Changing jobs in the same field, even in a tight economy, can be risky. If you have several years of experience, moved up in the ranks with a string of notable accomplishments to add to your resume, you’ll probably be snapped up without too much trouble.
Changing careers, on the other hand, is a little more difficult. You may have been a great sous chef, but will you have what it takes to move into hotel front desk management? What if you’ve had it managing other people’s money as a Financial Advisor and decide to start a new career running a 24-hour fitness center? Do you want to get out of your dead-end administrative job to go back to school and get a law degree? They say it’s never too late to follow your passion, but what are the benefits and cost to make a major career change?
Examine Your Motives
Before you quit your present job, examine your motives. Everyone gets discouraged occasionally, want to pack it in and try something new. Most of the time, the feeling doesn’t last and you’re back on the job. Changing careers affects you, your family, financial stability, work and life schedule, work environment, friends, status and future. Make sure your job dissatisfaction isn’t really relationship or family problems, financial trouble or just boredom. Talk things over with a friend, spouse or counselor to be sure you’re not going through a mid-life crisis or blue funk. What will the new career provide that your present job lacks?
Do You Homework
Thoroughly investigate your new career choice. Will it provide the opportunities, salary and benefits you are looking for? Is this your passion? Do you have the skills, talents, education or experience to be successful? If not, are you willing to put in the time and money to get the required education and experience? How will it affect your family, and are they supportive of your new career direction? Try to think of as many questions as you can, and do some research. Talk to friends or other professionals in your chosen career to get their expert insight. Research similar jobs and companies on the Internet. Look for commentaries from current or past employees or professionals in your new career. What did they like and why did they leave?
Take a Test Drive
So you want to leave your engineering job and work for a non-profit helping provide medical services to third world countries. Non-profits are always looking for volunteers to provide assistance and keep costs down. Volunteer to work for an agency in your new field or provide some services on a contract or part-time basis. Volunteering is a great way to try out a new career before your leave your present job. The work itself may be satisfying, but the work environment, schedule or dropping down to entry-level from your present status may be more difficult than you imagined. If you are used to being in charge, taking an administrative position with a boss and lots of rules and regulations can be frustrating. Actually working the job takes strips away any false expectations.
Count the Costs
If you’ve been in your career for awhile, you probably have three weeks’ vacation, a 401k plan, health benefits, seniority and even time towards a pension or retirement plan. Changing careers often means a lower salary or hourly wage, starting over with a new health plan and a waiting period for vacation and sick leave. Before you make the switch, check your bank statement and savings account. Do you have enough funds to carry you through? Are you (and your family) willing to make the sacrifices and cut costs to live on your lower salary? How will lifestyle changes affect everyone? It’s hard to anticipate every roadblock, but finding out afterwards that you can’t make it on the lower salary is too late.
While age discrimination is illegal, age matters. A career change at 20 isn’t as risky as one at 50 or 60. Do you have the years to devote to your new career before retirement? If you have to go back to medical school, go through an internship and residency before realizing your dream of being a doctor, will you be too old to enjoy your career? Will your present health or energy level give you enough healthy, productive years, or take too much away from your life? Tough questions, but a dose of reality early on can help you make an informed choice.
If you’ve done the research, counted the costs, considered the risks and gotten the “thumbs up” from family or spouse, go for it. Make a plan to get the education, training or career counseling to revamp your resume and start making the switch. Life is short. Make your passion your life’s work, and it won’t seem like work at all.
Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, spent over seven years as a human resources director and is a career coach, consultant and freelance writer focusing on how to land your dream job in a tough employment market.