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Change it up: making the switch to a new career

If you dread Sunday evenings because of the job that lies ahead Monday morning or are tired of the same work and never feel energized even when given new projects, it may be time to "change it up." 

Sparkle Myers, an entrepreneur and mother of two teenagers, did just that a few years ago when she changed careers. Worried about looming layoffs at her employer, she carefully crafted her exit from her full-time job as software engineer to pursue her then part-time passion as a makeup artist.

While working in the information technology sector, she continued to freelance as a makeup artist and launched her own line of cosmetics. Myers also received her MBA — and honed her business plan in the process — while still in her full-time position. Then in July 2012, she left her 15-year career in corporate America to go to beauty school to gain professional training. A year later, the 34-year-old founder and CEO of MakeupBySparkle has her own line of cosmetics as well as two studios in Indianapolis.

"You never know what can happen," Myers says. "I was always an entrepreneur by heart and into fashion and beauty. It takes hard work and staying humble. The only challenge is to make sure you surround yourself with the right people who support your vision."

How did Sparkle finance her business and make that career change? She told her story to Kathie Lee and Hoda on TODAY and I joined her to offer some financial advice for those of you who are wondering how you can "change it up."

If you are interested in switching careers or launching a new one, here are four key steps that I believe are essential to make a successful transition: 

  • Build new skills: If you have trouble figuring out how your old professional life will fit into your new one, don't focus on your current title or job description but on the skills you've acquired over the years. These can be skills acquired on the job or through volunteer work or consulting or freelance opportunities. If you find you lack some key skills necessary for your new career, getting the proper education and training will be crucial. If you can't go back to school full time to get a degree or license, taking a class or a webinar to help build new skills is a great start.
  • Redesign your resume: Once you have determined the essential skills needed for your new career, you need to highlight those skills on your resume. Scrap the a strictly chronological resume. Group your positions by experience (board positions, volunteer work and other unpaid opportunities can be included) and highlight the positions and skills on your new resume that are most important in your new career. LinkedIn is a terrific tool to help develop your "personal brand." LinkedIn will not only help you network with other professional contacts, it also allows you to redesign and update your resume very easily.
  • Establish a support network: Having a spouse and/or extended family and friends close by can give you the emotional — and sometimes financial support — that you need to switch careers. A family member doesn't have to give you a loan to offer financial help. Pitching in to pick up your kids from school or watch them for a few hours while you attend a class or a meeting relieves you from having to hire a sitter or take time away from work to do it yourself. Even if you don't have a close network of family and friends, you can build a your own network by joining professional groups and club. There are many professional organizations for in various industries as well as groups for entrepreneurs, such as the National Association for Women Business Owners. Seek out the professional groups in your new career field and join them. Many of these organizations offer workshops and conferences that will allow you to build skills and continue to grow your network.
  • Don't neglect your personal finances: As you switch careers and build your "personal brand", don't neglect your personal finances. You may need to take a pay cut as you enter a new career or use some of your saving to take a class or seminar to build new skills. That can be a great investment. Just make sure that as you make new goals for your professional life, do the same with your personal finances.

Maintain an emergency fund, ideally equal to at least a six to eight months of living expenses. (Don't be discouraged if you don't have that much — start with one month and keep saving.) Fund your retirement by contributing to a 401k or 403b if offered by your employer or save money in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) on your own. 

Career changers, especially entrepreneurs, may deplete their savings to start a new endeavor. Some small business owners selflessly refuse to take home a paycheck in order to funnel the money back into their budding enterprise. That's a mistake. You should always pay yourself first - even if you own your business. Whether an entrepreneur or employee, you will ultimately be in charge of your finances in retirement. Don't neglect long-term personal financial planning as you strive for short-term professional goals.