Breaking into the securities industry is incredibly difficult. Success takes years of study and hard work, followed by a few more years of "paying your dues." So, what happens if you finally reach the pinnacle, only to realize you've been climbing the wrong mountain?

Financial professionals who aren't happy in their chosen fields are not doomed to start at the bottom. If you're a trader, analyst, broker or compliance officer looking to shift into another financial field, the good news is that with a little patience and hard work, it is possible.

In this article, we'll explore the six steps you should take to make sure your career transition is a smooth one.

1. Be Prepared to Take a Pay Cut

It's important to know right from the start that when you pursue a new career path, you'll likely have to take a cut in pay (and in title) in order to make the jump. For example, it's unrealistic for a seasoned trader to become a new stockbroker and expect to match their previous salary right off the bat. It takes a tremendous amount of time and patience to build up a client base and assets.

As you'll come to learn, a successful career switch will require a lot of work and a lot of preparation. Don't expect to dive right in.

(For more on these professional fields, see Preparing for a Career as a Broker or Trader.)

2. Build Your Skills Before You Make the Jump

You will probably want to learn about and study the job skills needed for your new career path in detail before you actually pursue it. For example, a person might go back to school to study personal finance or economics if they want to become a financial advisor, or take options trading classes to become a trader.

In addition to schooling, you should also be prepared to study and sit for certain securities exams, such as the Series 7 (for those looking to become a registered representative), the Series 55 (to become an equities trader) or the Series 87 (to become a research analyst). Obviously, this could take a significant amount of time and energy, so take some time to weigh this decision before you start saying your farewells to your boss and co-workers.

Finally, when you start a new job, you may also be asked to "shadow" a more senior employee for a period of time to learn all of the idiosyncrasies that go along with the job. The time you'll have to spend job shadowing should also be factored into your decision.

3. Be Honest With Your Current Boss

Once you know that you want to change careers you should talk to your boss about the decision. Your current boss probably won't be thrilled — especially if you are a top-producing broker — but, if you are upfront and honest about your reason for wanting a change, the odds are good your boss will understand.

The best way to break the news is to just go for it — don't beat around the bush. Explain why you want to make the switch, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Your boss might be able to help guide you into a new career, and might have contacts to help you on your way.

(For more interpersonal tips, see How to Deal Effectively With Difficult Clients.)

4. Find a Mentor

Prior to making any switch in positions, you should try to find a mentor or someone who will be on your side, and will show you the ropes in the new job. Preferably, this should be someone with seniority, as it will make the switch much easier. Before actually making the big switch, try to network with other members of the target department at company or industry-related functions.

Once you build up a rapport with someone you like and respect, you can ask if they would be willing to take you on as a protégé. You'd be surprised how willing most people are to help. But unless you ask, you'll never find out!

(To learn more about the value of networking, read The Benefits of Joining a Professional Association.)

5. Don't Sell Yourself Short

It was mentioned earlier that you should be prepared for a pay cut. This is true; however, switching jobs doesn't mean you should accept a rookie salary.

During salary negotiations, be sure to emphasize your existing skill set, as well as your educational and professional experience in the industry. The previous position you held developed knowledge and skills that the average new recruit has no chance of matching. Use this to your advantage to get the job you want. You can also use it to negotiate a slightly more favorable pay package.

(For more tips on getting the job and salary you want, check out Taking the Lead in the Interview Dance.)

6. Be Ready to Work Hard

Once you make the switch, you'll have to be ready for hard work. Anyone looking to transition into a new career should be prepared to come in early each morning and to leave late as they become proficient in the new job.

Before starting the new position, try to complete any personal chores or tasks that you had planned such as fixing up the basement or putting a new roof on the house. After all, you will need as few distractions and stresses as possible.

The Bottom Line

Making a career shift within the securities industry is possible, if you plan ahead and are willing to work hard. Your previous knowledge and experience can give you a boost, turning a treacherous mountain climb into a leisurely hike.

(If you are feeling trapped in your financial career, learn about your options in Finding Your Place in the Financial Industry.)