The days are long gone when your first career was almost always your last. In fact, many American workers are finding that the second act is often the most promising. A mature, focused employee can often deliver a greater sense of sincerity to a career than someone just starting out in the workforce. But before you jump headfirst into the sequel to your professional debut, consider these helpful hints for a realistic look at your second go-round. (For related reading, also see Advance Your Career Off The Clock.)

IN PICTURES: 6 Hot Careers With Lots Of Jobs

Look at Your Strengths
It's only common sense that you perform a careful and honest inventory of those perks that make you perfect for a second career. As you already have experience cultivating a solid work ethic and now possess "grown up" expectations of how much work a new career can be, you may have more advantages than someone approaching the field from a first-time perspective. Use these strengths to narrow selections to just those you are likely to thrive at in old age.

Embrace Your Weaknesses
By examining the other side of the coin - your faults - you will be only more prepared to choose that perfect second job specialty. In fact, some weaknesses (night-owl tendencies, a propensity toward working overtime, or a stubborn streak) could actually make you a better candidate for some opportunities. Assess the worst and be real when applying. Now is not the time to fool yourself into a job you won't excel at - or enjoy.

Consider Complementary Careers
A new job specialty doesn't have to swing 180 degrees away from what you were doing before. Some of the most promising new fields are actually variations of beginning professional concentrations. They could even be a more specialized version of what you were doing before. Network with other experts in your niche to see what you may already be qualified for - even if you have no experience in that actual job description. Examples include making the jump from journalism to PR, product sales to teaching, or professional speaking to curriculum development.

Grab Some Extra Skills
In the mad rush for professionals to grab their master's degree, many overlook the actual skill set they may need to pursue that second great career. Some professionals have found mentor programs and certificate programs offer just what they need to fill in the gap between formal education and actual, practical work experience. Before you determine that a second job field is for you, do a quick analysis of how much it will cost to get the training needed to succeed. It may not be worth making payments to a school loan later in life, especially if the pay is mediocre.

IN PICTURES: A Bigger Salary Or Better Benefits?

Project Your Earning Potential
While markets change every year, many jobs are forecasted to be earnings giants. These are ultimately the fields that will be best to get into, especially with a background in a similar niche and several years of proven hard work. To get an idea of how much you can earn, and how much you are likely to actually earn, speak with other professionals in the industry or reference sources like

Realize Any Risk
Some jobs are certainly safer bets than others, requiring just a slight adjustment to your job search and some hours in a new industry. Some career changers, however, will find that they may need to go through a whole list of hoops to even be eligible for their desired career. Some costly and time-intensive requirements may include licensing, professional tests, insurance, office space, supplies, vehicle fees or even relocation costs. Before you put a penny into the investment that would be a new career, go back to that earning potential analysis and see how your choices stack up. (For more reading on risks, see Is It Too Late For A Career Change?)

Do What You Love
Ultimately, this second inning in the game of life may be the one that you retire from. If you can't see yourself as a comfortably working and satisfied older person, this may not be where you should focus your attention. Jobs that have a short shelf life, cause health issues or have uncertain futures due to technological advancements may not be right for you. Think long term, and go for that job that makes you smile when you think about it.

The Bottom Line
Whether you tackle a second career at age 25 or 55, there is always opportunity to "trade up" to something you can enjoy for the rest of your working life. Take things slow, spend time in research and consideration, and you'll find the right second act to your professional career. (For additional information, also see 8 Career Risks That Pay Off.)

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