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What's Next? 10 Tips for Career Changers

Follow these steps to start pursuing your passion

3. Be practical

If possible, make your move in stages. You may need to upgrade your skills and education, so take one class at a time. If you'd like to go to graduate school, maybe start by taking a night course. You don't have to enroll in a full load. You can add more classes as your direction and motivation become clear.

Overspending in your job search is another big mistake. Why shell out the big bucks on advanced degrees when a few courses will suffice, or spend on a pricey résumé service before you've really thought through your next step? If possible, take some classes while your current employer is still offering tuition reimbursement (though be sure to investigate whether there is a payback requirement if you leave). And check out gratis career services from your alma mater.

4. Find a mentor

Seek advice from people who've been successful in the field that interests you. Everyone likes to be asked for counsel.

5. Be prepared for setbacks

It's not all smooth sailing, but if you've laid the proper groundwork, you'll get through the rough patches. Having your family or partner at your back for support will help tremendously. They don't have to own your dream, just be supportive.

6. Volunteer or moonlight

You might try several jobs before you find the one that's right. Anne Nolan, president of Crossroads Rhode Island, the state's largest homeless service provider, started as member of the board. She didn't know what she wanted to do when she lost her executive-level job, but she had a year's salary and time to think about her options. She joined the board at the shelter not because she dreamed it would turn into a full-time job, but because it was an activity toget her out of her rut and do something besides worrying about what was next. It gradually became her passion. In time she was hired as the director.

Check out sites like Handsonnetwork.org, Idealist.org and Volunteermatch.org. Look around you. Where might you lend a hand? Opportunity comes from the unexpected. Be open for it.

7. Research

Look for jobs that leverage experience. Check out job websites like Encore.org, Job-Hunt.org, Life Reimagined for Work, Retiredbrains.com and Workforce50.com to get a flavor of what others are doing and what jobs are out there. Investigate nonprofits and fields like health care, eldercare and education that have a growing demand for workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good reference.

8. Don't lock yourself into a must-have salary

Money is the biggest roadblock for most career changers. Chances are when you start over in a new field or move to a nonprofit, you will need to take a salary cut at least initially. If you have an emergency fund to buy you time, you can do a more thoughtful job search. Pare back your discretionary living expenses to reflect a more realistic view of what you'll earn. Consider the things that are important in your life and which things are giving you pleasure that you might have to give up.

Next page: Hands out of the cookie jar and work toward goals. »

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