Is it time for a career change? What to do if it is

Is it time for a career change? What to do if it is

Apr 10, 2020 Strategy by writer


When we’re growing up, a lot of the big things we’re supposed to do in life are allowed to wait. What school you’ll go to, who you’ll marry, if you’ll have kids, where you want to live, all things that you get a pass on…at least for a little while…Your chosen career, though? That one you have to get down early.

Hey, so now that you’re a teenager, what do you want to do with the REST OF YOUR LIFE?

With the pressure to map out a career path when we’re still in school, it’s no wonder that a lot of us end up in the wrong career. In fact, according to a University of Phoenix study, 58% of adults are interested in changing careers and 86% of them are in their 20s. It’s normal to feel conflicted about what you want to do with your life. And there’s no shame in turning your back on a career that isn’t right for you.

In this guide, we’re exploring what it means to make a career change, how to decide if it’s the right time, what the benefits are, and whether it’s ever too late to try something new in your career.

Before we get into all of that good stuff, though, let’s kick off with a little quiz.

The ‘should I change my job?’ quiz!

Ups and downs are common at work. There’ll be days when you’re stressed or uninterested, or just feel like staying in bed and watching Netflix all day (been there!). But, when the downs start to outnumber the ups, remember you spend more time working than just about anything else, likely more than sleeping. You owe it to your future self and your mental health to ask yourself: is it time for a fresh start?

How to decide you’re ready for a new career

If you’re feeling like enough is enough in your current job, the next step is to decide whether it’s time to look for a new role in the same industry or pursue a new career.

If any of the indicators below raise a red flag, it’s a sign that a career change might be for the best. If all of these indicators apply to you, you’re most certainly in the wrong vocation.

You’re bored

The average person spends 90,000 hours in their lifetime at work. That’s a lot of hours to be spent bored. Work doesn’t have to be monotonous, it can be engaging, interesting, and fulfilling. If you’re performing the same duties, week in, week out, every year, for the same pay and little in the way of a challenge, you might regret how you spent so much of your time it come retirement.

You’re not progressing

When did you last get a promotion? What about new skills — do you regularly learn new things? Considering the rate of technological progress is faster now than it has ever been, if you’ve failed to add practical skills or qualifications that could be listed on your resume, you’re probably not progressing as fast as you could be.

Your pay hasn’t increased

Money isn’t everything, but you should be compensated fairly for the work you do. A raise to meet minimum wage laws is a given, but you should expect your salary increase in line with your role in the company and time served. If you can’t remember the last time your pay increased, there’s a good chance you’re not earning what you’re worth.

Remember, inflation rises each year, so if you aren’t getting yearly raises, you’re technically taking a pay cut!

For an idea of how much you should be paid based on your job title, location, and time served, check out Payscale’s salary data.

You’re overworked

Being asked to do extra tasks or work additional hours with little recognition in return is a sign that your employer takes you for granted. Once and awhile staying late or working weekends is OK, especially if you’re getting paid overtime or passionate about your work. If you’re working 40+ hours a week and would gladly work less given the choice, overworking yourself or ”burnout” is a serious way to fall out of love with your work.

You’re not utilizing your skills

If you’re a trained web developer and you’re out there packing boxes for a living, you’re wasting your talent.

Of course, what you’re trained in isn’t always what you want to do with your life. But if you have a particular set of skills that you enjoy using and there’s no sign of doing so in your current job, find a career where they’re in demand.

Your organization is struggling

If the company you work for is struggling, there’ll be signs of it on the ground. If employees are getting laid off or operations are being streamlined, this could create opportunities for some and a sign it’s time to move on for others. Some companies succeed while others fail. This isn’t your fault or at least it’s most likely not your fault.

Your industry is struggling

If the company you work for is struggling because the industry you’re in has taken a downturn, now could be the perfect time to change careers. This is and will always be part of the world we live. The industries that worked in the past won’t always work in the future. Fortunate are those in these evolving industries who see the writing on the wall before it’s too late.

You hate your boss

A lot of people don’t quit jobs, they quit horrible bosses. If you don’t like your boss and the feeling seems to be mutual, you’ll end up hating your job and not performing as well as you could.

Life’s too short to be angry and frustrated at work. There are plenty of wonderful bosses just waiting for you to like them so that they can like you back.

Are you suffering from career burnout?

Career burnout is a real thing. And it can be more than “Urgh. I can’t be bothered with work today.” It can seriously affect your emotional, physical, and mental well-being.

According to The American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD, burnout is “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”

In an article for Forbes, Dr. Ballard also listed 10 signs that show you might be experiencing burnout.

