A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common Sense Questions to Find Your Career: What Are You Waiting For? What Is Stopping You? (Lift Off and Enjoy the Ride!)
Here we are at Question 12 in this series of career-oriented diagnostic questions titled the Career Changer's Checklist.
You have gone through 11 very introspective, diagnostic questions to get to this point.
Let's take a moment and reflect where we have been. Do you remember how we started this journey earlier this year? Here it is from the first article:
- You want your career to get better. Instead of going to a doctor, you are reading a series of articles. I am going to ask the questions and order the tests; you will interpret the results and prescribe treatment that is unique to your situation. If all goes well, you and your career will experience remarkable improvement.
- The layout for the Checklist is a series of articles in which the question is the title of the article, and the content shares the ideas that have to be pondered when considering this question.
- It is similar to the method I use with students who ask me for advice when they are changing careers. I heavily illustrate my responses to their questions with experiences and stories from my past. My questions will be the jumping-off points. But you will be encouraged to use these questions for research and reflection to focus on how to make the career change.
You have answered all the questions, taken notes, and done the research. So what are you waiting for? What is stopping you? Why don't you simply enjoy the ride?
Some of you are still stymied. I know that from the email I have received. You have a picture of what you want, but you are still waiting.
This article looks at 10 waiting issues—issues that are the reasons some of you are waiting to change careers, change jobs, or start your professional life. During this process, I'll refer to earlier articles in this series.
Why am I doing this? Simple. Some of you are just joining this series now. And you have no clue what the fanfare is about. So I'll gently guide you back to where your waiting question is discussed.
For others of you who have been reading along, you have lost, forgotten, or ignored some key point that could be the focus of your dilemma. Remember, I want to help you make your decision. Not my decision—yours.
If you are serious about finding the ideal job or the ideal career, and if you have read along, you should be anxious to start the journey. Some of you are not, so the question is this: why are you waiting?
There are 10 major reasons why you might be held back, or be waiting. As we discuss these 10 reasons, I will offer a strategy that may help you as you self-diagnose.
You might be asking me at this point, "Warren, haven't you already done this? Aren't you repeating yourself?" Well, yes and no.
Here is an example of someone I met close to 30 years ago who was waiting and being held back. Maybe this story will help.
Some 30 years ago, when I was training to be a chaplain, I had to do a summer unit of clinical pastoral education at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and New York Hospital. My unit was 11 weeks long. It was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. The people I worked with were lung and breast cancer patients who were very sick.
One patient I met was a wonderful woman who had breast cancer. I met her during my third week of rotation. I will call her Mrs. X. She was a well-educated nursing instructor who trained other nurses to interact with cancer patients. She knew the ropes.
I worked with Mrs. X for close to nine weeks. And she was in the hospital for nine weeks. We talked about everything and anything that interested her. But we never talked about her personal life or her professional life. As I described it to colleagues, we danced around the issues.
Her medical team told me that she should have been getting better and that her treatment was progressing as expected. But she was not getting better and became very depressed.
One Sunday during her ninth week in the hospital, I was doing rounds and went into see Mrs. X. Our discussion was as always—we danced around the issues, and she never revealed what she was really feeling. I started to leave her room, but I stopped, shut the door, and walked back in.
I told her that I was tired of the dance. I had asked all the right questions, and she deflected them as a true professional would do. I then asked her how she was doing.
She broke down, cried her eyes out, and told me what was troubling her. What she was waiting for and what was stopping her. That conversation lasted a couple of hours. We were both emotionally drained at the end, but we also developed a relationship that I will never forget.
Monday morning when I got on the floor, one of the senior medical people asked what I did to Mrs. X. I told this person about the conversation. This professional and several others smiled broadly and hugged me. Mrs. X made a remarkable recovery overnight and was going home that day because of our conversation.
She confronted what was stopping her and spilled it out to a person who was willing to listen. When she did, her medicine went to work as expected.
The problem was she was emotionally stopped up. She was waiting for someone to show interest in her as a person instead of as a patient or a disease. When I did, the result was lift-off and she enjoyed the ride home with her family.
