Making a career change can be as invigorating as it is frightening. Research is a good way to relieve the panic.

Before you enroll in any expensive courses or quit your job, identify what's lacking in your current situation and what you need to find job satisfaction. If you're unhappy with your job, you probably skipped this step a long time ago.Make a list of your current skills to see what could carry over into a new job or industry.

"A switch to a new career might look strange on the surface," said Kathleen Wilson, a career management consultant in Costa Mesa, Calif. "But when you look at your core competencies, it could easily make sense."

For instance, someone who is self-motivated, flexible and able to cope with rejection might be sitting at a customer-service desk. Those personal traits, combined with some new training, could make an excellent salesperson.

The most important thing a career-switcher can do is meet with someone who is doing the job, Wilson said. Talk to them about their workday, what they like and what challenges they face.

It appears that more employed people are making career changes, said Wilson, who has worked for several large out-place-ment firms.

A "career checkup" to find out if my job is still a good fit for me:

- Am I willing to start over in a new field?

- Am I willing to learn something completely different from my old job?

What to ask about an industry:

- What is the long-term occupational outlook for this work?

- What significant trends are affecting the industry?

- Who are the major players? Who are the best companies to work for? Why?

- Can I earn a salary comparable to what I am making now?