Considering a career change can be daunting. Linda Spencer, former associate director of the Office of Career Services, provides five tips to help you explore—and make—a career change.

1. Take stock. The first step is self-assessment.

It’s important to take an inventory of what you like about your current job and what you dislike. This will help you identify career opportunities that suit your strengths and interests.

What makes you pop out of bed on a Monday morning and feel really good about where you’re going? Where does money play into your priorities? What about your needs surrounding colleagues, teamwork, environment, and culture?

Take a good look at your values, interests, personality, and skills (sometimes shortened as VIPS).These are just pieces of the puzzle. You have to find the common themes and threads—and they can change over time. But the bottom line is: if you’re not interested in something, it won’t work.

There are several wonderful tools available:

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is a personality assessment tool that tries to answer four specific questions about a person’s energy sources, information processing, decision making, and environment needs. While there are free online quizzes that are similar to MBTI, for a true test someone has to administer and validate the questions.
  • CareerLeader, which is an online self-assessment program for those interested in business but aren’t sure which specific industry to pursue. This is a wonderful, deep tool that relies heavily on those VIPS. This tool is open to the public. HES degree candidates and alumni can receive information on discounts by contacting Amanda Peters, Associate Director of Career Services.
  • My Career Story Workbook is a newer type of career development tool that looks at your life story as an assessment tool. This workbook includes questions about such details as your favorite movies, inspirational heroes, and favorite sayings to help you figure out what makes you tick from a “life story” perspective. It’s a great and less traditional way to get at some of this information.
  • General online self-assessment tools such as O*NET Interest Profiler, iseek Skills Assessment, and Skills Matcher can be helpful as well.

2. Do your research.

Once you hold up the mirror, some jobs and careers will emerge. Now starts the career exploration phase. Become a mini-expert in your field and dive deep to find out as much as you can.

  • Talk to people who are doing these jobs already.
  • Go online and research these careers. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is an excellent source of career information.
  • Check out Firsthand for downloadable career guides and access to industry mentors (this service is free for degree candidates; others may purchase).
  • Attend conferences, seminars, and meet-ups that are applicable to your field.
  • Read relevant articles and trade publications.

After that, consider which career allows you to best utilize these skills, values, and interests? It helps if you can bring in elements of your former career. Maybe instead of a radically different field, you choose another industry or role within the same or similar field. That way, you bring in something transferrable in terms of skills and experience.

You may want to speak with a career counselor as well. There are a lot of free online quick assessment tools, but having a conversation with someone can really help.

3. Develop an action plan.

Once you identify a new career path, form an action plan. What steps do you need to take to get where you want? Set specific goals.

4. Make connections and gain the experience.

Regardless of which field you choose, you need to figure out how to make that bridge into a new career. Will you do an internship? Volunteer? Do part-time work?

Or maybe you stay in your current job and offer to do extra projects. For example, a sustainability student may volunteer for extra work within his or her job—say as the company’s new “green” coordinator. Make that bridge, and build your résumé.

Informational interviews are a good way to get yourself noticed. Employers like to hire people they know—personally or through their network. Making connections in your industry can help you land your new job.

5. Do a reality check.

Honestly look at the steps involved and make sure you have a support system in place that will make this exciting change an easier transition for you.

Harvard Extension School provides career-focused webinars and call-in hours for all registered students, as well as advising appointments, career fairs and events for degree students and alumni. See Career Services for more information.