A guide to changing your career at any stage

August 16, 2021 - 18 min read

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When should you make a career change?

The good and the bad of career change

How to choose a new career path

It's never too late to make a career change

You graduate high school and decide that you want to be an engineer. You pursue your chosen career path, gain skills and education on the way, and finally start working in your early 20s. But by the time you’re in your early 30s, you begin to question if you made the right choice.

Finding a career that is the best fit for your skills and in line with your interests is a journey of trials and errors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an average person holds about 12 different jobs in their working lifespan of 18-52 years.

If you have hit a career wall, it may be time to rethink your line of work.

If you’re worried that shifting careers won’t be possible for you, don’t be. Between 2015 and 2016, over 6 million people changed occupations, according to the BLS. In addition, the COVID-19-induced lockdowns and changes in the job market have prompted many more people to explore new career choices. No matter the stage of your career, it’s always possible to transition into a new role successfully.

When should you make a career change?

Every once in a while, you can feel uninterested or unmotivated about work. Many times that feeling can indicate that you need to take a break from work and unwind. But if this feeling persists over an extended period, you may need to look deeper and evaluate if this is the job you want to do for the rest of your life. Here are a few clear signs that point toward an impending career change.

You are not adding value

When you consistently perform well at a job, you know that you are adding value to an organization’s long-term goals and vision. It is also easier to feel good about yourself when you consistently meet deadlines and perform to your best potential.

The opposite is true when you’re feeling disconnected from your work and your organization. You may not be clear anymore about why you took up this job, and you’re consistently underperforming. Deadlines are slipping by, making you question if you are even a good fit for the job.

This apathy toward your work is a clear sign that you need to make a career change. If you’re having trouble feeling like you are adding value to your workplace, you should start looking for other opportunities.

You experience eternal boredom

We all have days when we aren’t exactly fired up about the work we do. Instead, we find ourselves daydreaming about the next vacation or even a clean break from the work we are currently doing. If this feeling starts extending from a few days to almost every day, it might be the time to look for your next move.

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Boredom at work can make even small tasks seem tedious and leave you with depleted energy levels at the end of a workday. When the feeling of dread about your work starts spilling into other areas of your life, it is a surefire sign that you need to change your job.

The only reason to stay is the money

The monetary compensation offered for a job plays a crucial role in whether you choose to take it up or not. But your paycheck shouldn’t be your only reason for showing up to work every day. If this sounds like you, it’s time to find another job that excites you.

You don't see a future in the current career

If you are not excited about leveling up in your current job, consider whether you’re even on the right career path. You may be taking every day as it comes, and you don’t think about where you want your career to go over the next few years.

If you’re taking the one-day-at-a-time approach and avoiding thinking about the future of this job, you are engaging in something called future-proofing. It is a clear sign you need to shift out of your current job.

The good and the bad of career change

While changing jobs means an opportunity to learn new skills and grow in your career, the shift also comes with uncertainty. You don’t know whether you will like your new career path or whether it will provide financial security. You can take stock of the benefits and downsides of making a career shift to be better prepared for the outcomes.

Pros of changing your career

  1. Learn new skills: Doing the same work day in and day out can often make you feel like your learning curve has flattened. Moving on to a new job gives you a chance to freshen up skills, learn new tools and ways of doing things, and level up.
  2. Get a fresh perspective: If you stay in one position for a long time, you may feel a sense of stagnation and dullness. Even if there's nothing wrong with the organization, you can become complacent or just not inspired or challenged. Moving on to a new role and a new organization makes you take stock and do some inner work. It can often give you a fresh perspective on your skills and the overall job market as well as on your values and preferences.
  3. Lower stress: When you feel you’re not adding value through your work, it can make you feel stressed about your career path. Changing jobs can relieve you of that stress, as you will feel more in control of the direction your career is taking.
  4. Find core competency: When you get stuck in the routine of a job, you often lose sight of your core skills and strengths that may not be fully utilized in your current role. A career shift can allow you to reflect on those strengths and build a career out of those.
  5. Expand network: Switching roles and industries opens up new avenues for you to network and learn from these people.

