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  • Writer's pictureKea McKoy

Take a New Career for a Test Drive First

Changing careers can be challenging as you try to deal with potential pay cuts, retraining, and conducting a job search in a whole new field. Reduce your risks with these strategies that will let you try out a new career before you make a big leap.

Ways to Sample a New Career

1. Sign up for an internship. If you think internships are just for recent graduates, think again. Many people in later stages of life are now using these opportunities to get on-the-job training and skills for different kinds of work. Programs like AmeriCorps and Encore Fellowships even have special slots for people age 55 or older.

2. Become a volunteer. Donate your time and services as a way to get your foot in the door. Ensure you select an organization relevant to your goals. Draft a written agreement outlining your responsibilities and what you want to accomplish.

3. Use your vacation time. Plan your vacation around getting a new work experience. Look for short term holiday positions in retail stores. Register with a temporary agency where you can get assignments for as little as one day.

4. Do freelance work. When you’re trying to break into a new field, it’s often easier to find contract work for specific projects rather than getting hired on a full time basis. For example, if you’re a struggling artist, talk with the owner of a small shop you frequent to see if they’re interested in using your creative skills to design their window displays.

5. Get a part time job. Keep your day job and branch out with evening or weekend work. You’ll be supplementing your income at the same time.

6. Leverage your hobby. Turn your hobby into a second career. For instance, give your friends a good deal on using you as their wedding photographer. If you’re talented and dependable, it may soon become a full time living.

7. Rewrite your job description. Take on new responsibilities in your current workplace. Your employer is likely to be impressed with your initiative.

Additional Suggestions

1. Monitor your budget. You may still find that switching careers will reduce your income at least temporarily. Look for ways to cut your expenses so you can pursue your dreams.

2. Take an inventory of your skills. Many skills are transferable. If you’re good with numbers, you may be able to move from financial planning to tutoring kids in math.

3. Continue your training and education. Lifelong learning enhances your job prospects and enables you to stay competitive. Seek out community programs and online resources that may come in handy however your career goals evolve.

4. Broaden your network. Reach out to people from diverse backgrounds. Your hairdresser or another parent at your child’s school may become your link to a new career.

5. Establish references. Think beyond monetary compensation. Some projects may be worthwhile if they help you to meet people who can provide references you can use in your next job search. Many volunteer coordinators will automatically offer certificates or letters of appreciation.

6. Document your accomplishments. Keep a list of your activities and the results you achieve. Collect work samples to create your own portfolio. In a weak job market, proving your potential to contribute makes you stand out.

7. Keep an open mind. Above all, think expansively about your abilities and interests and what they suggest for your life’s work. Multiple career changes are now a routine part of life.

In a volatile economy, it’s difficult to come up with exact figures, but many experts estimate that Americans change jobs about 10 times and careers as many as 7 times in one lifetime. Think creatively so you can try out a new career first to ensure it fits you.

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