4 steps for choosing a new career

Everyone deserves career satisfaction, so if your current position isn’t cutting the mustard, it might be time to explore choosing a new career. (Hint: If the prospect of changing careers makes you feel more excited than overwhelmed, the time is probably right.)

Here are four steps to follow for choosing a new career:

1. Examine what’s behind the desire

Before making a major overhaul, reflect on why you want a different career. Is it possible that you still really like your industry but the position itself is problematic? If so, changing jobs—not careers—might be your answer. Perhaps what you actually want is to escape a toxic workplace, earn what you feel you’re worth, or find a company that offers flexible arrangements.

If you discover that the field itself no longer feels like a good match, try to figure out why. Is the work boring? Does it no longer align with your values? Are you under too much stress? Answers to these questions may prove helpful as you move forward.

2. Brainstorm

Without judgment, write down any careers you find interesting. Even if some of the possibilities end up not being attractive in reality (med school, at my age?), an unfiltered list that comes from the heart can be revealing. Perhaps you’ll discover most of the jobs involve helping people, or maybe working outdoors is a common theme. This insight, combined with your skills and background, can pinpoint areas to explore.

Got a “possibilities” page that’s almost blank? Try thinking about activities that make you really happy—the kind that you could “lose” yourself in. Remembering what you enjoyed most as a child can work too. That passion for literature could indicate success as a librarian, reading teacher, writer, bookstore employee, or publisher. For further assistance, looking into online career assessments or hiring a career coach may be smart moves.

3. Research

Now start turning general ideas into possible realities by gaining as much information as you can about potential careers. Find out about daily responsibilities, salary, educational requirements, and employment projections. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook can be a good starting point for such research.

But don’t limit your investigation to the Internet. Try to find real people holding the career of interest, and talk to them about what exactly they do. If possible, arrange to shadow them in order to observe firsthand. Alumni associations, industry organizations, and your network connections are all good places to turn to for introductions.

4. Put it all together

Armed with everything you’ve learned from the previous steps, start evaluating where things stand. Put your career considerations to the test by seeing how each one measures up to questions such as:

  • Do I have the education/background needed for this career? If not, am I willing to invest the time and money to obtain it?
  • Does this career offer the flexible arrangements that I want or need?
  • Am I willing to relocate if necessary?
  • Are the salary prospects for this career suitable to me?
  • What does my gut say about this career?

Without a doubt, changing careers can be difficult and may require going back to the drawing board multiple times. But even tougher can be staying in an unsuitable situation. Invest energy into finding the move that’s right for you!

Beth Braccio Hering has been a freelance writer for 20 years. In addition to extensive contributions to various Encyclopaedia Britannica products, her work has been published by outlets such as CareerBuilder, Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter, Walt Disney Internet Group, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Hering graduated from Northwestern University with honors in sociology.

This column was originally published on FlexJobs.com.