The best time to think about a career change is before you think you need it. If you're presented with a job opportunity or forced into making a career decision unexpectedly, and you haven't prepared, you run the risk of making the wrong decision. Especially in this employment market, it's vitally important to make sure your career choices match your future goals, and that you're moving in the right professional direction.
Just like an attorney takes the time to prepare and present a case in a courtroom, you need to build a case for your next career move. If you start preparing now, you're more likely to give this next move the dedicated thinking time it deserves.
No matter where you are in your career, here's what you should think about to prepare for that next big decision:
What do I really want to do?
Until you can answer this question unashamedly, unabashedly, and with full resolution and commitment, you should be careful about making any drastic career moves. To help figure out what you want to do, make a list of your best life and work experiences and look for a pattern that syncs with your dream career. (Hint: You can also ask those closest to you to help truthfully recap experiences that have made you happiest.)
Who do I want to do it with?
Think about the type of company culture and people you want to work with day-to-day. (Hint: These might be people who you do, or could readily, call friends.) A great job working with people you don't identify with can turn out to be a miserable job.
Where do I want to do it?
Location is important. Consider distance from home, commuting time, friend and family connections, and even weather. It does matter where you work because you (and your family) have to be happy when you come home. (Hint: If you feel ready for a change of location and scenery, be sure to factor in the financial and emotional costs of relocating. Relocations remain one of the most stressful changes that can happen in our careers.)
How much do I need to do it?
Research how much you are worth in the market where the job is located and what your salary and compensation package should be in relation to your peers. If you don't know what you are worth, then you could end up missing opportunities, or worse yet, make a move and then question why you didn't do your homework. (Hint: Use websites like Glassdoor.com to establish what your peers are making and see what a company and its competitors pay for a specific job position.)
If you've built your case and can answer all of these questions without hesitation, you'll be ready when the next job opportunity beckons, even if you aren't expecting it.
Rusty Rueff, director and career expert for jobs and career website Glassdoor.com has been a CEO, led HR in global companies and is co-author of Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business.