Go for a New Career

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

NEW YORK -- If you are thinking about a career change, chances are the climbing unemployment rate has you too scared to even start looking. But are your options really that bleak? Here are some tips about how even in these tough times you can make headway on switching careers -- and getting hired.

No question it's a tough job market out there. Many companies are in hiring freezes or shipping jobs overseas right now. Even so it's a perfect time to focus on your career goals, so that when the economy does bounce back, you can be ready to apply.

The first thing you need to do is self-assess. Even if you want a new career, you might not be sure where you want to go.

Try the 'Color Test' Career Assessment

There are a lot of consultants out there that can help you determine your best career fit, but why pay for what you can get for free? The Web is full of great sites that can help you assess your personal skill set and find jobs that might be both fulfilling and rewarding. Onlineonetcenter.org and Careeronestop.org both offer free online self-assessment tests and up-to-date employment information on a range of industries.

Careervoyages.gov is a great government-run Web site with tons of information about sectors that are actually growing ... and even has an entire section devoted solely to career-changers.

Another great way for you to assess your skill set: ask the people who know you best. You might be surprised by what talents your family and friends see in you that you may be overlooking.

While these sites will definitely help you narrow down your options, the truth is you never know what a job is going to be like, hour-to-hour, until you've actually seen it up close.

Go to careervoyages.gov to find videos of people working in specific vocations -- you can watch bakers, geologists even fashion designers doing their thing.

Try to find mentors in the areas you wish to explore and ask if you can shadow them. Look for part-time internships or volunteer opportunities that you might be able to fit into your regular work schedule.

For those who are willing to pay for a career test-drive, check out Vocationvacations.com, a pretty neat service that pairs job-seekers with established professionals in a diverse range of areas. But be forewarned, it comes with a pretty hefty price tag: shadowing a T-V producer for just 2 days, for example, will set you back nearly $1,500.

To really make the most of this recession, spend your time developing the skills that will most appeal to future employers. That doesn't mean you have to commit to another 4 years of school.

Try to use your current position as a launching pad: see if your employer offers training opportunities for any skills that might be transferable to another job down the road.

Look at class offerings online and at local community colleges, many of which tailor programs to what local industries are looking for in job candidates.

Next:Jobs With an 'Age Advantage'>>

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