1. Is it a good idea to switch careers? And how do you go about doing it?
Switching careers can be a good thing, especially if one realises that you have reached the "end of the road" in your current career, or if you are looking for new and interesting challenges in the future.
One should, of course, very carefully consider all the implications – having to possibly study further, having to apply for positions, having to go through the interview process and then possibly having to make do with a lower salary (not always, but sometimes).
If you are not certain about the career choice, you should consider some form of formalised and professional career guidance. You should approach the student counselling department at the university closest to you or a registered (this is important) career counsellor. They will have a service where they do career guidance testing and counselling and will be able to give you pointers to your next steps and the particular area that will best suit you, given your qualifications and interests. Once you have established some direction, you can then make the necessary future plans.
It is also important that you should have a good "marketing" document available to be able to present to prospective new employers.
2. How do I sell myself to prospective companies when I've never worked in that field before?
Companies and organisations today are seeking employees who have skills and competencies that they will be able to utilise in order to enhance their service delivery. It is therefore important that in your CV you highlight for the prospective employer all the knowledge, skills and competencies that you have obtained and gained over the years. They will then be able to judge whether your lack of technical proficiency in that field will be a hindrance or whether this can be rectified through some form of training and development.
3. What is the shortest time one can stay with a company without looking bad?
There is really no hard and fast rule as regards the length of stay. There are many factors which may determine this. This most important thing to consider is what does your work record look like – are you moving from job to job to improve your knowledge and skills and have you made a contribution to your previous employer, or are you merely moving to increase your salary? These are the types of questions that a prospective employer will ask when studying your CV.
4. When prospective employees ask why I've only been with my present company for a short time, what should I say?
The golden rule in any interview situation is scrupulous honesty. Remember, that a good prospective employer will (and should) do a reference check on you as part of a comprehensive recruitment and selection process.
So, if there were personal issues, tell them. If the job did not come up to expectations, advise them why. If the duties and responsibilities were not in keeping with your qualifications and experience, this must be highlighted.
5. Does job hopping or job switching look bad on a CV? And how can I counter this?
The immediate answer to this question is, yes, job hopping or switching can look very bad on a CV, especially if it appears that it was done with selfish motives (bigger salary, more perks, etc.). This is why it is very important to have a well-constructed CV to hand.
The CV will set out all the knowledge, skills and competencies that a person has gained over his or her working career and these will then be evident from the various positions that a person has held. This should also be highlighted in the covering letter when applying for a particular post.
And then, of course, there is the interview during the course of which you will be able expand on your competencies... but that will need to be the subject of further discussion.