In the past, people often called Boston career coach Randi Bussin because they were thinking about changing careers. In 2009, most of her clients have to change careers, due to layoffs, cutbacks, or company closures. With whole sectors shrinking, from financial to automotive, many workers can't find another job in their current field.
Changing careers in a downturn isn't easy. Career-changers compete for job openings with more experienced workers in their new chosen field. But for those with determination, a concrete game plan, and a willingness to do what it takes, the down economy can present opportunities to get into a new industry.
Here's a quick guide to career change in today's tough job market.
1. Claim your benefits. If you've been laid off recently, you may qualify for extended unemployment benefits and/or federally funded job retraining. Check with your state unemployment office to find out what's being offered to workers in your situation, and sign up for everything you're entitled to receive.
You can also check with a state community college job office, according to Robin Ryan, author of "60 Seconds and You're Hired." Max out your free benefits to help survive the lean months of your career transition.
2. Pick a path. Don't know what career you'd like to switch to? The Internet offers free and low-cost assessment tests that can help point you in the right direction, says Bussin. A few she likes are O*Net's Work Importance Profiler (free), Career Anchors ($40), Keirsey's Temperament Sorter (free) and Self-Directed Search ($9.95).
Another good source for investigating career options is the easily searchable Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Your local resource librarian at the public library can also guide you to career information, notes Ryan.
3. Get advice. If you can't afford a private career coach, Ryan says, get free career counseling at state unemployment offices or community college job-placement departments. Another option may be your alumni association, says Bussin.
"If people call me but they don't have the money for a career coach," Bussin says, "I say, 'Go back to your school.'"
4. Retrain. Getting training for your new career is vital now, says Ryan. Because the job market is more competitive, you'll need to show prospective employers you've made a serious effort to learn their industry. Explore whether you might beef up your qualifications through a Webinar, online course or industry seminar.
"You need to fill in the blanks yourself," she says. "Go get the training, whether it's another degree, specialized coursework, online classes, or computer classes."
Depending on your field, community and technical colleges may well be one of the lowest-cost places to get job training, Ryan notes. Trade or industry associations may also offer some affordable training options.
5. Be realistic. Starting over in a new field takes time. But investing in education can be a positive alternative to a disheartening job hunt while strengthening your chances of making the jump to a new career. By the time you complete training, Ryan says, the economy will hopefully be rebounding, and you'll be better positioned.
Be sure to investigate whether average salaries in your proposed new career will support the lifestyle you want. If you've been a regional sales manager making $86,417 a year and you're thinking about becoming an elementary school teacher ($44,856/year) or plumber ($42,184/year) instead, you'll be taking a substantial earnings hit.
"A lot of people go through career change and then realize the new career pays $50,000 a year less, and they put the brakes on," Brussin says. "You have to think about what the price is for your happiness."
Business writer Carol Tice is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times and other major publications. Contact her at caroltice.com.
Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.