The majority of the working population wants to change careers, some in the next two years. How risky is that move and how easy is it to change though?
Most people strive to have the perfect career, taking the necessary steps to get the right education, work at the best companies in their field and climb the corporate ladder through their hard work. Frequently though no matter how much time, effort and money someone has invested in achieving their career goals they feel unfulfilled.
According to the London School of Business and Finance, 47% of the U.K.’s workforce is considering making a career change and amongst the Millenial labour force, that number jumps up to a significant 66%. But why do nearly half of the entire workforce, and more than half of young employees want to switch careers?
Whatever the reasons are, considering a change is an extreme measure when you are unhappy with your professional or personal situation. But if all other options are exhausted, or you are determined to make it work, it can be an exciting journey into your untapped potential.
Not all career changes are negative; actually, there exist numerous examples of extremely successful switches. Vera Wang, one of the world's most famous fashion designers, was first a figure skater, a journalist and then entered the fashion world when she was 40.
Here are some other successful career changers to help inspire and empower your decision:
- Jeff Bezos – Mr. Amazon himself was an investment banker when inspiration struck for a completely virtual (online) retail platform. Using his business acumen and his ability to discern buyers’ tendencies, he launched Amazon.com. The company’s first headquarters was based out of Bezos's garage.
- Jonah Peretti – Jonah was a middle school Computer Science teacher when he decided that teaching the fundamentals of Windows wasn’t fulfilling (or lucrative enough). So he started the entertainment and news sites Buzzfeed and Huffington Post.
- Two Lawyers became the go-to source for food fans of New York when they created the Zagat Resturant Survey. Before their success as food critics, Tim and Nina Zagat worked as lawyers.
All of these people prove that not only is a career change possible, but sometimes it’s a resounding success. Let’s take a look at some of the steps, reasons and ways to change your career.
The pros and cons of changing careers
As with any life-altering decision, positive and negative effects should be expected. Cataloguing what can be a potential downside to a decision that seems at the time to be immensely logical could help you reevaluate and avoid a damaging choice.
1. Health benefits
A negative or toxic workplace can affect your health in a multitude of ways, both physically and psychologically. Chronic stress as a result of a negative workplace can affect the immune system, exposing you to inflammation and infection.
2. Career benefits
Changing can help you preserve forward professional momentum and life-long learning which increases productivity. Your knowledge base will also expand as you learn about the new industry you enter.
3. Using untapped talent
One of the most significant reasons that pushes people towards a career change is wanting to pursue their passions and take advantage of untapped talents and strengths.
4. Regaining career control
Pivoting your career can give you an unprecedented feeling of control, especially after a period of inactivity or professional stagnation.
5. Moving outside your comfort zone
Moving out of your comfort zone can help you reassess the aforementioned attributes, skills, abilities and knowledge which lay dormant in your previous position.
6. Financial benefits
Certain professions carry much more significant earning power than others such as education versus finance.
1. Financial instability
On the flipside, a huge disadvantage of changing careers is that it can create financial instability, especially if you leave a middle or senior position in an industry that you are well established. In most cases, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky when you switch careers, you will be forced to take an entry-level job, and by correlation an entry-level salary.
2. Reduced job security
Middle and senior positions also carry much more job security than entry-level positions. A member of a company’s middle and senior management is inherently more valuable than a lower-tier employee.
3. 'Loss' of knowledge and experience
Another jarring effect of changing careers is the complete loss of your professional network, both established within your workplace and within your industry. You will also have to overcome a loss of knowledge; the immediate repercussion is, of course, going through the labour and cost of training.
4. Communication breakdown
One of the repercussions that might not be immediately obvious is a breakdown of communication when attempting to communicate concepts that you might not be familiar with. Especially if you leave a profession where you had a large breadth of knowledge or were even considered an expert, this transition to a field you have a limited knowledge of can be extremely frustrating and humbling.
Why do you want to change careers?
While considering the benefits and disadvantages of changing careers, you must also start to assess not only why you are committing to a career shift, but also what is pushing you in that direction. First look for the tell-tale signs that might be contributing to your feeling of discontent:
Fatigue, tension headaches, failing health due to choices (mainly food or drink ones) made because of an unhealthy work-life balance. Work is a large part of our life and our day. The majority of our waking hours are spent at work and the majority of our productive years will be dedicated to our work and career. When this relationship is toxic, it can and will affect almost all other social and professional interactions and dynamics in our lives.
