If you decide to use this book to help you with your career planning, do keep in mind that it is written from a North American perspective, so there may be a few things that are slightly different in Kenya. In North America it is a very popular book and can be found at almost any local library or book store. If you can't find it at a library, you can also get it online at Amazon:
What Color Is Your Parachute?

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