Making job changes in slow motion

Ever wish you could apply your remote-control features to the world around you? It would be so handy to point the remote in boring meetings and click "mute." Oops. Maybe you're the boring one; now's a good time to hit rewind and start over.
Never mind the mute and rewind buttons. The feature you might want to use, at least in your career, is slo-mo (slow motion). Instead of following the late-night television ads (You can have a new career in six weeks!), why not approach career change with a longer vision?
The benefits of slowing down a career transition can outweigh the disadvantages. A change that takes several years gives you time to learn the ins and outs of your new field, to turn contacts into friendships and to develop the beginnings of expertise. On the minus side, the longer it takes to change careers, the longer it will be before you start up the ladder in salary and title.
For some people, the either/or question is moot. If a career change is going to happen, it will be in stages, drawn out over a long period. You might fit this category if you are staying home with small children, recovering from extensive health problems or using a current, well-paying job to achieve a long-term financial goal.
Same steps, more time
The primary steps of career transition will be the same, whatever length of time it takes. You need to identify a career you want, learn more about it, determine which area of the field you want to be part of, develop skills and credentials for the work and begin making contacts.
The difference with a slo-mo change is that you draw out each step over a year or more, instead of compacting the entire transition into that time.
Here's an example:
Jocelyn works as a banker, in a job that feels relatively secure. She thinks she'll be able to keep her position for eight more years, when she'll turn 55. At that point she can take early retirement and launch into something new.
The next move
Her question: What should she do at 55? She'll have enough savings by then to go a few months or more without working at all; maybe she should just wait until she's closer to the retirement date before making a plan. The problem she sees with that strategy is that she might never make a switch if she doesn't take some steps now.
With that in mind, Jocelyn mapped out a rough timeline for a long-term career change.
UYear one: Explore career ideas; choose the next career.
UYear two: Research the new career; decide how to enter the field.
UYears three, four and five: Take classes to develop a better understanding of the work; join a professional association.
UYears six and seven: Volunteer and be an intern in the new career area to get hands-on experience and contacts.
UYear eight: Take a part-time or weekend job in the new career area; begin actual job search.
Taking action
Here's how it might turn out:
Suppose Jocelyn takes a career-exploration class in year one, and after talking with a counselor and her friends, decides she'd like to do something with writing in her next career.
In year two, she spends a few hours each month looking into different writing careers and decides she wants to write articles for a living. Now that she knows her focus, she can take related classes. It's off to the local university for beginning journalism and interviewing courses.
After three years, she has taken six classes and a handful of workshops, and she feels ready to volunteer at a community paper and submit articles to her bank's in-house magazine.
In the eighth year, Jocelyn sends out letters to local publications and wins an evening job at one of the papers for which she volunteered earlier. By the time Jocelyn is ready to "retire" from her first job, she has solid work experience, contacts and classes under her belt.
Did a slo-mo approach make a difference? Maybe not; after all, she might have landed a writing job without all this preparation.
But drawing the transition out gave her more confidence and a way to hedge her bets while keeping her first job.
XAmy Lindgren, the owner of a career-consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn., can be reached at