Monetary or non-monetary benefits
When these benefits do not compensate for the lack of emotional and psychological rewards, work can start to feel like a vicious cycle. Frequently this effect is observed in the financial industry, especially in the senior members. Even Bezos left a lucrative career in stock brokerage to pursue something new and exciting.
Superficially 'good' career path
Frequently people will put immense amounts of energy into evolving their professional growth and following what at the time seems like a positive path, only to become completely disenchanted and disengaged when they reach their goals. It could be because of the rapid progress and excitement of their early career, chalked full of promotions and raises. This is in stark contrast to the stability and banality of a more senior position. Perhaps, once security sets in, in combination with fatigue, complacency emerges.
It may become redundant by the end of this article, but this is a massive factor when people consider switching careers. The effect is even more prominent in highly lucrative fields because people might have entered the industry attracted by high compensation, and then realised they do not enjoy the work. But they become trapped by the generous financial gains.
Expecting that everything will be ideal, perfect and exciting in another industry or field is very common and also foolish. It is usually an unrealistic expectation; every workplace has middle management, office politics, long hours and micromanagers. It might be your actual workplace and not necessarily your industry that’s at fault. You must make sure you are not idealising or over-inflating your expectations which will profoundly influence and skew your decision. Making a biased or rash decision can have devastating effects on your career, finances and even personal life.
It’s very easy to fall into this trap especially if you are disgruntled, disengaged and frustrated in your current position. Your specific workplace can become a mascot or symbol for an entire industry, a generalisation you invest all your frustrations into. Although painfully obvious, a middle or senior position might be much better in a different field, but that will be irrelevant since you will most likely start from the ground level again. Are the lower tiers of the industry you want to enter as beneficial as the middle and senior positions in your current field? There are ways you can demystify these perceptions which I will talk about later in the article.
Although you shouldn’t have an unrealistic expectation when switching careers, you should still have expectations, demands and requirements.
No matter what type of career pivot you perform throughout your professional life, performing a personal inventory will help you self-assess and reveal both your personal strengths and weaknesses. It is especially important if you are entering a field that does not overlap at all with the skills you use in your current position. Skills are generally split into two groups:
- What hard skills do you have? This includes any academic knowledge or knowledge acquired through on-the-job training and experience. Always remember to factor in knowledge acquired outside the workplace as a result of continuing education or for personal enrichment.
- What soft skills do you have? These can also be loosely categorised as interpersonal skills. Increasingly in recent years, recruiters have been overlooking candidates who are lacking hard skills if a candidate has highly developed soft or interpersonal skills. Maybe I should specify here when I say lacking hard skills I do not mean a total absence, but lacking compared to other candidates.
A personal inventory is just a mental assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, knowledge and skills. This step helps direct you towards bolstering your skill set, but at this point in the process, it is unnecessary to invest time, money and energy to increase them. Enhancing your skills should be done, in the preliminary stages before you seek a job in your new career.
Research your new career path
If you want to make a smooth career shift, then the more knowledge you have regarding your new industry, the better. Look into what average salaries look like using Prospects or Glassdoor. The great thing about Glassdoor is that it not only gives you the national average salaries for the job you search, but you can also see reviews on companies that employ people in similar fields. The employees themselves write the reviews, giving you valuable insight into the company culture, work-life balance and administration.
Websites you can use to research your new career path:
Another important factor when choosing your new career is longevity. Is your new profession going to be replaced or become obsolete due to technology? Is your career something that can be outsourced for a fraction of the price?
During this stage of changing careers, it is highly recommended that you have a second round of self-assessments of sorts. Ask yourself these questions with the new data you have in hand.
- Are your core requirements for a new career in their majority covered by your new path, if not are the deficiencies items that you can overlook due to the benefits that you will receive by changing?
- Does your new career path mitigate the issues that made you decide to shift careers?
- Does your new path allow you to use your under-utilized talents and passions that made you pursue a different direction initially?
- Also, try to find any overlapping knowledge that might be applicable to the profession you want to pursue.
Consider this part of the procedure risk management. This knowledge should help you perform a much smoother and successful transition. Now that you have researched, assessed and self-assessed you can start looking for a job that will induct you into your new industry of choice. Before you look through a myriad of job posts, though, there are some things you should do.
Internal job opportunities
If you proved yourself to be a valuable employee and your problems do not involve management or company culture, you might want to see if the organisation you currently are working for has an open position that will allow you to make a career shift without leaving your employer. This comes with many benefits, first and foremost you will not lose your professional network, something which is impossible if you perform a career shift with a different employer.
