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Dr. Meredith Belbin

Behavior vs. Personality



The Ten Worst Mistakes Career Changers Make

by Barbara Reinhold

Changing careers is never easy. Half the world thinks you've lost your mind, headhunters say you'll never work again and your mother-in-law steps up the old "I told you so" routine to your spouse. But for many burned-out, bored or multitalented folk who are sitting on skills they're not getting a chance to use, changing fields is the only way to keep from losing their marbles.

Regardless of your career change strategy, never make these 10 giant mistakes:

1) Don't look for a job in another field without first doing some intense introspection. Nothing is worse than leaping before you look. Make sure you're not escaping to a field that fits you just as poorly as your last.

2) Don't look for "hot fields" without determining whether they're a good fit for you. You wouldn't try to squeeze into your skinny cousin's suit, so why try out a field because it works for him? People who are trying to help you will come along and do the equivalent of whispering "plastics" in your ear. Instead of jumping at their suggestions, take time to consider your options. Decide what you really want to do. When you enter a field just because it's hot, burnout isn't far behind.

3) Don't go into a field because your friend or cousin is doing well in it. Get thorough information about the fields you're considering by networking, reading and doing online research. Having informational interviews with alumni from your college, colleagues, friends or family is a fun way to get the scoop on different fields.

4) Don't stick to the possibilities you already know about. S-t-r-e-t-c-h your perception of what might work for you.

5) Don't let money be the deciding factor. There's not enough money in the world to make you happy if your job doesn't suit you. Workplace dissatisfaction and stress is the number-one health problem for working adults. This is particularly true for career changers, who often earn less until they get their sea legs in a different field.

6) Don't keep your dissatisfaction to yourself or try to make the switch alone. This is the time to talk to people (probably not your boss just yet, nor some coworker who likes to tell tales). Friends, family and colleagues need to know what's going on so they can help you tap into those 90% plus of jobs that aren't advertised until somebody has them all sewn up.

7) Don't go back to school to get retreaded unless you've done some test drives in the new field. You're never too old for an internship, a volunteer experience or trying your hand at a contract assignment in a new field (where you got introduced through networking, of course). There are lots of ways to get experience that won't cost you anything except your time. A new degree may or may not make the world sit up and take notice. Be very sure where you want to go before you put yourself through the pain and indebtedness of another degree program.

8) Don't go to a placement agency or search firm for help switching fields. These guys are notorious for making people feel unmarketable. They make their money on moving people up the ladder in the same field. Most of them haven't a clue where to begin being creative with career changers.

9) Don't go to a career counselor or a career transitions agency expecting that they can tell you which field to enter. Career advisers are facilitators and they'll follow your lead. They can help ferret out your long-buried dreams and talents, but you'll have to do the research and the decision making by yourself. Anyone who promises to tell you what to do is dangerous! Expensive "full service firms" that promise self-assessment, resume and interview help, and a guaranteed job should be avoided.

10) Don't expect to switch overnight. A thorough, inside-based career change usually will take a minimum of six months to pull off, and the time frequently stretches to a year or more. Start planning early, before you find yourself checking out nearby cliffs or gun shops.