You and I have also done a dance over the course of these 11 questions. Now it is time for you to confront what is stopping you, what you are waiting for. It is your career, your job, your life we are talking about. You have to open up—not to me, but to yourself and those you care about. Then you will lift off and enjoy the ride.
Here are 10 waiting issues. Think seriously think about them and write down your responses in your Word doc. You will notice one common factor in all of these: They start with I don't know.
Are you ready? I am. So let's stop dancing and get to work.
Top 10 Issues Preventing You from Lifting Off
- I don't know if I can do it; I'm scared.
Without question, this is the biggest hurdle to leap when you are getting ready to change careers, change jobs, change anything.
Simply stated it is fear. You are afraid you won't be able to succeed. You are afraid you will fail. Fear of failure is one of the biggest reasons why people do not succeed in IT—in fact in any sector.
You are your own worst enemy. Do not focus on the gloom and doom and the reasons you will fail. Instead focus on the reasons you will succeed.
All you can do is stumble. Get past the fear and start trying. Success breeds success. Failure breeds failure.
You can revisit some of these factors in article 4: "What Can You Do? (Restrictions!)"
- I don't know what I want to do.
Back to where we started. The assumption of this series is that you want to change jobs or careers. But the direction you will take is yours.
You have to do a lot of introspection to discover what you want to do.
The associated dilemma is that you don't know what you like to do. If thought is given, everyone knows what they like and dislike. And therefore what they want to do.
At this time in your life you should be able to write down three things you want to do and three things you like to do in seconds.
A recent movie in the U.S., The Bucket List, featured Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as old gentleman who wrote down the things they wanted to do before they died (kicked the bucket). And it got me thinking.
You should be thinking, too—not about what you want to do before you kick the bucket, but what you want to do in a career.
Refer to article 2: "What Do You Want to Do? (Goals!)" What are three of your goals? What are three things you want to do? What are three things you like to do? You see—you do know what you want to do.
- I don't know which sector of IT appeals to me; I don't have enough information.
This is tough because there are so many specialties in IT. Should you be a network engineer, a systems engineer, a programmer, an analyst, a database person?
The easiest way to wander through this maze is to ask folks in these areas what their jobs are like. Be bold. Ask the questions and see whether the impression they give you spikes your interest.
You will never know if you don't ask, and if you don't do the research.
See article 3: "What Do You Like to Do? (Pleasure and Passion!)" You have to research and find what you like. If you don't like what you will be doing, you will never stay. So you have to find something you like to do—something rewarding and pleasurable.
No one can tell you what you like. Only you can. Be honest and then do it.
- I don't know if I can afford to make the change; I can't afford the investment.
Some of you are waiting to hit the lottery before you will make a change. The odds are long at best. You have a better chance of succeeding if you just try instead of waiting to have enough money to live comfortably before you make the change.
Money is the crutch so many people use as the excuse to avoid making a career change. Most say that they cannot afford to make the change—it costs too much for the added training and education.
Look at it a bit differently. Which is worse, not being able to pay your bills because you don't make a change proactively or wishing you had made the change when you had a chance reactively?
The choice is yours. Many, many people have made monumental career changes successfully on a shoestring budget.
There are ways to manage finances and costs if you really want it badly enough.
When I opted to go into IT, as I described in The Career Changer's Odyssey (published on InformIT back in 2001), I was broke. I borrowed the money to take the class that was the trigger for me. Within one hour in that class, I knew what I was going to do. Thirteen years later I do not regret it. But I am very thankful that I did it (despite not having the money to take the class).
Read article 5: "What Can You Afford to Do? (Economic Reality! Ugh!!)" I hate discussing money, but it is a necessary evil.
So don't let money hold you back. Let it motivate you.
- I don't have the right background; I am not trained in IT.
This excuse is common, but it is also unnecessary. None of us over 35 have the right background for IT. Why? For the most part, IT did not exist 35 years ago. No CIS or MIS degrees—they are new concoctions.
Those of us over 35 have had to adapt to the new developing IT world. And there is nothing wrong with that.
For those of you who are just coming to a career in IT, you can do it through self-study and distance learning, plus you can use all the websites that have FAQs and knowledge bases published for free.