Cons of changing your career

  1. Financial insecurity: Leaving a stable, paying job behind and jumping back into the job market can put pressure on your finances. Ensure you have enough savings to tide out the period when you are looking for new opportunities and figuring out the next steps in your career move.
  2. Trial and error: You have decided that you do not want to stick with your current job anymore and want to move to the next opportunity as soon as possible. However, you are not yet sure about what this next move will be. Even if you know the next steps, they almost certainly will not work out exactly as you had planned. Being prepared for some uncertain months as you figure out your career change is a good idea.
  3. Learning curve: When you switch industries at a mid-to-senior career level, you have missed building fundamental skills that may be required for a career path in your chosen industry. Proactively learning new skills and gaining industry knowledge may be a way to increase your chances of growth in the new industry.
  4. Prove your worth: Making a career change often means you have to prove to new managers and colleagues the value you bring to the organization and your new team and role. You’ll likely need to go out of your comfort zone and perform job duties that you’re unfamiliar with. However, once you gain your new employer’s trust in your abilities, it can set you up for future growth.
  5. Increased competition: When you are jumping into a new industry or organization, you are pitting yourself against internal candidates who have been in the industry for a long time and know the workings of the sector. However, you can educate yourself about an organization or an industry before applying to jobs there, so you are not shooting arrows in the dark.

How to choose a new career path

You’ve identified that you need to make a career change and have weighed the pros and cons of doing so. Now you need to come up with a plan of action. Here are some strategies that you can use to decide how to transition from your current job to a new role.

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Revisit your core values

Before you do anything else, make time to examine your core values. This can help you determine the underlying values and motivations that drive your career. It doesn't have to take a long, an hour will do to start. 

Ask yourself:

  • Which values are non-negotiable?
  • Which ones must I honor to feel like my best self?

Often the motivation to make a career change has its roots in your core values. Maybe you've become aware that your current role or profession is in conflict with your values. Or, maybe your values have shifted with age and changing family responsibilities or personal aspirations. Even if the career change feels less voluntary, such a significant change is a unique opportunity to consider your values.

Use this opportunity to get a clear view of what matters to you now and how you'd like to see your values manifest in your life and work. You may want to take it further by sharing your list with a coach or other trusted advisor who can help you reflect on how your choices align, or don't, with your values.

Take an assessment

Start your career shift journey by getting a clearer understanding of your skills, interests, and aptitude. If you’re not sure about these factors, consider taking a career test. A few great options include:

  • Myers-Briggs Test: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the MBTI as it is popularly known, is a self-assessment test that sorts people into 16 personality types. The test indicates a person’s psychological type based on how they perceive and interact with the world.
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is one of the most common personality tests in the world. This test classifies people into four personality types—artisans, guardians, rationalists, idealists—based on their responses.

These tests shouldn’t be your single source of truth, but they can prompt reflection and illuminate critical factors about your personality and work style. From there, you can determine options for an appropriate career choice.

Network

Gather more knowledge about the career path you’re hoping to break into by attending industry events and talking to people who are already working in the roles that you potentially want. This networking will give you an insider’s perspective on what the job would be like. Plus, you can make connections that you can later leverage when applying to jobs in the industry.

You can reach out to people who are in your desired roles on LinkedIn. In addition, you can join associations that serve your desired industry to be in the know about events where you can network.

Get help from a recruiter

Recruiters can help you take stock of your skills and find jobs that are a good fit. They can also help you identify what you are passionate about and then guide you toward developing a career in that field.

Look for recruiters who have connections in industries that you want to break into. With this background, they may know about upcoming positions before they are advertised on job boards. Or, they can direct you to industry professionals with whom you can network to understand the sector.

It's never too late to make a career change

One of the significant roadblocks to make a career change is inertia. You’ve become too comfortable in your current work situation and are hesitant to rock the boat.

However, overcoming that inertia and taking a step toward career change can set you on a path to a career that keeps you fulfilled in the long term. The only thing you need is to make sure you understand your reasons for changing your job, identifying your skills and strengths, and then building a plan of action keeping those skills in mind.

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Published August 16, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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