career-change-riskMaking a career change can feel like taking a leap into the unknown. What if you’re not cut out for that kind of work? What if you don’t like it? Will you have to start at the bottom? What will that feel like? Not knowing the answers to these questions can make a career change seem like too high of a risk to take.

But with some dedication and perseverance, you can get the answers to these questions — before you make the leap. Here are four ways to help take the uncertainty out of a career change.

1. Research, research, research your desired career. The more informed you are, the better decisions you can make around your career. Here are a few great resources to start with:

  • O*Net Online: This website provides detailed descriptions of a wide range of jobs, including the education and training you’ll need, the number of people employed in that profession, salaries, projected job growth, personality types and work styles that are a fit for the job, general work activities and more.
  • Ferguson’s Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance (16th ed.): A resource you can probably find in your public library, this encyclopedia offers comprehensive career information, including a background and outlook of the field, sources for more information, and related articles.
  • Professional or trade associations: These organizations often publish blogs, newsletters, and other material that can get you up to speed quickly on what’s happening in your career of interest.
  • Interviews with people working in your career of interest: These can give you a sense of their typical work day.

2. Conduct informational interviews with people in your field of interest. Informational interviews are one of the best ways to gain insight into the career you want. You’re talking to someone who holds a job in this field, and they can give you a realistic sense of both the positive and negative aspects of the work — information that you may not find elsewhere. In an informational interview, you’re asking the questions, so come prepared with ones to help you determine whether this is really the right career for you, such as:

  • Would you recommend pursuing this career at this time? Is it a growing field?
  • What skills, training or credentials do I need?
  • Given my current background, skills and other qualifications, what do you think my chances are of breaking into this field? Within what time frame?
  • How did you get to where you are in your career?
  • What trends and issues are impacting the field?

The more research you do in advance of the interview, the more targeted your questions can be — and the more valuable the answers will be. For more information on conducting an informational interview, read this.

career-change-risk-13. Job shadow. Reading articles and talking to people will inform you about your desired career, but only job shadowing can immerse you in the work environment. Reach out to someone who has the job you want and ask if you can shadow them at work for a day or two. If your network isn’t yielding anyone you can shadow, your college career center or alumni association may be able to connect you with someone. Go prepared to observe, ask questions and work if you have the opportunity. Spend a few minutes at the end of the day with the person you shadowed to talk about your experience and get answers to any questions you still have. If you worked on a task, ask for feedback on it.

4. Make a list of what’s wrong with the career you’re interested in. You may have your heart set on this career, but don’t ignore any red flags that pop up in your research. You might find that the hours are long, the pay is low, or the work is not truly a fit for your personality. Take a clear-eyed look at these warning signs. No job or career is going to be perfect, but you need to know if the negatives will outweigh the positives. To be proactive about finding the pitfalls of your desired career, ask the people you are interviewing or shadowing what they dislike about their jobs, what they find most challenging, and what they would have done differently in their careers. You should also talk to people who left the career you’re interested in, to find out why.

After researching your desired career, you may realize it’s not for you — and this realization can steer you toward a different career that’s a better fit for you. It’s an old saying, but no less true: Look before you leap.

Have you used any other strategies to help remove the risk from a career change?

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