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Can you switch careers and remain financially stable?

Do you ever catch yourself sitting in your cubicle or office, dreaming about having a new career? Do you stop yourself from thinking those thoughts, because there’s no way you’d realistically be able to make the switch? Whether it’s familial or financial obligations holding your back, or the fear of what change can bring, do you not allow yourself to think seriously about paving a new career path?

Change can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be out of reach. Even if you aren’t what you’d consider wealthy, with the right planning and attitude, you can work toward a new career.

Here’s where to start:

Gain clarity

“One of the biggest things holding many people back from changing careers is getting clear on what they want to do,” says workplace expert Darcy Eikenberg, founder of career coaching website  “If that’s you, the first thing to do is to follow your curiosity. What do you find yourself noticing and talking about? What looks like fun, or at least, a rewarding challenge? Your own reaction about work, jobs and industries you see around you can be a helpful signal about the kinds of work you might like at this stage of your life.”

 Examine your finances

Once you’ve done the research and know which direction you want to take, it’s time to assess your financial situation. “If looking to make that career change, first look at your annual and monthly budget,” says David J. Freschman, a venture capitalist who advises small businesses and entrepreneurs. “Take a hard look, and decide what you can do without. For example, if you are moving from a suit and tie profession to a more relaxed profession, then you can adjust your apparel budget. If you are looking to relocate to pursue the new job, look at the public transportation options … in all cases, make a hard concerted effort to save a ‘safety’ fund prior to making a change.”

 Consider your transferable skills

Don’t think of your new career in terms of what’s different from your current job; think about it in terms of the skills you’ve gained and how they transfer to your desired role.

 Stan Kimer, diversity and career development expert and president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, shares the following three examples of how to make a change while still leveraging your knowledge or expertise during the shift:

  • A person who works at a large company can often change careers into a new area, if he has a good reputation and strong knowledge of the company. The inner workings of the company and familiarity with other teams and clients can be a valuable asset in the job, even within a new career area.
  • A person could change careers but stay within the same industry where that industry knowledge could be viewed as critical — for example, moving from a sales role in the pharmaceutical field into a human-resources role within the pharmaceutical field.
  • Another possible move could be staying within the same geographic client set where that specific knowledge is important — for example, moving from a finance role working with Japanese clients to a marketing and promotions role working with Japanese clients.

“The bottom line is to try to find some critical elements of the old job that can be leveraged in the new job,” Kimer says.

Get experience

Lauren Still, strategic career adviser and president of career and performance solutions company Careerevolution Group, says workers should first look at their current role, company or field for ways to gain as many transferable skills and experience as possible. If those skills can’t be gained through work, they should investigate volunteering for a company or nonprofit outside of work hours to gain experience.

 If there’s a desirable certification available in your field of interest, Still suggests taking night or weekend classes to gain those skills while still keeping your “day job.” If you have credentials that are hard to find in the current job market, an employer will be more willing to consider you for a role, even if you don’t have traditional experience.

 “Research the new industry or field, stay on top of news and trends, and build a network of people who are connected to your target company or job,” Still says. “It may take several years, but if at the end, [you] can make a case to an employer that [you’ve] been working toward this job as a goal, it will be worth it.”

Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer

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