There is an important difference in executing on a career change and starting a job search. If you aren't sure which you're doing, you might wind up misrepresenting yourself or seeking out the wrong opportunities.
Many people facing a job search will often use that event to make a significant change to their career. The start of job search is a good time to make this sort of decision, as there are overlaps between the two processes. However, you need to be sure to hold off on the job search until you’ve done the necessary work to identify what your new career should look like.
What is the difference between a job search and a career change? In a job search, you're likely looking for a role similar to the one you had, at a different organization, with different pay, and perhaps a new level of seniority. A career change is more a process of self-discovery that leads you to change your industry, your role, and your area of expertise.
What makes confusing the two a problem? Quite simply, a job search that is launched without clear direction on the job/career you intend to pursue is a messy, confusing, and ineffective process. You won’t get where you want to go, because you have no idea where you’re headed. When you are clear about what job you want, the entire job search process can become highly targeted, efficient activity where all efforts are leading to that one destination.
It's okay if you're still in the midst of figuring out your career dreams. Sometimes, a job search is a version of "I'll find something" and that something can be.. a lot of different things. However, there's a reason why so many people out there don't like their jobs. If you have the capacity, time, and resources, avoid the "I'll find something" version of the job search and identify more clearly what you want to do or try next.
Here are some steps to walk through in regards to evaluating career decisions:
Top-level decision criteria
- How big of a change are you willing to make? Are you willing to wipe the slate clean and pursue something wildly different? Or are you more interested in “tweaking” your direction?
- Are you willing to “retool” yourself, such as pursuing a degree or certification?
- What is the role of salary in the decision? Are you willing to put money aside to pursue a career change, or is this the main crux of your decision-making?
- Are there other factors that must be included in the new career? Some people want to do things like travel more or less, or avoid specific work environments.
- What sounds fun and why? Now it’s time to think. No, really think. You need to take long-held desires of yours and find out if you've reached your dream role, are ready to pursue a dream industry, or are ready for a dramatically different workplace.
- Take a few online career assessments. Without an expert to guide you, they might seem scattershot and at times useless, but if nothing else, they remind you about what careers are out there and how they might fit you.
- Study careers, the content of different jobs, and industry cultures. Too often we judge a career from a very tiny part of what we see. Now, more than ever, there are tons of people posting information about their career and their area of expertise and industry online. There's even information about specific companies. Do the research!
- Find people to speak to. Want to know about a career in marketing? Ask around and see who you might be connected to and who has a few years or more of experience in the field. Ask about the good and bad, talk about your own skills and see if they might fit, and get tips on how best to land a job.
If you’re facing a job search and also contemplating a career change, do yourself a favor and work on your career decision first. It will be worth it in the long run to spend the time in self-examination and research the field of possibilities.