An important but often overlooked benefit is that you are familiar and in tune with company culture. This will further facilitate your transition into a new career because that is one less variable you need to adapt to.
Look internally for a position that will allow you to perform a career shift without leaving your current company, especially if you are content there.
You should also look internally for other coworkers that are looking to change careers. It creates a network which isn’t dependent on industry or common knowledge. Not only will this group of people form a support system but it will help you create connections outside your usual social/professional circle.
There is an effect called the employment paradox; you will see how it fits into networking, in just a moment. Essentially the employment paradox is when you look for a job in a new industry, with years of experience that isn’t applicable to the specific field. It's like having a multi-year gap in your resume, but at the same time have more experience than the person interviewing you.
The reason this ties into networking is that you can cover your gap in knowledge, or at least lessen it, with a strong network, developed over years of experience. Even if the network you have doesn’t overlap they can be great character references and most of them know people outside their respective industries which might help you during your job search.
You're experienced but your experience isn't applicable to the new field you chose.
Remember that an interview is basically a sales pitch. Although you might not have all the specific knowledge that someone else that spent a lifetime in the industry has, you bring a fresh perspective with a diverse background, a proven track record within a different industry and of course the passion to risk a good career so you can pursue what truly makes you happy. If that doesn’t convey that you are a very motivated hire, then you might want to interview elsewhere.
Job shadowing and interning
I know that assessment is becoming tiresomely redundant, but unfortunately, it’s the thing that you must depend on when making such a substantial and risky career choice. Until now any reference to assessment had to do with personal assessment, now it has to do with the assessment of the profession you would like to get into.
The best way to do this is to try out the job or industry you want to work in, either by shadowing someone or interning in your free time. Yes, it will come at the cost of your personal life, but this is arguably the best way to figure out if you are a good fit for the industry you want to enter and if the industry meets your expectations.
This will also give you a good baseline of:
- What your skill gap is, which could make you reconsider the schedule or timeline you set up for your transition.
- You might need further education or certification to facilitate your move from one career to the other.
Even if you ignore all other steps in this guide, do not skip this one. It is an invaluable experience, which might make you completely reevaluate your decision to change careers or what industry to enter.
Enhance your skills
You might need to “pad” your skill set, especially if the career you intend to enter is very different from your previous job. The great thing about expanding your knowledge base is that it will not only facilitate your transition, but it will also be a personal investment, something that will make you a more valuable employee overall.
A diverse knowledge base and skill set is a highly desirable attribute in new candidates today, due to many fields requiring overlapping knowledge and sharing technologies. A Human Resource Manager will greatly benefit from a working knowledge of database management software, and an IT professional would greatly benefit from business administration knowledge. There are both traditional and non-traditional avenues to acquire knowledge depending on their application.
Free online learning platforms:
- Havard Online Learning
- Stanford Courses Online
If you are looking for a career where a portfolio can be presented, such as content marketing, graphic design, web design or programming, then you don’t necessarily need any official certification or accreditation - unless required by the specific company. Providing your portfolio when applying for a job outside your field of expertise is one way to prove proficiency in the field, without multiple years of experience.
There are also multiple online or open universities that offer free courses, which you can take if you feel that you need to enrich your knowledge regarding the field you are entering. Some of these offer accreditation or certification others do not. Even Harvard and Stanford, two extremely prestigious universities offer online courses.
Another resource is an online learning platform called Coursera which offers free courses online and collaborates with some of the most prestigious Universities in both the U.S. and abroad including Stanford, Duke, John Hopkins University, The University of Pennsylvania, UC San Diego, the University of Michigan. If you are just looking for enrichment Khanacademy offers a plethora of introductory and advanced classes in multiple subjects spanning the hard science and humanities.
Rewrite your CV
This is a very, very important part of the process that many guides and advice articles forget to mention: rewrite your CV. Not only so you can add your most recent professional accomplishments and experience, but also so you can modify it or “tailor” it to the industry you want to enter. It will give you an opportunity to fill your CV with information that is pertinent and relevant to the job/industry you want to enter.
Also remember that just because you are entering a new field doesn’t mean that your experience isn’t valuable, you will just need to tie your experience and knowledge to the specific field. For example, Bezos used the knowledge regarding consumer tendencies he picked up in the financial industry to create an online platform to sell books.