  1. Exhaustion
  2. Lack of motivation
  3. Frustration, cynicism and other negative emotions
  4. Cognitive problems
  5. Slipping job performance
  6. Interpersonal problems at home and at work
  7. Not taking care of yourself
  8. Being preoccupied with work… when you’re not at work
  9. Generally decreased satisfaction
  10. Health problems

If you recognize these symptoms in yourself, a career change can be a solution.

What causes burnout?

Career burnout can be brought on by a number of factors, including:

  • Unclear job expectations —not knowing what bosses expect of you at work or trying to hit moving targets
  • Differing values —the way the company does business doesn’t match your own values
  • Lack of interest in the work —being bored or disinterested or feeling that your skills aren’t being utilized
  • Isolation —working without social support, feedback, or recognition
  • Work-life imbalance —all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the proverb goes. In other words, working so often that you miss out on time with family and friends
  • Dysfunctional colleagues —bullying, undermining, or micromanaging from bosses or other members of your team.

If you’re reading this and feel like you might be suffering from burnout, here’s a few tips that can help:

  • Take a day or two off and truly unplug. Don’t overthink taking time off by convincing yourself you have to plan and take a big vacation. A day or two off at home to reset can do wonders.
  • Write down all the things contributing to your burnout and make an action plan to fix the problems.
  • Seek professional help. Whether that means meeting with a therapist or connecting with a career coach, there are trained pros who can help you navigate your burnout and support you in finding more balance.
  • Seriously consider that a new job or a drastic career change may be the only way to avoid serious mental and physical damage.

It is possible to overcome burnout with support, exercise, better sleep habits, and more flexible work-life balance. However, if you notice that everyone at your company or on your particular team struggles with burnout, it’s likely the problem isn’t you and more likely your company culture or industry isn’t aligned with your desired work environment.

The benefits of changing careers

So far we’ve focused solely on the reasons why you might want to get as far away from your current career as possible… or not as the case may be.

But what’s in it for you?

Because changing careers isn’t like changing underwear. It’s a big, scary thing. Kind of like changing your relationship status on Facebook, but scarier.

It’s life-changing. Fortunately, the benefits make the decision worthwhile. Your career is something worth being intentional about. Without being intentional about your career choice, you could sell yourself short, miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, and lose years of positive work experience you can never get back.

Realizing your potential

Contrary to what some people would have you believe, it is possible to enjoy what you do for a living. And a lot of that enjoyment comes from realizing your potential. Maybe you’re a natural born leader that hasn’t had the chance to show it. Or have an eye for design that’s been waiting for an opportunity to flourish.

Changing careers gives you chance to fulfill your ambitions — ambitions that were put aside due to circumstance or lack of opportunity.

Going where the work is

If you’re changing careers because the work in your current industry is drying up, you’ve got the chance to enter an industry where demand is plentiful. If you’re wondering where that demand is, Indeed crunched the numbers:

MSN also reports that IT infrastructure, computer systems design, outdoor construction, and professional services like accounting, advertising, consulting, research, and photography are all growing rapidly. There’s no shortage of option when making a career change.

Put your current skills to good use

Your first career isn’t always the one that best suits your skills. According to The Guardian, about one in three graduates end up being mismatched to the jobs they find after leaving university.

This means facing poorer prospects and lower earnings than those that have received the correct career advice and crafted a resume to find a career that fits their skill set. Often, however, people don’t realize that a career isn’t the right fit until you’re in it.

Take the time to properly assess your skills. What are you trained in? What kind of work do you want to do? What comes easily to you that is harder for most people?

Identify the career you really want based on your skill set and use it to guide your job search. Then, take your skills and present them in a way that shows employers you’re the ideal candidate.

Learn new skills

Learning new skills is one of the biggest benefitsof changing careers. While prolific job hopping doesn’t look great on a resume, the skills you’ve acquired through different types of work do.

Regardless of what it is you do, you’ll amass a collection of soft skills that can be applied to your new career. Things like good communication, time-keeping, work ethic, problem-solving, teamwork, and flexibility.

You’ll also pick up a range of hard skills — things that you’re taught in order to do the work, like computer programming, machine operation, foreign language, data analysis or digital marketing skills, for example.

Learning new things boosts confidence and promotes innovation.

Expand your network

Getting a new job means meeting new people — people that inspire, support, guide, and teach you. Working in a new team also helps you grow personally and professionally, freeing you of the stagnation of working among colleagues that don’t share the same career ambitions you do.

Earn more money

Changing a career purely for monetary reasons probably isn’t the best recipe for success, but it’s always nice to get paid more.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when changing jobs, the average employee can see their pay increase by up to 20%. Compare this with staying put in the same job, where workers see only a 3% increase.

How old is too old for a career change?

Taking the benefits of changing careers into account, and your specific circumstances, a career change can seem like a no-brainer, right?

But wait. The age-old question of age has reared its ugly head: Am I too old to be changing careers? No. Absolutely, categorically, no. You are not too old for a career change because no age is too old.

