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When You Need A Completely New Career

Forbes guides you how to figure out what you love and how your skills can translate, and start networking.

business Updated: Sep 17, 2009 16:21 IST

Forbes guides you how to figure out what you love and how your skills can translate, and start networking.

Constance Dierickx hated her job as a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch in Asheville, N.C., so she started looking at her daily grind and asking herself a series of questions: "What do I hate? What do I love? What do I never want to do again?" she recalls. "If I could do only one thing all day, what would it be?"

"My answer was, I would talk to people in small groups," she says, "I would facilitate their achieving some goal."

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Dierickx (her name is Belgian) went back to school, got a Ph.D. in psychology and for the last two decades has thrived in a career as a corporate psychologist. She works at a consulting firm called RHR International in Atlanta. Her basic advice for career changers: Take a long, hard look at where your passions lie, and follow them.

Of course that's easier said than done in these days of ramped-up job loss and meager hiring. But Dierickx and a half dozen other experts we interviewed offer some helpful tips on how to find a job in a whole new field.

Dierickx suggests that instead of honing your résumé, you craft a one-page autobiography that describes your skills and experience in the language of your chosen next field. When she first wrote her own bio, she noted that she worked with very successful people, that she had to understand what was driving them and that she helped groups of people reach agreement about their goals. She had needed all of those skills as a stockbroker, but they'd be just as valuable for a corporate psychologist.

Career coaches and outplacement experts agree that the farther afield you go from your current job, the more prep you need to do. That can mean going back to school, taking courses or doing volunteer work.

Another powerful tool: interviewing, to learn and amass information about your proposed new career. Orville Pierson, senior vice president at the outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison and author of Highly Effective Networking: Meet the Right People and Get a Great Job, recommends talking to people who have job titles you think you would like. Meet in person, and get a solid fix on what's involved in their work.

"You want to dig into the qualifications required for the job," Pierson says. "Talk to the person about who you are and what you see as your skills, and ask them if they think you're a credible candidate without further education."

Pierson says networking can be a powerful tool when it comes to setting up such interviews and adds, "There is very good sociological evidence that the action is at the second or third degree of separation. In other words, you are more likely to get hired by a friend of a friend of a friend." After all, the number of connections multiplies at each degree. So tap everyone you know, from second cousins to high school teachers, to find a personal connection to someone in your hoped-for new field.

Data show that 50% to 75% of people find their jobs through networking, Pierson says. For career changers, it's closer to 90%. Pull every string you can find.