THE BLOG
07/19/2013 10:48 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

How to Avoid the 5 Biggest Mistakes Career Changers Make

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As a career success coach and a career reinventer myself, I can confidently say that changing your career to something more suited to your values, needs, skills and passions is absolutely doable today, even in these tough economic times. But to switch careers effectively and achieve a positive outcome, you need four things: clarity, confidence, courage and commitment. Without these, you'll most likely struggle hard and fail.

Further, there are core steps you must take to ensure you are emotionally, financially and professionally ready for this next step and for the eight important stages that you'll undergo.

Step one to a successful career change is to take off your rose-colored glasses and take a long, hard look at what you've created so far and how you've contributed to the challenges you face. Start to hold yourself more accountable for what's in front of you. If chucking your career is appealing, certainly explore career change, but make sure you take the necessary steps to avoid the five top blunders so many people make in attempting a career change. These missteps will wreak havoc on your life, relationships, health, your bank account and your future.

The 5 biggest mistakes career changers make are:

1. "The Pendulum Effect," or running from your career because you've broken down in it
If you're struggling and you've waited too long to make change in your current situation, you've most likely grown to hate your job, your colleagues or the work you do and skills you use, and you want to run as far away as possible. This was me 10 years ago -- I really couldn't stand what I was doing or who I was doing it for, so I ran to the farthest corner of the professional world I could find and became a therapist. In hindsight, my training in marriage and family therapy was a fabulous endeavor for me (it gave me life-changing skills and experience that I use every day). But living the professional "identity" of a therapist as a career -- and dealing as I did with the many dark sides of human experience -- was not what I wanted in the end. I needed a second reinvention to land on what truly worked.

The way out of this blunder is this: Don't wait until you are desperately unhappy in your current situation to make change. And definitely don't leap before you've improved your current situation. Wherever you are today, reclaim your power in it. Make your situation better by repairing broken relationships, building more respect, finding your voice, growing your skills and becoming more competent. Then, when you do leave, you'll be able to achieve the next level of success and you'll have made clear, rational decisions that will move you forward successfully. Running away will not solve your problems -- they'll just be repeated in the next career.

2. Not developing a sound a financial plan that will support your transition
Folks come to me wanting a career change, but have no available money -- either in the bank or accessible through other avenues -- to make change They simply don't know or haven't researched how long their transition will take, and they don't have funds to support them during the change. You can't go from making $75,000 in one career to replicating that salary in a completely new career without it taking time and effort. And you need outside help to make career change. Do solid research and explore your desired change with your accountant and financial consultant and experts in that career to understand clearly -- without emotion and without a "build it and they will come" mentality -- the financial requirements necessary to support you through what can be years of transition. If there's no money available, work on your transition while you're employed or find new ways to access some (earn more, borrow, use your bonus, etc.) or lower your expenses to sock away what you'll need.

3. Glomming onto the wrong "form" of work
In deciding to make career change, you must first identify the "essence" of what you want. Questions you need to answer are:

  • What skills and talents do I want to utilize?
  • What business outcomes do I want to support?
  • What type of people, environments and cultures do I thrive best with/in?
  • Which values, standards of integrity and needs must be supported through this work?
  • What types of challenges do I want to face in my work?
  • What financial compensation and benefits are non-negotiable for me?

Once you've dimensionalized the "essence" of what you want, then you have to find the right "form" of work that fits you, your lifestyle and your needs. This is where folks trip up the most. Because you want independence, for instance, you might assume that running your own business is right for you. For thousands, it isn't (read The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What To Do About It, by Michael Gerber, for more). Figure out exactly what living that career will demand, and make sure it's what you want.

4. Not digging deep enough
Let's say you've been in TV production for 10 years and you are hankering to move into teaching English. I'd ask you to explore deeply all the reasons behind your wish to teach. These may include wanting to bring your language skills forward, helping young adults become more successful, mentoring people to communicate more effectively, leaving corporate politics behind, etc. Is a switch to teaching English truly going to bring you satisfaction, or can you fulfill these longings in a way that suits your needs without changing careers? Are you sure you'll be happy with all the other professional dimensions involved with being a teacher? Make sure you're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Do as much research and exploration and dig as deeply as you can to determine what you want and what you really want from this career change. Perhaps you don't want a different career at all, but to bring forward new aspects of yourself, your talents and skills. The question is this: What professional identity will make you the happiest?

5. Giving up too quickly
Finally, failed career changes often involve throwing in the towel too quickly. You can't make life or career change without significant effort, time, commitment and usually, some money. I'm stunned when people expect major change to happen overnight -- or within a few months. They're so eager (or desperate) to leave behind what's made them miserable that they simply can't tough it out long enough to get to the destination they want.

Hundreds of thousands of professionals want out of their jobs today. It's a phenomenon of epidemic proportion. If you want career change, get on a path to exploring it, but please do yourself a favor and avoid these top mistakes.

In the end, address your life and career change with eyes wide open, and with the seriousness, rigor and commitment your career -- and you -- deserve.

(For more information on this topic, visit the Amazing Career Project.)