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Career Change on Your To-Do List? Vet Your Assumptions First! [Webinar Recap]

Editor's Note: On October 15th,  Bryant & Stratton College Online hosted a webinar titled "Creating a Career Change Action Plan". Led by acclaimed career coach and frequent BSC Online presenter Kim Dority, the presentation provided practical tips and advice for anyone looking to alter their current career path.  Below are a few of Kim's key takeaways from the webinar.

To view the recorded event, please click below.

Rarely do I find myself quoting nineteenth century British poets, but when it comes to making a career change, Samuel Butler had it right: look before you leap.

This is especially true when it comes to vetting your assumptions – the things you think you know about that potential new career path, but which may, in fact, not be quite the case. It’s only human nature to idealize things that we feel drawn to, but this is when you really must give yourself a reality check. How? Talk to the people who are doing or have done the type of work you’re considering.

Say you’re dying to be a small-animal veterinarian because you love animals. Now’s the time to start asking questions about your dream career to make sure your expectations are in line with reality. For example,

What do I think I would love about this, and how much time would be spent actually doing that? If your main driver is that you love working with animals, then you’ll want to get a sense of how much of a vet’s daily activities are actually hands-on with the animals. If it’s, say, about 75 percent of your daily activities, that would be great – and probably a career path to explore further.

What other activities might this job involve, and would I be happy doing these? Using our vet as an example, what else might his/her job entail? Meeting with vendors? Dealing with anxious and/or neurotic pet owners? Managing staff issues? Learning about new diseases, medicines, or technologies? Figuring out how to bring in more customers to grow the business? Deciding what to do about the new health care regulations for your employees? Working on an upcoming presentation for the national veterinary association conference? Interviewing and hiring new staff?

Although each job or career path will always be a balance of work that you’ll love doing and that you won’t, if the “won’t” column isn’t a major part of your day or is made up of activities that you don’t mind doing, then that’s one more reality check that goes in the plus column.

Is this an area of expanding opportunities? In other words, is there an increasing number of hiring companies seeking out these skill sets? Do practitioners tell you that the growth in opportunities is likely to continue for the foreseeable future?

Where is this field going in terms of knowledge and skill sets? If new opportunities are calling for terrific people skills, or a strong technology background, or a sales mindset, is this either 1) where your strengths and passions lie, or 2) an area in which you’d like to develop professionally? If not, then this may not be the best career change for you.

What’s happening with salaries and employment rates? There are some career paths where a certain skill set is fairly highly paid because 1) not many people yet have the specialized skills needed and 2) a substantial number of employers are trying to hire for this skill set. This is the market demand equation: the greater market need, and the fewer people who can supply that need, the more those people are going to get paid. The flip side: lots of people want to do whatever it is you’re interested in (high market supply), which means employers can pay much lower salaries in that particular career path.

Getting Info to Confirm (or Contradict) Your Assumptions

There are a number of ways to research this type of information, and all are generally easy to do and, happily, can be done for free. The best approaches:

  • Reach out to several individuals doing this work or who have done it, and run your questions by them. Consider job shadowing if this is an option, or do an informational interview with these people. They’ll be able to tell you whether your expectations are on or off base.
  • Check in with one or two of the professional associations for the discipline or career path. They usually have industry/discipline trend information, and often offer career information on their website.
  • Check out the descriptions for posted jobs on the job boards, and see if the activities and responsibilities listed reflect your expectations. If not, do the additional or alternative activities still sound rewarding?
  • Check with your local public library for career resources they may have that describe the work in which you’re interested. (Just make sure that the book or article is current – things change quickly in all professional disciplines.) See if they have any professional or trade magazines related to your area of interest that you can read.
  • See if you can do volunteer work in your interest area to get some hands-on experience with the actual work. This can be an amazingly effective way for you to find out quickly whether or not you'd actually thrive in this situation you're envisioning.

Chances are that the work you’ve got your heart set on is exactly the direction you need to go. But it’s much wiser to find out early in the game if that’s not the case, so you can quickly and easily pivot into a better career path before spending time and energy on moving into the wrong one.

About the Author: Acclaimed Career Coach, Kim Dority is a frequent presenter for Bryant & Stratton College Online. Dority is an information specialist, consultant, career coach, published author and adjunct professor at the University of Denver in Colorado. She has written extensively on career development for students and new graduates and is a frequent presenter, lecturer and panelist on career-related topics. Kim’s areas of expertise include professional branding, career transitions and career sustainability.

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