You can also go back to school if you have the time and money, or you can contact experts for directions to go for training. The way to break into IT work is to ask questions and not be afraid of what you don't know.
I know many people who are as green as grass in IT, but have good jobs. They are learning their skills on the job.
When you start work for a new company, you will spend a significant amount of time learning the skills they want you to know to do the jobs they want you to do.
So being less than long-in-the-tooth is okay as long as you are open to learning new and exciting skills.
Article 6 was "What Do You Know How to Do? (Knowledge and Experience!)" If you go through the questions asked in that article, you might be surprised by how well prepared you are for a career in IT.
- I don't know if I can relocate; there are no IT jobs where I live.
Location, location, location!!! This is a key mantra in IT and in any field. You have to be where the jobs are.
If you are not there, you have to either adapt your expectations or move (relocate). Stop beating that horse to death.
You can either go hungry where you are or move to where the work is. As my dad taught me, you go where the work is. That is what people did in the Depression and what we have to do now to succeed in IT.
Sure, you and your family may have to get used to new surroundings, but either you change your skill set or you move. It is that cut and dried. Don't let moving stop you from succeeding.
Refer to article 7: "Where Do You Want to Do What You Want to Do? (Location, Location, Location!)" if relocation is the reason you are waiting.
- I don't know if I will fit in; I might be too old.
Other than money, insecurity is a major issue that keeps people from moving forward in a career change.
The reasons are endless. I am too old. IT is a man's field, and women can't get a good job.
Nothing is further from the truth. There are some age biases and gender biases in IT, but only in isolated cases.
I get so much email from folks in their 50s and 60s who feel that they are too old to get into IT. I am 55. You are not too old. Age is a state of mind. If you are willing to work hard and learn a lot you will do fine.
Age, gender, ethnicity are excuses that can be overcome by hard work. That is the bottom line. Most good employers couldn't care less about what makes us different. Most are just looking for good, honest, hard-working employees.
If you are looking to change careers after an extended layoff (for example, to raise your children), you can get a good job in IT if you are motivated.
Take a look at article 8: "Who Do You Want to Do this With? (Community?!)" A lot of questions were asked that center around who will work with you and how that affects your career choices.
- I don't know if my family will support me.
This is very similar to the last issue, except that you live with your family and this could be a major bottleneck to a career change. If your family is opposed to changing jobs/careers, you really have to step back and see if this is the right move.
If they can be motivated, then talk about it. Remember you are not alone in this, no matter how you may feel. You have to live with others just like you have to work with others.
Again, refer to article 8 if community is an issue.
- I don't know how to get started.
Planning and getting started are the hardest things to do when you are making a change. It takes the most work, the most research, the most thought, the most energy. And that can be a turnoff to many people.
But if you fail to plan, you will fail.
So don't get discouraged by slow starts. Plan on it.
See article 10: "What Do You Need to Get Started? (Laying a Foundation!)" I spent a whole article on this topic because people get frustrated when they can't get their plan off the ground in lightning speed.
Rome wasn't built in a day, as the tale is told. So be patient. And don't give up.
- I don't know if I am doing this right; I am not getting any calls or offers.
If you have gotten started and you are past the stumbling blocks already discussed, this might be the one that frustrates you. If you have all of your ducks in a row and have done your homework, why are not you getting any offers—or at least calls?
Welcome to IT in 2008. The market is tough, and the HR people are even tougher.
It is very impersonal, but not impossible. If you are hitting the right market with your advertising, resume, and websites, you will get an offer and you will get calls. Just don't give up.
If you are not getting calls, you should make the calls. You be the initiator. That is how I got my business off the ground in 1996. I cold-called several hundred training centers and found work.
Stop waiting for Prince Charming. Be the Decider and go find Prince Charming. Go find the job/career you are looking for. Don't wait for employers to find you.
Do what they say to do on telethons: Pick up the phone. Send the email. If the email goes unanswered, pick up the phone. If voice mail goes unanswered, call back.
You are your own best agent. Sell yourself. You have much to sell: your skills, your knowledge, and your experience.