5 Smart Steps to Changing Careers

A new year is when many people ask themselves, is it time to change careers? People in this generation will change jobs more often than in any previous generation, and fewer jobs are offering the kind of security enjoyed by our parents.

Sometimes changing careers means going to work for yourself. Indeed, one study by economists at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin found that people who change careers to work for themselves feel more secure in their self-employment than those who work for others.

More than 30 million workers in the United States today are self-employed or own their own businesses. So changing careers is not just limited to changing employers; it also can be about making your new boss yourself.

Whether you want to work for someone else, work in a different field or become self-employed, following an action plan and organizing your step-by-step progress will help you make a smoother, more productive transition.

Here are five smart tips that will help you reach your goal:

1. Create an Action Plan. Pro-active steps can put you in charge of your career, instead of the high stress than comes with not being in control of your own destiny. If you are unhappy with your job, and find that you cannot make changes that will allow you to be happier at your job, then decide right now to change jobs, and get started on your action plan. Create a chart on paper. Give yourself a week to research career change options. Ask yourself, what am I truly interested in doing in my work and in my life? During week two, whittle down your findings to one or two potential careers that fit your goals. Then, "go deep" during the third week exploring the advantages and disadvantages of each. Next, start looking, and chart your progress each week to keep yourself on track.

2. Network. Networking still is the most powerful way to find a rewarding job. If you are changing careers, then change your professional networks to zero in on the career you really want. Invest in a membership at your local chamber of commerce, and join committees or subgroups related to your next career, not your current one.

3. Integrate your Lifestyle Goals. Don't just think about changing careers; think about how you can reach your lifestyle goals, incorporating your career change. For example, if you want to spend more time with your family, consider changing to a career that might pay less, but provides the priceless dividend of time. If you want to be healthier, consider changing to a career that does not force you to sit at a desk for 10 hours a day. It's ultimately more rewarding to downsize your budget to accommodate a lower-paying, but less stressful job, than to shorten your life with an unhealthy career.

4. Enlist a Coach. Enlist an outside coach to help you integrate your lifestyle goals you're your career search. I've helped hundreds of people change careers and lifestyles through Ruth Klein's Dream Maker's Circle with 180 days of personal consulting, monthly and weekly tele-coaching sessions, seminars, and hands-on help with changing careers or starting your own business.

5. Organize. To change careers, you must organize your time to allow you one hour each day to focus on your career change. Make a schedule and stick to it, creating one hour each day to devote to career research, networking, to your coach or to other tasks you have outlined in your action plan. Simplify chores, meals and other responsibilities to create this extra hour in your day.