Top 5 Tips for Switching Your Career

Likewise, don't let credit card debt or your latte habit be the thing that stands between you and a shiny new career. Track your personal expenses, trim the fat, pay down debts and do your best to dump a few extra bucks a week into your career change fund, Levit said.

If you're not sure whether you can afford a career leap -- or whether you should tap your rainy day or retirement funds -- Levit suggested meeting with a financial advisor.

"Some career moves may be completely impractical for you, and if so, better to not waste too much time on them," she said.

3. Meet and Greet

You've no doubt heard it said that networking is a far more effective means of drumming up employment leads than scouring the online job listings. You've probably also heard it said that you need to start mingling with folks in your chosen field -- at professional workshops, happy hours and the like -- long before you start job hunting. Consider yourself told once more.

When seeking specific advice about how to make inroads in your chosen industry, look to those two to five years older than you, Levit said. They're the ones likely to be most knowledgeable about the latest hiring requirements and workplace trends for junior professionals in the field.

Work on your charm, too. Don't just blather on about yourself or demand someone give you a job or introduce you to their top contacts. Be likeable, helpful. Take the time to build relationships with people.

"Since realistically your experience might not be a perfect fit for them, your personality has to make up for it," Levit said.

4. Take a Test Drive

Once you've indentified the skills you must acquire to make your career leap, take a college course or two to see if the field sustains your interest. (Do this before enrolling in any full-blown academic program.) Don't be afraid to try an online university. For many professions, the stigma of online education has dissipated, Levit said.

Professional and alumni associations also can help you boost your skill set, Levit said. Many offer free or nominally priced classes.

Internships, no longer just the domain of recent college grads, offer another way to test the waters in a new field.

"High-profile companies like Sara Lee are welcoming interns with solid career records and transferable skills," Levit said.

(For mid-career internship opportunities, Levit recommended The Center for Interim Programs.)

"Once you're there, get your hands dirty," Levit said. "Do all the things you'd never be allowed to do in a more traditional [entry-level] position -- like put on events and implement new organizational processes. It's all resume fodder."

Besides giving you a firsthand glimpse into your dream industry, an internship can impress future employers.

"It demonstrates a true commitment, and not just a passing interest, in a particular field," Levit said.

5. Set Deadlines

It's easy enough to tell yourself that this is the year you'll look into what it takes to become a nurse, landscape architect or video game producer. What's hard is taking those initial steps.

To ensure you dive into this to-do list before summer rolls around, give yourself some concrete deadlines, be it contacting five people for informational interviews by Feb. 15 or researching veterinary school costs, requirements and application process by Feb. 28.

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