If you've been thinking about making a career change, you're not alone.

Many workers have been forced to change careers due to shrinking industries and corporate downsizing. Others are attempting a cross-sector transition in hopes of netting a bigger challenge and a higher paycheck.

Whether you are looking for a more fulfilling workday or just looking to be employed in a stable or growing industry, knowing how to make a career transition is essential to surviving a competitive economy.

Here are eight steps that anyone can follow for a successful career change.

1. Make a Wish List for Your Next Career

The first step on your path to a new career is to decide what you want out of your new job. Make a list of the pros and cons of your current job. Are there things you would improve or eliminate -- the stress level, excessive work load, pay scale, level of gratification, social aspects or shrinking job sector?

Next, outline your ideal career. Think about what you want most out of your next job. Is it money? Security? Fame? Or is it simply a matter of doing what you love full time?

Don't worry about the specifics of the career requirements at this point. This is not the time to be critical. Instead, focus on being honest about what you want to get out of your professional life and choosing a career that fits your needs.

2. Build a Buffer

As soon as you know you want to change careers, you should start padding your savings account. Knowing you have money to fall back on (should you hit a bump in the road) will provide you with a sense of confidence and security as you make your career transition. Most experts recommend having enough in savings to cover living expenses for three months to a year.

3. Training and Education

Once you've found the career choice that fits your needs, it's time to start researching what kind of certifications or education you'll need (if any) to make your jump. A simple search for your target career on a jobs website, such as Monster.com or Craigslist, will give you a general idea of the qualifications an employer in your new field is looking for. For a more detailed approach, you can visit ONet.org, a free resource for career exploration and job analysis.

If you discover that your new career path will require a degree or certification that you don't currently possess, make sure it's worth the investment to go back to school. You may make a higher salary as a lawyer, but if it's not enough to repay $100,000+ you'll rack up in student loans, it might not be worth it.

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4. Find Transferable Skills -- Bridging the Gap

Some skills acquired throughout your professional experience can be transferred to a new career -- such as management experience, self-direction, and interpersonal relations.

For instance, if you were a commissioned salesperson you probably are a goal oriented, self-starter with strong negotiation skills. If you've worked in customer service you probably have excellent communication and interpersonal relation skills. And any experience as a supervisor or manager is impressive to employers from any field.

Once you've created your list of transferable skills that match your new career, put them on your resume and get rid of the 'fluff' skills that aren't relevant. Your resume should be concise; exactly what the employer wants and nothing they don't.

If you're having trouble matching your skills with a job description, get in touch with your college's career planning office or hire a career coach or resume writer.

5. Increase Your Social Network

Reach out to your existing social circle to gain advice from any connections you may currently have that could be a helpful resource in landing your new job. Attending meetings for the professional associations of your future career is a great way to meet potential employers and learn about the field from the people that know it best.

Your profile page on social networking sites like LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) should be professionally written, complete with an online resume and a targeted list of skills that make you suitable for the job you want -- not just any job.

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6. Start Moonlighting

Keeping your day job while you explore the waters of your new career can increase your income while you prepare to make your switch. Try working nights and weekends in a part-time position, or accept projects in your spare time while you launch your new business online.

As your skills and knowledge base improve, so should your income, ideally increasing to a point where you can easily transition into your full-time profession.

7. Entry Level – From the Bottom to the Top

Do whatever you need to do to get your foot in the door. Want to be a video producer? Start in the tape library. Considering nursing? Be prepared to work the night shift.

For those who are motivated, starting at the bottom is just the beginning. And sometimes just being in the field is the inspiration needed to quickly scale the ladder. Just remember to be patient.

8. Revamp Your Resume, Cover Letter and Interview Strategy

Get your resume proofread by an outside source and then begin sending it to those companies that could use your skills. Be sure your cover letters are tailored to fit the specific jobs for which you are applying.

On your cover letter and in your interview, focus the conversation heavily on the strengths that you have in common with the job description. If you're an older professional, for example, talk about the skills and extensive relevant experience you have working with others to find solutions. If you're younger, you may focus on your computer competencies and show your willingness to learn and adapt to new situations.

Highlight exactly why your age and subsequent years of experience make you the perfect candidate.

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The Investing Answer: Making a successful career change will require soul searching, researching, planning, saving and marketing to ensure that you are prepared to tackle the difficult job market, especially in a different industry. But for those who are serious about making the eight hours of the day spent on the job more enjoyable and fulfilling, the hard work will be well worth the effort.

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