How do you know when it is time to make a career or job change, to find new opportunities and move on? The reasons vary for each person, though ultimately the result is the same–a new career path. It may be as simple as moving to another organization where you perform roles similar to those you leave or as significant as a complete career overhaul, basically starting over. Sometimes you have control over these decisions, as when you need a new environment to show off your talents. Other times the choice is completely out of your control: companies downsize, career military personnel retire, and businesses close. Such events force us to discover new possibilities, new environments where we can use our talents.

As someone who has made two mid-career job changes, I see when I look back that they happened for completely different reasons. The first one came after sixteen years with the same company where I moved from entry level to management, earning two master’s degrees and several professional certifications along the way. I had made vast improvements in the department I led, and we were in a good place operationally. However, I began to realize that our success as a team limited my career advancement. In the end, I decided I should try to find an opportunity where I could not only use my skills, leadership, and talents, but also gain knowledge and learn from other professionals.

During this second “phase” of my career, I found much of what I was looking for; I was able to use my experience and abilities to make improvements, while learning from some excellent coworkers.  At the same time, I quickly realized that my true passions were in environments similar to those that accompanied my first career change – mentoring, guiding, teaching, managing, serving customers, and documenting procedures.

Factors to Consider

In making any major career change, you must analyze several considerations besides whatever is forcing the transformation. What are your skillsets-technical, administrative, mechanical, or something else? Are you willing to move beyond your comfort zone? Sometimes a major change and not just a new job is needed.  Should you follow an entirely new career track? Are you willing to relocate? Is there a specific industry in which you want to work? Whom can you turn to for advice and guidance? What skills do you have that will easily transfer to another company or industry?

How to Make it Happen

Such considerations are just the beginning of a mid-career job change. Determine what your ultimate goal is, and keep that as the “strategic plan” for success. Treat the career change as a part-time job, working on it every day.  Never lose focus on why you are looking for a new job and what you want out of your new career.

Think about how you would handle a major project or task at work; use the same or similar strategy here to ensure success. Use all resources available, including social media, professional connections, network meet-and-greets, professional organizations, connections of professional connections, and job boards and affiliate with organizations created to assist with job placement, especially post-military. What are some personal endeavors that bring you joy and can be used as skill sets to make you more marketable? An up-to-date, professionally created resume and cover letter as well as personal business cards can also attract the attention of the hiring company.

Know your weaknesses, and work on improving them.  Get out of the trap of “what you know;” instead be willing to find and develop new skills while enhancing existing ones. If there is a specific skillset you wish to improve, for instance public speaking, find some resources that will help you improve these skills. Local community colleges offer an abundance of resources for many skills, especially when transitioning from military to public or private sector.

I am writing this blog as I embark on my second major career change. By evaluating my skill sets, looking at what I excel in, and what I truly love, I determined that my talents were better utilized in an environment like the one I entered in my first career change. I began looking for new work and, ultimately, was offered several jobs within a few weeks. Using my resources, skills, and focus, I was able to determine what was important to me, not just professionally but personally as well, and make a major life change. I accepted a position in another state that offered me not only what I wanted to pursue for my career, but the opportunity to fulfill some personal “wishes” as well.

Use your talents, skills, and desires to lift you to a successful career change. As you embark on your job search, don’t be afraid of change, even if you have to “reinvent yourself.” Regardless of the reasons behind the job change, remember you’ve worked hard to get this far, and never forget you deserve success.