The idea that your career is on a timer and the moment you hit a certain age milestone you forgo the opportunity for changing your mind is silly. It’s rooted in the thought that you MUST know what you want to do with the rest of your life when you leave school, that if you make the wrong choice in your youth, it’s tough luck.

This is nonsense. b If you want to make a career change go for it.

The two ages thrown around most often by the “it’s time to stick with the career you chose, I’m afraid” brigade are 30 and 40. The thinking goes, that by 30 or 40, you’ve invested a lot of time in your current career and leaving means throwing away years of invested energy.

This is a perfect example of the sunk cost fallacy, and it can be extremely destructive if followed.

Why would you spend even longer in a career you hate because you’ve spent a lot of years there already?

It’s crazy. So let’s focus on dispelling a few career change myths.

Changing careers at 30

66% of adults in their 30s are interested in changing careers.

Let’s say you’re 30 now and you’ll retire at 65. That’s 35 years in a new career. More time than you’ve spent on this planet thus far.

Changing careers now doesn’t make you damaged goods to employers, it actually puts you at a strong advantage. You have the perfect combination of experience and youth.

According to NACE’s Job Outlook survey, 91% of employers prefer candidates to have work experience.At 30, with one or more jobs under your belt, you’ve certainly got that. The same survey also shows that 26% of employers prefer work experience of any typeand 44% have no preference over how work experience was gained.

If you want proof that changing careers at 30 is a real possibility, at 30 Jeff Bezos was in a lucrative career as a computer scientist on Wall Street. By 31, he’d moved into e-commerce and launched Amazon. Not such a dumb choice was it?

Sara Blakely spent seven years in her 20s selling office supplies door-to-door before quitting in 2000 to pursue a career selling footless pantyhose. Fast-forward to today and her business, Spanx, generates over $250 million in annual revenues.

When Terry Crews quit the NFL in 1997 at 29, he was broke and took a job sweeping floors. Two years later he landed a job on a syndicated TV show. Three years after that, in 2002, he got his big break in the movie “Friday After Next.” Now he’s one of the most recognizable actors in the world. And the face of the Old Spice ads,some of the best commercials of all time!

Changing careers at 40

60% of adults in their 40s are interested in changing careers.

But how possible is it? How much of difference do 10 years make? No difference at all.

One of the biggest perceptions of changing careers at this stage of your life is that employers will see you as less productive than younger candidates. This isn’t true!

Another career change myth is that you’re simply too old to get hired.

First of all, 40 isn’t old. Secondly, there are laws in place that protect against age discrimination. An employer has to hire you based on your character, skill set, and ability to do the job. And the good thing for you is that, at 40, you have experience in abundance.

At the end of the day, employers want good workers with relevant experience. If that’s you, your 40 years of age has little bearing on the hiring process. Making a career change is not easy. If anything making an intentional career change demonstrates to hiring managers that you are a pro-active problem-solver and not the kind of employee just looking for a paycheck.

Job coach Bettina Seidman of SEIDBET, listed some of the qualities job-seekers over 40 bring to the table:

  • Workers over 40 are very educated
  • They are healthier than ever before
  • They are committed to doing quality work
  • They bring patience, expertise, maturity, and stability
  • They have great experience
  • They bring good connections to an employer
  • They are great mentors
  • Turnover rates are lower among workers over 40
  • They’re not gaining experience just to move on to another employer

Taking these into account, you’re looking like a damn fine candidate from where we’re sitting. Time for some more of that real-world proof:

Vera Wang was a figure skater and journalist before she decided to change paths and become a bridal wear designer at aged 40. Today, she is one of the most sought-after designers in the world.

Before becoming a TV host and comedian, Joy Behar worked as a high school English teacher until the age of 40. Why did she give up on that career despite having a master’s degree in English instruction? In her own words, “I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”

Finally, Harland Sanders was 62 when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952. Before that he worked as a lawyer, railroad worker, and gas station operator.

When it comes to work, age ain’t nothing but a number!

3 tips for changing careers at 30 or 40

1. Perform a self-assessment

The key to finding the right career at this stage is learning about yourself. Take a notepad and write down your interests, personality type, ambitions, and work-related values. This will help you narrow down a list of occupations that fit with your various traits.

From there, explore each occupation in depth. Look at duties, training, and salary. Weigh up the pros and cons and decide whether the career is right for your future.

Better yet, find a local career coach and start dusting off that old resume.

2. Tailor resume and cover letter

Employers are looking for candidates who can make an instant impact. They’ll judge whether you’re the person to do this based on your resume.

Look for parallels between your current experience and the skills required for your new job and highlight them in your resume.

For example, if you’re looking to work in business or global development, skills such as communication, negotiation and foreign language might be critical to the role. If you’ve spent the early part of your career in sales, communication and negotiation are transferable skills you’ll have acquired.

