New Year’s resolutions often fall by the wayside come January 2nd, but if you’ve decided it’s time for a new career in 2014, we’d encourage you to stick with it a few days (or months or years) longer. If you’ve been feeling stagnated, frustrated, bored, or simply like you’ve risen as far as you want to (or can) go, a new career might be just what you need to regain your passion, creativity and joy — all very good things for your personal life as well.

That said, a successful career shift isn’t done overnight, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve really taken the time and effort to discover what it is you want and need before you make the leap. Doing so does mean more work upfront, but it’s bound to pay off as you find yourself more fulfilled and creatively challenged. Here are a few great ways to get started.

1. Go Through Pros and Cons

Before you make any big changes, it’s important to pinpoint what it is that you don’t like about your current role and what you might want to change. This is crucial, because, presumably, you picked your current career path for a reason, so it’s important to know whether or not your dissatisfaction lies in a deep dislike of what you do on a daily basis or if it has to do with something more circumstantial, like a bad boss, no life-work balance or the instability of the industry. The last thing you want is to make this huge life change, only to realize you’re back to feeling just like you do now.

Start with a basic pros and cons list for your current role. If you’ve got a dream career path in mind, make one for that as well, and even one for your transitional period, so you can really see what’s on the horizon and determine whether or not a change is worth it.

2. Take a Career Aptitude Test

If you’re like most people, you probably have some sense of what you’re good at and like doing, but your affinities and abilities are either too broad or you simply don’t know to what kind of careers they might be relevant. You may also have hobbies or more “side capabilities” (i.e. organizational skills, decision making, etc.) that could actually take center stage in the right context. If you see yourself in this description, you may want to start with a career aptitude test.

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Click image to open interactive version (via Rasmussen College).

This will give you a baseline for your research, so you can see just where your skills might map and what you can expect salary-wise should you head that way — especially important as you get down to the more practical matter of determining how much of an investment you can make in this change in order for it quite literally to pay off.

3. Connect on Social Media and Start Networking

LinkedIn is a great place to start your career search for many reasons. First, use the platform simply to see what former classmates and colleagues are doing, as they might be up to something you find inspiring. Then, start connecting or rekindling relationships with both on LinkedIn and beyond with a simple reach out email. If they seem willing, take contacts out to coffee for an informational interview so you can learn all about their field, their job and what they do on a daily basis.

As you start to narrow your targets, scour MeetUp, LinkedIn and Facebook groups and professional groups to learn about and attend networking events. Keep your approach casual as you simply learn about what’s out there, find more people to take out to coffee, and always follow-up with a nice thank-you.

4. Start Taking Courses

Sometimes, changing your career means heading back to school for a four-year degree, while other times, you’ll just need a certificate course. Even if not required, community college classes can look great on your resume if you haven’t worked in your new chosen field before, and they’ll give you a great introduction to the work so you can determine whether or not it’s something you’d like to do.

5. Work With Your Role Models

You’d be surprised how many people in your network will be open to job shadowing. Whether you go for a day or a week, this can be a great way to see what a job looks like in real time. Alternatively, if there is a particular leading figure in your field, you might reach out to them to let them know you love what they do and offer your skills as an assistant at a low rate. While this can easily slip into an exploitative situation, if you’re careful this can be a great way to get your foot in the door with someone powerful in your new industry and to learn firsthand from the person whose career you want to emulate. It’s also still a relatively rare tactic, and if your reach-out email is well crafted, you’d be surprised how many people will take you up on the offer.

6. Explore and Network With Volunteering

When we think of volunteering our time with a nonprofit, we naturally focus on the charitable nature of the work. But nonprofits, which are always in need of skilled people, are also a great way to network with other talented people and to give your skills and capabilities a test run in a lower pressure situation. For example, this is something I’ve personally seen a lot of new copywriters do to build up their resumes and demonstrate what they can do in a real setting amongst some of the most motivated and connected people in their communities.

Volunteering also brings you into contact with a wide range of people, some of whom might show you an entirely different way of working that you may never have encountered had you simply carried on in your current role. This can be a great way to broaden your horizons about what’s possible for your career.

7. Be Strategic About Framing Your Story

Both as you network and definitely as you start to apply to jobs, it’s important that you think carefully about how you frame your past career experiences. While you may feel that you’re still in exploratory mode, the best approach is to tell your story almost like it’s an adventure that’s bringing you to this culminating point. That doesn’t mean lying about your past; it means tying everything together with tight threads, rather than saying something like, “First I tried this but didn’t like it, so now I’m trying this.”

Not sure what this means? Let’s say you’re currently a lab tech who used to be a waitress and now wants to be a web designer. In cover letters and pitches, you might discuss how you love the detail-oriented nature of your lab work, but you miss the human-to-human interactions you had as a waitress and the time you had then to work on your art, which, naturally, has lead you to an artistic role that has serving clients at its core (web design). See what I mean? Take a look at the character traits that will serve you well in your desired role, see if you can find examples of you using similar traits in the past, and frame them accordingly.

8. Be Prepared to Make a Few Adjustments

So you’ve begun to transition into your new ideal career, but it doesn’t feel as fantastic as you thought it would. Hang in there. There are learning curves for everything, and even if you love the work, it’s still incredibly draining and stressful to swap one ingrained pattern for another, even if you hated the original. Hopefully at this point you’ve set a goal in mind, which should help spur you past all of those less than ideal, lower-level hurdles to get you going where you want to go. Remember, even if you began at the greatest heights in your old career, starting anew means really starting from the bottom. But don’t worry; if you’ve taken the time to really figure out what you want and you’re willing to work hard, you’ll most likely get there much faster than if you were right out of college and only half-heartedly pursuing your goal.

A Few Job Hunting Resources

Your local professional or alumni association. Both are great ways to connect with people with whom you have a natural affinity and who might have connections and educational resources to help get you on your way. They also often have job boards.
Wage websites. Websites like Glassdoor give you a great glimpse into what people earn where and how they feel about their jobs. Career One Stop provides a similar and even more extensive service. Sites like Career Bliss focus more on the overall happiness expressed within a career, with the clear goal of getting you situated in a job that makes you grin.
Interview help sites. Sites like Big Interview provide an extensive amount of coaching for the big day.

Final Thoughts

Changing your career can feel intimidating, but with a little work, it’s well within your grasp. How would you change your career if you had the chance? Let us know in the comments below.

Here are some tips for successfully leaving your job and how to find a new one. How to Get out of a Miserable Career in a Bad Job Market

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