Have a shortlist of potential career paths, but not sure what to do next? Siobhán Fitzpatrick shares her practical tips for how to move forward.

Many people looking to change their career feel – quite understandably! – that working out what direction they want their career to take is the biggest challenge facing them, often involving lots of soul-searching, research and possibly a bit of trial and error. But in my experience as a coach, working out what you want to do with your career is often the easy bit!

Time and again I have seen clients lose some of their motivation, or even grind to a halt completely, when it comes to taking the practical action required to make a career change.

Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed because you don’t know where to start, or feeling jaded because you don’t seem to be making progress, here are some tactics that should help you get “unstuck” and kick-start your career change activity.

  1. Be Realistic

Changing career can be challenging and is likely to involve a lot of work on your part. Set yourself a manageable timescale for the change. You really need to treat your career change as a major project – which it is! Especially if you are considering a fairly dramatic change, you’ll need to carry out comprehensive research into your preferred area/sector. It’s particularly useful to connect with people who are doing/have done the sort of role you are contemplating, to get as clear a picture as possible of what the role actually involves, what the best entry routes are etc. Take the time to plan how you will explain the rationale for your proposed career move to other people, especially prospective employers. They will want evidence that you have thought your career move through thoroughly, and are realistic about the options and opportunities open to you.

  1. Get Support

Whether or not you worked with a career transition coach to help you decide on your new direction, consider working with one to help you draw up an action plan for making the change and to help you see it through. The accountability of having to report your progress back to someone else can really help to keep you going. What’s more, an experienced coach should have plenty of contacts that they will be able to share with you.

  1. Commit To A “Single Daily Action”

Undertake to do one thing every single day that will take you closer to your career goal. That might be more research, or sending an email to someone who can offer useful advice, or attending a workshop or relevant networking event. By doing something every day, you will build up a “critical mass” of activity that will eventually bring you results.

  1. Plan Your Finances

Build up as much of a financial “buffer” as possible. It’s quite likely that a career change will have some kind of financial cost attached to it, whether that’s the cost of re-training or of moving a rung or two down the ladder in the first instance. The better prepared you are financially, the more feasible your career change will be.

  1. Get Ready To Network

The more dramatic the career change you are contemplating, the more likely it is that your “big break” will come via the “hidden” job market – i.e. through networking, speculative applications etc, rather than through the traditional recruitment routes of headhunters and advertisements. I know that many people naturally shy away from networking, and probably groan inwardly every time they see it flagged up in articles like this one as a great way to find opportunities! Sorry, but it’s a fact – around 75% of jobs are never advertised. You have to be able to access the hidden job market, and networking is one of the best ways of doing that. Start with your own social and professional circle. Whom do you know – and whom in turn do they know – who could give you a useful insight into your chosen career path? Business networking sites such as www.linkedin.com can also be excellent sources of networking contacts. The trick is to use them proactively, i.e. don’t just put your profile on the site and hope that someone will contact you with a job opportunity! Take the time to build up your contact base, and then try to arrange face-to-face meetings where possible.

  1. Give Yourself Time

Bear in mind that you may not be able to transition into your “perfect” job in one go. For example, you might need to move to a different role in your existing sector before then moving on to a similar role in your preferred sector. Often several smaller moves over a period of time can be more easily achievable than one dramatic move. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “Would this opportunity take me closer to where I ultimately want to be?”

Recognise that career change may take time – but if you put the effort in, you will reap the rewards.

If you know what career direction you'd like to go in, what obstacles are in your way and what small steps could you take to move past them?  Leave a comment below.