7 critical mistakes to avoid during a career change

Perhaps the pandemic has forced you to reinvent yourself professionally. Or maybe you’ve decided to brave the job market and make a career change either way.

In any case, Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, says changing careers is more straightforward than you think — if you’re willing to do your part.

“It will happen if you are willing to do the heavy lifting. Making a career change may feel monumental at times but you just have to believe in yourself and your potential to achieve your goal.

And if you can’t remember the last time you’ve had to update your resume, putting in the work may also mean embracing a different mindset and reality. “For individuals who have experienced success consistently throughout their careers, this may be the first time they need to go above and beyond to make an impression that will stick,” says Cohen.

“It is really easy to get discouraged when you have never faced repeated rejection or the need to prove your ability and commitment. You will be competing against other more qualified candidates and they may be younger and less expensive, too.” Not to mention the current unemployment numbers.

Instead of letting that information discourage you, use it to arm yourself with a game plan and put all chances of success on your side.

“When you shake things up and decide to pursue a new direction you are adding many new barriers to success. If you don’t follow [the right steps] you may either get burdened by overthinking or over-preparing or impulsively jumping into the deep end,” says Cohen.

“These sorts of detours unnecessarily interrupt your progress and often leave you questioning whether you’re on the right track.”

Ready to remove all unnecessary obstacles on the path to your brand new career? Avoid the seven critical mistakes below and you’ll be off to a great start.

1. Skipping steps

While it might be tempting to send out an outpouring of resumes the minute you decide to undertake a career change, enthusiasm alone won’t cut it. You need a clear goal and game plan.

“When you begin this process you need a clear and defensible goal, one that demonstrates your commitment to doing whatever it takes to cross the finish line i.e., classes, certifications, an apprenticeship, anticipating and preparing for any pushback, etc.,” says Cohen.

According to him, it’s also important to avoid the mistake of jumping in headfirst if you won’t be able to carve out the time to achieve your transition. Giving yourself permission to tackle your career change a few months down the road could be the answer if you’re currently flooded with things like family obligations or other commitments.

2. Knowing it all

Skipping steps or looking for shortcuts is not recommended because it can backfire. “It can keep you from achieving your goal expeditiously. And if it does happen quickly, you may discover that you are not happy with the results,” says Cohen.

Be intentional and don’t assume you know everything. Stay open to learning new things and changing your mind. “This is the ‘be careful what you wish for’ outcome for individuals who were careless early on and assumed they knew everything they needed to make a move.”

3. Playing it too safe

That being said, you don’t want to be too careful either. Any career transition will involve getting out of your comfort zone and being comfortable with a certain amount of risk.

“If you want something badly enough you will need to prove that you deserve to be taken seriously. You need to put yourself out there no matter how uncomfortable this may feel.”

4. Ignoring your network

Many professionals only tap into their network when they need something — or forget their network exists altogether when they’re on the hunt for new opportunities. Start viewing networking as a consistent, genuine relationship-building effort and you’ll reap the results during your career change.

“The purpose of a network is to create a community of advocates who believe in you and who are willing to support your mission,” says Cohen.

5. Not being diligent with follow-ups

Not committing the time and effort for meaningful and sincere follow-ups is a common — and potentially costly — mistake, according to Cohen. Those follow-ups can make all the difference when switching careers.

“Expressing gratitude to the people who help you along the way is essential; but so is using this follow up to show that you know what it takes to be effective in this new career,” he says.

6. Mismanaging stress

“Under stress, especially over an extended period of time, it is common for the stress to surface in how we communicate. We can come across as desperate, eager or naive. Perhaps angry that it’s not happening fast enough,” says Cohen.

None of the scenarios above give a great impression when you’re trying to get a new job. Yes, a career transition can be stressful. But having healthy coping mechanisms and outlets to manage your stress levels can help you avoid channeling it outwards in counterproductive ways.

7. Losing focus

The process of reinventing your career might not be clear cut. It might be filled with ups and downs and pleasant or less pleasant surprises. Don’t make the mistake of getting carried away and losing focus.

“Be clear on your goal. Be able to explain with precision why you are pursuing this goal. Have a game plan to follow and monitor your progress. And demonstrate how and why you will be able to contribute immediately in this new capacity,” says Cohen.

“This is your opportunity to stand out. Remember that when you decide to make a career change, you will be competing with other candidates who likely have experience and won’t require training. You need to show that you bring something more and equally valuable to this new role.”