Career change: How to make it happen

These days, everyone is a career changer. No one is going to keep the same career for 40 years. How boring. People change, so careers should change.

But why do people have to be so incompetent about it? There are a lot of ways to orchestrate a career change. You should do it in a way that doesn't undermine your first career, and you should look like you're running toward something instead of away from something.

Make a list of the reasons for changing careers. What do you want from your new career that you're not getting from your current one? The list will be very revealing.

Here are some bad reasons to switch careers:

 You hate your boss. (Switch jobs, not careers.)

You want more prestige. (Get a therapist ­ you're having a confidence crisis, not a career crisis.)

You want to meet new people. (Try going to a bar, or Club Med. What you really want is to get a life. Pick up a hobby.)

Here are some good reasons to switch careers:

 You need a more lucrative field.

You want a role that is more creative, more analytic, or more management-oriented.

You want to live in a location that does not accommodate your current career.

You want more flexibility or fewer hours.

Okay. So let's say you do have a reason that warrants changing careers. If you can help it, do not dump everything you've been doing in the past and start completely new. For one thing, you'll get paid more at the beginning of your new career if you can make some of your old experience relevant.

For another thing, you're going to have to explain the reason for switching careers every time you show someone your resume. Your explanation should empower you. You cannot say, "I was bored, bad at my job, mad at my boss," etc. You need to have an answer that does not negate the experience you had before the career change, and ideally you should be able to discuss your work history as if the two careers build on each other.

Here's an example from my own career: "I played professional beach volleyball and I was great at getting sponsors to put their name on my bikini, so I decided to go into marketing." I could say instead, "I was really poor when I played beach volleyball, and my boyfriend was making a lot of money in the software industry, so I asked him for a job." Both explanations would be true, but one sounds better, right?

A career change should leave you room to market yourself like you were really happy in your first career, and you were successful; otherwise, the change will haunt you in every interview you do. Once you show people you were very unhappy in a given career, it's hard to believe you'd be happy in another one. Think marriage statistics: One unhappy marriage is usually followed by another.

Maybe you are thinking you cannot make up a good story. Maybe you're thinking you have done nothing to prepare you for your new career. But then what on earth makes you think you will like doing the new career?

Which brings me to my next piece of advice: If you're thinking of doing something completely new, volunteer first, to get a taste. And by all means, do not enter a degree program for a career change until you're positive that you know what you'll be doing with the degree. If you don't know that, how do you know you need it?

So let's say you do have a decent reason for wanting to change careers. Try to do it at your current company. Ask for a department switch. Figure out how to get yourself into a different role without having to send out your resume to new companies– because getting your first job in a new career is hard.

When a career change is right, though, it's worth it. A career change is a chance to address a change of heart by building on proven skills. Done right, this is a chance to show another side of your successful self.