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Strategies for Successful Career Change: Planning Your Next Career or “Retirement Career

February 25, 2014

Strategies for Successful Career Change:  Planning Your Next Career or “Retirement Career

Career change, second careers and “retirement careers” is a fact of life in the twenty-first century and it is here to stay.  The current trend, whether by choice or due to downsizing, is toward an individual’s having several different, or related, careers during one’s lifetime. 

Effective career change and pre-retirement planning strategies are a necessity.  This article will review the following components of career change and pre-retirement planning: self-assessment, motivation for career change, internal and external barriers, researching career/retirement options, skills transferability, and goal setting.  It will also provide real-life examples of actual career changers.    

The job search process consists of three separate and distinct categories.  First is the normal career path progression, which includes individuals seeking positions within an occupational area in which they have experience and education.  Second is the re-entry individual, who is returning to the workforce after an extended period of voluntary unemployment, due to reasons such as marriage, raising a family or other personal reasons. Third (and the category we are concerned with here) is the career changer and pre-retiree.  This is an individual who had established career patterns, and for either voluntary or involuntary reasons, now chooses to change career direction.

The reasons for career change and “retirement careers” are numerous.  The involuntary reasons include downsizing, lay-offs and staff cutbacks.  The voluntary reasons include desire for increased financial reward, basic job dissatisfaction, “discovery” that one is in the wrong occupation, technical obsolescence, severe job-related stress, an intentional plan to alter one’s life - often motivated by personal trauma or crisis, retirement - normal, early or forced, turning a hobby or avocation into a career - entrepreneurship, the desire to make a difference and to have meaningful work.

The range of career changers is broad and examples of career changers that I have worked with include occupational therapist/business owner to MBA marketing executive; nurse to special events planner; fashion industry sales/marketing executive to non-profit management/development associate; wall street trader to high school teacher; employment attorney to human resources/employee relations director; corporate//bankruptcy attorney to catering company business development/corporate counsel; social worker to human resources/eap/employee relations manager; bookkeeper to nurse at age 50+ (lifelong interest); secretary to special events coordinator; human resources director to home-based knitting business owner; actress/model to entrepreneur - cosmeceuticals/seminar business owner; and professional musician to environmental attorney.  All of these individuals made successful transitions by the following process:  self-assessment, building on interests, transferable skills, etc.

The career change process begins with an honest and thorough self-assessment.  This is the stage where one reassesses work experience, skills, likes and dislikes, values, and other job-related aspects of one’s personality.  This increased self-awareness makes one more self-confident and helps one to choose a more compatible occupation or path.  The benefits of self-assessment include identification of one’s transferable skills and the ability to redefine and reinvent oneself.  It has been said that people often put more planning into their summer vacations than into their careers!  If you are having difficulty with doing your self-assessment, a career counselor may be of assistance.

The career research and exploration phase should follow the self-assessment.  This phase will include both online research as well as information interviews for a first-hand look at “other” careers and options.  Some of the questions that will be answered at this point will be:  what options are open to you with your unique combination of skills and experience; what is the marketability of your new career or business (industry trends, job availability); are your targets compatible with your interests, personality and values; what are the educational requirements of your target career; and is entrepreneurship a viable option for you?  What do you want to do next?  You may be considering part-time work, volunteering, teaching, joining a non-profit board, writing, traveling, etc.  The choices are endless.

The career changer should be aware of the internal and external barriers that may exist.  External barriers include factors such as time, money and family constraints (elder care, health issues, etc.); lack of the necessary education or credentials; and a tight job market.  Internal barriers include one’s negative attitudes and beliefs such as:  being too old to change; unable to learn the new technology, believing that it’s impossible to change careers or that it’s too late to start over.

Goal setting is critical since “if you don’t know where you are going, you may end up somewhere else.”  Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible.  A goal-setting statement should include both short-term and long-term goals, the steps necessary to accomplish these goals, and target dates of attainment of these short-term and long-term goals.

In order to change careers it is necessary to identify one’s transferable skills.  These are the skills that one can “transfer” from one job or career into another.  Transferable skills can be “discovered” in several ways.  This will help you to reposition and reinvent yourself, and to repackage yourself for your “new” career or path.  They can be discovered by identifying every responsibility that you had in a particular occupation and then analyzing each task.  Each task involves one or more skills and areas of knowledge. 

Transferable skills can also be found by looking at one’s accomplishments, both at work and in one’s personal life.  As an example, a teacher may have skills in training, public speaking, program planning, organization and proficiency in her/his area of subject expertise.  That same teacher might run a day camp during the summer, where she/he has developed such skills as management and counselor training.  That teacher now has many of the (transferable) skills needed to move into the arena of corporate training.  You will be surprised to learn how much you actually do and how much you know.

Career change is a process that does work if one “sticks with” the following strategies:  self-assessment, discovering and working from one’s strengths to make the smoothest transition; identifying and conquering both internal and external barriers; speaking with successful career changers to see how they did it; and becoming involved in one’s chosen career.  Becoming involved is crucial and can be accomplished in ways including networking, joining professional associations and attending their meetings, reading trade journals and learning the jargon, and by getting to know people in the “new” career, so that you become an insider.  For example, how involved are you with TTN?!

It is important to realize that changing careers is a process that takes time and that one must believe in oneself.  The end results are worth it!

Upcoming articles will continue this discussion of career transition and pre-retirement planning and will also address the topic of reinventing & redefining oneself, and answering the question “what do you do?!”

Leslie B. Prager, M.A., C.M.P, a certified career management practitioner, career counselor and  executive coach, is Senior Partner of The Prager-Bernstein Group, which she founded in 1991.  Her NYC-based firm provides a range of career counseling, executive coaching, pre-retirement counseling and outplacement services to individuals and corporations.  Leslie served as facilitator of the first-ever TTN Telephone-Based Peer Group  and continues to serve as facilitator of newer groups. 

She is a frequent speaker and writer on career management issues. She can be reached by phone at (212) 697-0645, by e-mail at or at