The Career Change Process - it's an adventure, not a destination

Changing careers? It's important to understand the career change process. On this page you will learn what stage of change you are in, and how to move forward and succeed.

Career change process like leaves changing colors

Changing careers doesn’t happen overnight. There are several stages to the career change process. If you understand what stage of change you are in, you can identify ways to get through it faster and successfully move on to the next stage.

Everyone goes through this process at their own pace. Whatever pace is comfortable for you is fine. It’s not a competition.

The content of this page is based on the “Stages of Change Model” developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. I’ve adapted it to a "Career Change Process" with special emphasis on people wanting to transition from employee to entrepreneur. So if you are interested in starting your own business, this is for you.

As you scan through the stages of change, decide which stage you are in, and think about what you can do to move forward to the next stage.

Stage 1. Pre-contemplation – in this stage of the change process you’re not even considering a career change. You don’t know your career is a problem ... but you are feeling vaguely dissatisfied about something.

To rid yourself of this dissatisfaction you will do a variety of things unrelated to career change. Here are some of the most popular ones: staying super busy, taking on too many projects, cleaning every inch of the house and then doing it again. Or the opposite extreme - watching too much TV, drinking a little too much wine, and/or snacking more than is healthy.

Or you might be like me – in this stage I went shopping! Every time I got that vague feeling of dissatisfaction, I went out and bought something – usually shoes. I ended up with a closet full shoes. More than I needed in a lifetime – especially because I prefer to be barefoot!

All of these activities are and unconscious attempt to fill that empty space inside you. Eventually you’ll notice it doesn’t work.

Are you in the pre-contemplation phase of the career change process? If you ended up on this page and are reading this, probably not. Most likely you’ve already moved on to one of the next stages of change.

Stage 2. Contemplation - you’ve recognized that a career change is needed but it’s sometime in the future. In this stage of the change process you haven’t committed to anything specific.

Career change process confusion

This is an exploration stage – you might not know what you want to do. But you probably have very clear ideas of what you don’t want to do! The idea of being your own boss may begin to appeal to you.

This is the daydreaming stage of the career change process. You begin toying with ideas, possibilities of a new career that you can enjoy. Should you find a new job or start a business, buy a franchise or become a freelance writer? The possibilities are endless.

Thinking about a career change makes you start feeling positive again and new enthusiasm starts surfacing.

If you are in this phase now and need help with ideas, click here.

Stage 3. Preparation – you’re getting serious now – starting to test the waters, planning to take action. In this stage of the career change process you will spend a good portion of your time laying the groundwork for your new life.

You'll do some research. Maybe you’ll take a class, learn some new skills, read some books, attend a conference or find a mentor.

You’ll start imagining, in more detail, the life you want to live. And you'll start identifying any barriers you’re facing to making this career change: financial, family responsibilities, or courage, for example.

Penguin career change process support team

When you're changing careers, finding a support team is helpful. What’s a support team? It’s a group of people like you. People interested in pursuing their passions and moving in the direction of their dreams. People who will offer ideas, encouragement and help you succeed.

During this stage of change you probably still have a job. But you are making preparations to leave – emotionally and financially - saving some money, using your paycheck to fund your new career, paying off debt.

In this stage you will want to set a target date for when you would like to quit your job and run your business full time. It’s not cast in stone – but it’s a goal to work toward and motivate you.

Stage 4. Action - in this stage of the career change process you are actively starting your new career – doing work that you love and getting paid for it! You might only be doing it part time while you’re still working your job – but you are doing it!

You will continue to fine tune your plans, market your business, build your website, network, build your business in this stage.

As time goes on and you start spending more time on your business and generating more income, you will be able to gently let go of your job. Or maybe you'll shift from full-time work to part-time employment for a while. No matter how you do it, don’t burn your bridges. Depending upon what work you have chosen to pursue, you might be able to turn your current employer into your first client!

Successful career change process

Stage 5. Maintenance – you're in the final stages of the career change process. Your business is up and running and it’s a full-time venture. You are working at what you love and living a life you have created intentionally.

You wonder why you didn't do this 10 years ago! Reward yourself for this achievement and thank everyone who helped you get here.

Stage 6. Re-invention - Everything changes, and we change, too, over time. Now you’re thinking of making another change – maybe expanding into new markets, maybe starting another income stream, or selling your business and starting a new one. Some people move back to the corporate world. That's okay, too - it's your life!

And so you re-assess and move back through earlier stages and work through the process again.

So, what stage are you in?

A few important points about the career change process:

1. Some stages take longer than others. Remember, it's a journey, not a competition. Take the time you need in each stage.

2. Sometimes you will revert to previous stages. Life happens, plans change. Allow for this and try not to get too frustrated.

3. Sometimes you get stuck in a stage. You'll know when you're stuck - find support to get unstuck. Find a mentor, hire a coach, talk with your support team for ideas.

4. Take one small action every day, no matter how busy you are. Even tiny steps add up over time, so keep moving.

Good luck!

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