University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources

Taking the Fear Out of Career Change: Asking the Right Questions

By Donna M. Bennett, M.A., L.P., Associate Counselor, Center for Human Resource Development (CHRD)

Resources provided by Jessica Miller, M.Ed., Training Coordinator, CHRD

You're ready to make a career change; you even know what you want to do. Yet, since you've made the decision to look for a different job, you haven't done much about it. On the good days, you think: "Oh, its not so bad. I've worked in this job/field for so long, a few more years won't matter." But on the bad days, you don't even want to get out of bed! Does this sound familiar? Your motivation to change directions runs hot and cold; you start to doubt yourself and wonder why you can't make a decision.

Be assured—you're not alone. There are many people, just like you, who are facing the same dilemma. It has been widely reported that in the current job market, people are likely to have numerous jobs and several careers in their lifetime. Career services are booming in colleges, universities, and in the private sector. The majority of people who seek career advice are looking for something new and different in their work.

While countless stories have been written and told about people changing careers, the struggles in this process are not always noted. In fact, it often takes a catalyst such as a major loss or organizational change to move us past dreaming, and into declaring: "Its now or never!" Of course, career change doesn't happen with a declaration. Readiness is one thing, moving forward is often another.

Facing the Uncertainty

Some of the typical questions include: Who would hire me? What if I don't have the right skills or experience? What if it doesn't work out? What if I don't like my new career? In addition, family, partners and friends may ask: Why would you leave a good job? Will you have the same pay and benefits? What will this mean for me? For us?

These are all good questions and ones that need to be asked. Its also important to fully explore the answers. Since these questions can feed uncertainty and fear, we are more likely to jump to conclusions than seek answers. That is, concluding that there is more comfort in the known than in trying to figure out the unknown. This can result in a feeling of inertia, of being stuck, and can lead to an emotional downturn. To keep yourself motivated and moving towards your goal, its essential to gather lots of information and then, to take action. To start the process, begin by asking some new questions.

New Questions and Action Steps

Question: What department, organization, or company offers the type of positions that I'm looking for?

Action: Some important steps to take might include:

  • exploring the University, non-profits, and business Web sites to discover career possibilities within different organizations
  • visiting specific departments
  • reading job-related publications
  • gathering relevant brochures or communication materials from your area of interest
  • networking with colleagues and friends
  • interviewing people who work in your area of interest

Question: Which of my skills will transfer to my new job/career?


Question: How can I get the experience I need?

Action: Look for volunteer opportunities such as joining an association in your new field. In your present job, ask to work on projects that will challenge and stretch you, while also providing new skills. Look for short-term, temp, or part-time work in your field of interest.

Question: What if I fail?

Action: Take proactive steps such as talking to a career counselor, mentor, or coach. They can help you determine what failure means to you; if it gets in the way of your moving forward, they can help you to learn how to minimize its impact. Additionally, when issues occur on the job, a coach or mentor can advise you before things escalate.

Questions from partners/family/friends

The best way to handle these questions is to give them information before they ask. Keep your family and friends in the decision-making loop. Talk it out - especially with those who will be directly impacted by your decision. Friends who don't agree with you can be held at bay; but stay close to those who will listen and cheer you on. While it is natural to be fearful when making a career change, asking the right questions, getting help, and taking action are ways to keep things in perspective.

Additional Resources for U of M Job Seekers and Career Changers

Workshops for U of M Employees

U of M Job Listings