Career Change Means Planning For Serendipity

Career change often begins with a statement. "I hate my current job. I want a totally different environment.

Alas, many career books give a false impression. They suggest that career change proceeds at an orderly and very linear pace. Typically, you are advised to take a series of steps. First, l look inward to find out who you are. You identify strengths, match strengths to careers, and go look for a job in your new field.

An experienced care consultant will tell you this is hogwash. When researchers actually studied career change, they found that nearly everyone chooses a career by serendipity. Yes, that word has begun to appear in respected career journals.

The fact is, career change usually works in a zig-zag, not a straight line. You come up with a few ideas. You explore those ideas and get turned on to more ideas. You hit a few dead ends. Maybe you realize your dream job was not all it's cracked up to be.

Then you run into an old friend at an airport lounge in Los Angeles. Your friend says, "We have an opening that might interest you."

Your friend dashes off an email from his laptop. He tells you to call a certain number. You shake hands. You get on your plane for Portland. He gets on his plane for Tokyo. A few days later, you call the number, mostly just because you said you would.

The job is not anything like what you've been looking for. But it sounds intriguing. You go on a few interviews that feel more like social chats with a bunch of old friends. Before you can return a call from your career coach, you're on a new payroll.

"Brad" literally fell into his career. As a child, he tripped on the choir loft of his church, landing on top of the organ. He became fascinated watching the organ repair specialist who came to fix the damage. Occasionally, he became the specialist's apprentice and branched out to his own busy career that over 40 years. He loved it.

"Julie" graduated from law school but could not find a law firm job in her medium-sized city. Out of desperation, she took a job in a bank, telling everyone, "I'll just be here six months. Three years later, Julie is still with the bank – by choice. She likes the job and the people. And she keeps getting raises, even in a recession.

Research on career change shows Brad and Julie are not unusual. Most people owe their career choices to an unexpected event or chance meeting.

This does not mean you take a fatalistic approach. In fact, a strong career search will give serendipity a little push. Keep moving. Talk to lots of people. Develop confidence and radiate a positive, optimistic outlook. I'm not being woo-wooey. Research shows that we like to be around others who are confident, energetic and upbeat. The more people you meet and the more friends you make, the more likely you are to hear the magic words, "Gee … maybe you'd like to consider our company."

And the rest, as they say, will be history.