Changing careers after years in one job can seem overwhelming. Often the first steps–the mental and emotional ones–are the hardest.

“People lose their jobs for many reasons,” says recruiting firm Harris Allied manager Kathy Harris. “Maybe their company has decided to outsource or sell a division; it’s purely a financial decision; or the nature of the work or business has changed.”

But, Harris adds, even if you are let go for poor performance, “it’s important to leave that embarrassment at the door and put the past behind you so you can look forward to the future.”

Clean the slate

Above all, turning over a new leaf means letting go of negative feelings toward your former employer, networking confidently, and learning new skills.

Banish bitterness:
Don’t talk badly of your old boss, to anyone—because you never know where the grapevine ends. This requires limiting conversations with former co-workers as well. Plan how you will address your previous job in an interview so that your account is honest but not bitter.

Write a new resume: Revisit what qualities you’d like to be known for. Don’t just revise an old resume. “What was important to you five years ago is not important to the job you are seeking now,” Harris notes. She suggests paring down dates to years, rather than including months, to eliminate potential confusion. “If you remember incorrectly and a prospective employer discovers the discrepancy, they might assume you lied. Simpler is better.”

Updating online profiles is also an essential part of this process. Clean up your social media, list your most recent accomplishments, and highlight your most up-to-date skills.

Network: Make connections in your professional field using LinkedIn and online job sites.

One of the most effective elements of finding a new job is the “informational interview,” says technology professionals recruiter Robert Half. Something as simple as having coffee with a contact to learn about his or her experiences can give you inside information to a new field. “Just be sure to prepare carefully, listen and follow through to create a lasting, positive impression with those you meet,” Half advises.

Volunteer to meet new people and build expertise. Besides these obvious professional benefits, studies show that volunteering boosts your confidence and sense of personal well-being. Volunteer work also offers a great solution for that troublesome gap between a layoff and a job interview.

Learn: The surest and quickest way to make yourself more employable is to grow your job skills for a highly in-demand career.  Hawkeye Community College offers many short-term training options, as well as career programs and continuing education classes. For a full listing of courses visit www.hawkeyecollege.edu or call 319-296-4489.

Learning should be seen as an ongoing process, not just a one-off project. This goes for the unemployed and employed alike.

“You should expect change,” says Tony Valdivieso of job advice site TheWorkBuzz.com. “Rather than waiting until the next time you’re looking for a job to focus on development, frequently ask yourself, ‘What am I learning today that will impress my next employer?’”

– Naomi Sheehan