No B.S. Coaching Advice

The Career-Change Journey: Part 2

The Career-Change Journey: Part 2

Originally published on

In part one of our journey, I wrote about several steps you can take to explore and find your new career. Now let’s go deeper and discuss the previous steps more fully and actions you can begin taking.

Often, when people begin their career-change journey, they begin in a state of paralysis. We live in a world where we don’t like to experience discomfort and want immediate results.

Changing careers requires patience, experimentation and research. And it all begins with your dream. What is the dream you have about your new job? What do you dream about and the effect you will have on others? Don’t think about being practical. Just imagine for a minute and go back to the world of possibilities.

Sue told me about how when she was six years old, she dreamt of making beautiful things, and 13 months later, she is a potter. Marc discussed working with teenagers as a way of staying connected to the feeling of being a teen. Now he does social work with young men. Dream.

One shortcut is redeploying your skillset in imaginative ways. For example, as a former executive recruiter, I have used my talents and experiences as a career coach in ways that are more satisfying to me than my work in search was. What is proximate to what you do now that will allow you to leverage your experience?

Acknowledge your fear. If this were easy, you would have changed careers by now. You haven’t, and usually one of the roadblocks to this transition is fear in many forms — fear of making a mistake, fear that you might have to change your lifestyle, fear of what others might think. Thousands of fears get in the way. For you to transcend your fear, you will need to go to the roar to diminish your fear.

Harriet and I spoke regularly about her fear and what it said to her. It told her that she was crazy to consider doing something new. It told her she was being a foolish woman for considering another possibility. After all, everyone knew and liked her where she worked now. She had a great reputation. There were advancement possibilities for her.

I regularly reminded her that she just didn’t like doing the work that she was doing. It wasn’t about the company she worked for; it was about the work that she did, and nothing was going to change that feeling she had of dread every morning going to her desk.

Create several hypotheses of what suits you. Write down different ideas of careers and work that would interest you. Make a long list of between 10 and 100 possibilities, and then prioritize the items on the list. Don’t worry about the length of the list or the order items are in. They will shift positions as you learn more.

One person I worked with identified 63 possible careers that they thought might fulfill them. Like a diagnostic doctor, we clarified what it was about each that appealed to him so that we might expand our list even more.

Knowing that you have many questions but don’t have answers yet, start to have informational conversations with people who are doing the work of the first five items on your list. Create questions that display curiosity, not certainty. Learn what it is like doing this work.

Sheila prepared five questions for every person she met to understand the reality of the work and not simply let her imagination about the work fool her. She would ask for 15 minutes for her conversation, and then she’d ask them what a typical day was like and for them to go into more detail. She asked what they liked about the work and what they didn’t like. She wanted to know about what had surprised them so far about the work and whether they had any recommendations of people she could talk to.

She spoke with at least five people in each profession before ruling out an option or continuing to explore it in greater depth. At this stage, rejoice at the idea of eliminating choices so other choices can advance.

Notice common threads in the work you continue to be interested in and disinterested in. Ask people for recommendations of other possibilities to explore while explaining what it is you are looking for in your next career. Other people, especially those who know you, may see different possibilities than you.

Stay in touch with the people you meet along the way, and keep them informed. A quick note every four to six weeks is enough. You can use it as a way of asking them additional questions and see whether something else came to mind.

At this stage, you are exploring uncharted territory (for you), and like any explorer, you may make wrong turns that cause you to backtrack. You may need to borrow a compass because your GPS isn’t working like it normally does. You may need to find a guide to help you on your journey or mobilize additional resources to carry you to your destination.

In my next article, we’ll be looking at the next leg of the career-change journey.



Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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