And you can show them off by quantifying them:

  • Increased company revenues by 44% over a three-year period.
  • Led sales team to company high sales figures, securing contracts worth over $4 million in four years.

For each previous job, focus on the skills that employers in your new career want to see.

The same goes for your cover letter. Tailor it to hammer home the skills you’ve highlighted in your resume. Keep it concise, focusing on how what you’ve done links to the role and how your skills make you a good choice.

To help you fine-tune your resume and cover letter, take a look at these posts:

3. Brush up on your interview skills

It’s probably been a while since your last interview and what worked in an interview for one industry might not work in a different industry., Brush up on those phone and face-to-face skills.

  • Memorize your resume. You’ll be questioned on it and the answers you give need to match.
  • Don’t bad mouth your current career. Take the angle that you’ve learned a lot but are ready for a new challenge.
  • Research the company and the job role thoroughly online before the interview. Make sure you know everything there is to know.
  • Plan questions to ask the interviewer in advance.
  • Maintain eye contact, try not to fidget, and smile (even during a phone interview!).
  • Follow up via email after the interview thanking them for the opportunity.

How to change career with little or no experience

One of the most common barriers between wanting a new career and getting one is the “experience in a similar role preferred” job ad.

What do you do when the career you want to pursue asks for experience you don’t have?

First of all, don’t give up hope.

Christine Chun, a product designer and YouTube content creator, landed her dream job in UX design without any design degree or experience of any kind. In fact, before getting the job, she had graduated from college with a degree in chemistry and worked at a skincare company as a community manager.

She documented what worked for her in a great post on Medium, which is well worth a read. The important takeaway message, however, is that experience isn’t everything. There are things you can do to sell yourself to employers even if you don’t appear to be quite what they’re looking for.

1. Reframe the experience you do have

This goes back to what we talked about earlier: sell the skills you do have.

To refer back to our earlier example. If you’re leaving a job in sales to work in global development, consider how your sales experience has taught you the art of negotiation and communication. You’re probably skilled with numbers too.

Your task is now to quantify these skills in a way that leaps off the page. Use hard numbers and achievements. If you’ve negotiated some top sales deals worth big money, talk them up. If you’ve trained others in the art of sales communication, highlight it to show off your talent and leadership skills.

If you’re lacking work experience in general, prioritize your education instead. Focus on your degrees and any other relevant training you have.

2. Boost your resume with online courses

Online courses are a great way to beef up your resume with relevant skills. There are hundreds of courses that you can do in your own time, with a recognized certification to show at the end. Not only does this boost your skill set, but it also shows employers you’re keen to learn new things.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is a quick way to gain work experience in the industry you’re looking to move in to. Volunteering can also be a way to convince or motivate yourself to make a big change. If you’re on the fence about making a career change, often fear of the unknown makes that decision even harder. Volunteering is a way to see for yourself what a different career would be like.

Let’s say you’re currently working in marketing but really want to work in a veterinary clinic. Volunteering in an animal shelter will give you an insight into what working with animals is like. Plus, it says to employers, “I’m someone that cares enough about animals and the community to give up my free time.”

4. Dip into your network

Who do you know that might be able to answer the questions you have about a new career or even help find you a position? Reach out to your family, friends, former colleagues, that guy who you sent a Facebook friend request to after chatting at a friend’s party that one time — there’s a good chance someone will know someone else who can put you in contact with the right person.

Plus, knowing someone who can vouch for you carries a lot of weight: 73% of employers say that references have a significant impact on their decision to hire.

5. Be prepared to start again

Changing careers without experience will probably mean taking a step back. You might have a lower standing than in your current job and you’ll most likely need to take a pay cut.

But you know what? As cheesy as it sounds, stepping back is sometimes the best way to move forward. Yes, you’ll need to prove yourself, maybe even with things that seem basic or trivial in the beginning. However, career advancement might come faster or easier in a career you are intentionally choosing to pursue.

Career change wrap-up

If you’re feeling down, disinterested, or unfulfilled in your current career, a career change could be the cure, but it won’t come without thoughtful planning, risk, and hard work.

You may be fed up with your current job, and think that it’s high time you start thinking more strategically about your career. Red flags include boredom, a lack of progression, being overworked, not connecting with your industry, or suffering signs of burnout. All of these are indications that at the very least you need to take a step back and analyze your situation.

Take a few days off, do some online research, take the above quiz, dust off your resume, and seriously consider your goals and ambitions in life. Do they align with your current career or job? Maybe you just need a new job within your industry instead of a career change.

If you are seeking to make the jump in careers, tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight transferable skills that apply to the new career path. Consider taking courses or volunteering to gain experience in the industry you want to work in.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid take one step back — it might be the best thing you do. After all, this is a life-changing decision.