Will a Career Change Work for You?

Four Tips for Finding Out

Will a Career Change Work for You?

By Margaret Steen, for Yahoo! HotJobs

If you're looking for work and aren't having much luck in your current field, it's tempting to decide now is the time for a career change. 

But although it's always good to be flexible, it's also important to be realistic.

"There's a bigger pool of more highly qualified people who are willing to work for less money" in a downturn, says Richard Phillips, owner of Advantage Career Solutions.

Experts such as Phillips offer these four tips for ensuring a career change will work -- before you make the leap:

Do Your Homework

Make sure you don't jump from one sinking industry to another. "Ask, 'Is this a growth area?'" says Melissa Fireman, a career counselor in Washington, DC, and co-owner of Washington Career Services.

You can start your research online, with government publications such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook. Also look at whether a particular specialty within your potential new field is in demand. For example, perhaps school districts in your area aren't hiring many elementary school teachers, but they may need special ed teachers.

Talk to People

Before you make a change, you need to find out "what the career and job really involve -- not your fantasy," Phillips says.

For example, many careers, ranging from interior design to financial planning, may involve selling your services in addition to performing them. Or you may be enticed by the high average salary of your dream job, only to find that it's a field where a few people make a lot and most people make very little.

To get the real story, talk to people who work in the field you're targeting. You can find them though your college alumni association, professional associations and schools with programs in the field.

Assess Your Experience

The lowest-risk decision for a hiring manager is to choose someone who has done the job before, Phillips says. So if you try to compete in a new field, you'll be at a disadvantage.

"It's just hard to sell yourself when you don't have any experience, or the experience that you do have is a complete disconnect," he says. "You can't make your past not exist."

This doesn't mean it's impossible to change careers. But you may need to find a substitute for the experience you lack. One way to do this is by networking.

"Does somebody know you from a former company?" Fireman asks. People are much more likely to take a risk on someone they have worked with in the past, even if it was in a different job. Volunteer experience can also help, Fireman said.

Build a Bridge

Not all career changes are equally difficult. The hardest is to move to a field where none of your previous experience is relevant. Often, though, you can find a way to build on your previous experience while doing something new.

Consider staying in your industry but moving to a new role so you can play up your industry knowledge. Or you could keep working in finance, for example, but for a biotech company instead of a publisher. In that case, you can show that you have already done the job, even if the industry is new.