Although financier and online book retailer might seem extremely disparate, an overlap still exists. This, of course, requires knowledge of the new industry (which you should have researched already) and some creativity when compiling your roster of skills, abilities and knowledge then connecting them back to the industry you have chosen.
Reformatting your CV for a career change:
- Information relevant to the industry you seek to enter.
- Certifications and knowledge applicable to the new position.
- Successful actions taken while working in your previous industry.
- Experience in your previous industry.
Prioritising items that are relevant to the industry doesn’t mean that you should completely avoid adding your experience in a disparate industry. Keep in mind though that an excessively long CV might be off-putting to recruiters so try to strike a balance between the two.
Starting the job hunt
Now that you have done the necessary groundwork to maximise the possibility of success, you should start looking for jobs in your career of choice. There are multiple forums for this from the most mundane like printed media job classified ads to the most advanced like following a company’s social media waiting for the announcement of positions. Each method of job procurement has its pros and cons; we’ll explore the most common ones.
1. Utilising recruiters/recruitment agencies
No other method of getting a job comes with a more robust network than that of a recruiter. It is even more useful if the recruiter/headhunter or talent procurement agent is well known and liked, which because of the nature of their job to “sell” a candidate isn’t always the case.
If they have a good reputation and established relationship with hiring managers their word can help you get noticed amongst a deep pool of candidates. When employing a recruiter, you also get the benefit of having a highly motivated individual promoting your interests. The reasons aren’t altruistic, though, it's because recruiters are paid when you get the job.
The final benefit of using a recruiter is time; if they are looking for jobs on your behalf, that is time that you don’t have to dedicate to job hunting. It is especially valuable if you are keeping your current job while attempting to transition into your new career.
That last point above can be a disadvantage because in their eagerness to get you hired they might compromise an offer and “undersell” you. A good recruiter will, of course, contact you to approve a lower offer but remember that negotiation is a large part of their job; thus they might be able to convince you to take the lower offer.
At the same time, since recruiters are adept at negotiation they might even a secure a higher initial offer than you would be able to. A recruiter might also try to get you a job in a workplace or industry that wasn’t your first choice; they will not specifically target a company because of the company culture or benefits that might well be your priority when seeking a job.
2. Utilising job boards
In recent years many reputable job boards or websites dedicated to job seekers and recruiters have appeared. Online job boards not only offer job posting but also salary comparisons, networking functions, and descriptions of jobs.
Glassdoor even offers employee reviews of companies that you can use to discern company culture and frequent employee complaints about the job. There are lots of job posts, but at the same time, there are a vast amount of candidates applying for these positions.
This creates a crème de la crème paradigm, only the brightest, best and most talented (or most active) rise to the top of this deep pool. The rest are relegated to spending numerous hours in front of their tablets, computers and phones sending CVs and getting overly excited when people visit their profile.
Unfortunately, another side effect of both these job boards large size and impersonal character of these websites means that there are numerous false postings (some more legitimate than others) and a multitude of expired offers that employers never took down.
I am not calling the companies irresponsible, they of course “police” their websites to ensure that illegitimate postings are taken down, but due to the volume, this is for all intents and purposes an endless process.
3. Utilising social media
A very new addition to job seekers arsenals has been social media. Although LinkedIn is the most intuitive social media platform for somebody that is looking for work, having a professional profile across multiple social media sites, will help bolster your online presence. Another benefit is that you can share content related to the field you seek to enter and change the settings on your personal account so recruiters can’t find it, in case they see something that would hurt your chance of getting the job.
Even if you completely sterilise your social media profiles in anticipation of a job search, nothing is safer than having an entirely separate profile for professional interactions. This will also help you connect with individuals that aren’t exclusively recruiters or hiring managers who will help you network in your new field.
Furthermore, if you choose to continue working and have a very specific organisation you’d like to work for, you can subscribe to that company’s social media and when they post a position you’ll know immediately.
Recently even Reddit has featured boards regarding jobs, but for the most part, these are unregulated, so tread with caution, this is just another tool, always cross reference a posting, the best resource being the website of the company which is offering the job.
Even though in the past, career changers might have been regarded as pariahs amongst the majority of employees that were extremely loyal, in recent years job hopping has not only become the norm, it's expected and often a long employment is usually taken as complacency. Exploring your untapped potential and talents can be a rewarding endeavour, but as with any journey there are some inherent risks, by following these steps, you can at least minimise your chances of failure and maximise your chances of success.
Are you considering a career change? What measures will you employ? Let us know in the comments section below...