Switching careers can seem risky and daunting. Other times you don’t have a choice –you’re laid off or you’ve taken too many pay cuts. The average American worker changes jobs five to seven times in a lifetime. Career change is a journey, a continual process that requires a lot of time and energy, patience and flexibility, and a strong support network.

When you’re careful and deliberate, it can be empowering and an opportunity for growth. Here are four tips for making a career change to make sure you maintain control of the process. You want to make a calculated decision, not an impulsive or desperate one.

 Decide which industry or function is right for you

Take time for reflection. Figure out what energizes you, when you’ve been happiest at work and when you’ve been the most frustrated at work. Use online career tools, such as Myers Briggs, for additional insight. Ask for advice from friends and family, the people who know you best.

Next, research careers. Use social media, find out about local employment trends and tap into your professional network. Consider people who’ve recently left your company –what can you learn from their experiences?

Now, decide. Which industry are you going to aim for? This is the hardest part, so you might choose one to be a mentor to help you. Then, set a timeline for yourself: Where do you want to be in six months or a year? Do some financial planning to determine whether you need to cut personal expenses or save while you plan for this move. If you’ve been laid off and need immediate income, consider taking a temporary consulting, retail or food service job while you pursue this same careful, contemplative process. Next, figure out whether you need any additional training or education to make yourself more marketable.

Identify the right company or role to aim for

Look for companies that have formal rotation programs to move employees around until they find a good fit. Sometimes companies are undergoing organizational change and might be looking to grow and hire in certain areas. Try to find companies or managers that value talent over experience.

Market yourself, nail the interview, get the job

Tailor everything – your cover letter, resume and profile – for the role you want. Don’t use form letters or generic templates. Look for networking opportunities and ways to get your foot in the door at a company, even if it’s not exactly the role you want. Highlight your passion, enthusiasm and diversity of experience as strengths.

Create opportunity for rapid advancement

Put a lot of stock into first impressions as you interact with your new colleagues and bosses. Become indispensable. Aim for some early successes, yet be patient – not risky. Find advocates and nurture those relationships without making enemies.

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