Career Change: Reinventing Yourself in a Recession is Possible

Last Updated Feb 11, 2010 7:56 AM EST

Have you always wanted to reveal a secret talent? Recently, we posted seven signs that your work malaise is serious enough to warrant a drastic career change. So what if you scanned the list, made more than a few mental check marks in the margins, and decided, yup, that's me. I really, really need to get myself on a new career path. You know you should make a change, but how do you go about actually doing it?

Wall Street Journal columnist Alexandra Levit answers just that question in her latest book, New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career. Levit interviewed real people who have shaken up their careers despite all the usual personal and financial challenges and then synthesized their experiences and advice to offer inspiration and guidance on how to renovate your career -- whether you're doing it for more money, more passion or more time at home.
Today she speaks with Entry-Level Rebel about the first steps to take when you're pondering a career change, the different generations' take on the issue, and when reinvention crosses the line into job hopping.

If someone is dissatisfied with their current job and considering making a career change, what's the first thing you recommend they do?
Here's the first thing: take time to do a self-assessment of your values, how you like to work, and what you'd be compelled to do even if you never got paid. Research careers and industries that map to your skills and interests. Hit the internet, set up informational interviews, take relevant coursework, and arrange to go on site at a company in your chosen field.

Is changing your career a case where you need to measure twice, cut once, or would you say that it's more important for people to jump in, make changes and break their career inertia?
Even confident people stay in unsatisfying jobs because they feel safe, and because they're afraid of making a bad decision. But in the quest to uncover a source of meaningful work, though, your worst enemy is inertia. Make an effort to do one thing, like e-mailing a networking contact or attending an event, that moves you a bit closer to your big picture goal.

That said, I feel that it's a good idea to ease into a new career one foot at a time. Perhaps this means earning a paycheck at your current job while doing a part-time internship in your new field or taking an adult education class or workshop on the weekend. The only way to find out if you're passionate about something is to try it -â€" ideally with as little risk as you can manage.

Statistics show that the average young American will change jobs nine times by the time they're 32, which is many more times than in the past. Do you think younger workers have a different attitude towards career change compared to older workers?
Yes -- on the whole, younger workers are looking to adapt their work to the lifestyle changes they're making as they mature. They cannot relate to their parents' one-career lives at all -- for them a career is a journey without one particular destination.

That said, the most active career reinventers right now are Baby Boomers. They may have had one career for 30 years, but they are looking for new and different challenges now that traditional retirement age is approaching and they don't have the desire nor the financial ability to pack up everything and move to the beach.

Career change can be great, but Gen Y is often accused on taking it too far. How can a job hopper know they're a job hopper? Or is the whole idea of the job hopper outdated?
In my opinion, someone is a job jumper when they don't give each job at least one full year, and/or leave before learning everything they can from the position. Although the notion of a job jumper is not as strict as it used to be, I think it still leaves a bad taste in employers' mouths when they see a string of positions in a shorter period of time.

And to end on a optimistic note, can you share a story from your research that proves career change is possible, even in difficult circumstances?
There are a lot of these in New Job, New You, but one that comes to mind right now is Norene's story. Norene, a customer service representative, pursued her dream of becoming a folk musician in the midst of a breast cancer diagnosis and the deaths of both her parents.

She looked back on her customer service career and employed many of the things she'd learned about how a good business operates and grows. She joined a local Chamber of Commerce and went to every networking event she heard about, and in a short period of time, she progressed from the unemployment line to teaching choir at an elementary school, seeing 18 students privately, playing keyboard and singing with a church praise band, and performing her original music regularly in the greater LA area as Tyler Noren.

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.