The first question: Is it time for a career change?
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, whom 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’re supposed to figure out early. So how do you determine later in life that it’s time to shift careers?
As teenagers, we’re asked a frightening question: 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 a career change, 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? Read more about how to know if it's time to quit your job here.
Try this free quiz from Glassdoor.com to help you calculate your ups vs. your downs in your current career: QUIZ: Should I Look For A New Job or Stay Put?
Is this a good time to change careers?
So you’re thinking of joining “The Great Resignation.” The pandemic has been a catalyst for many workers to rethink their careers, CNBC and Catalyst survey found. In fact, in several months during 2021, more than 4 million people said goodbye to their jobs. Does that mean it’s a good or bad time to change your career?
We think it’s a good time. The unemployment rate is low; demand for workers is high. Many people have shown that they are willing to walk away from jobs they are dissatisfied with. That means that employers will have to do more to attract and retain workers and that HR personnel are less likely to look askance at an employment gap.
How do you know it’s time for a career change?
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.
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 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 to be 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!
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 in a while, staying late or working weekends is OK, especially if you’re getting paid overtime or you’re just really 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.
Do you feel like you are wasting your talent? Take one of these career aptitude tests and find out what you're truly good at.
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, we hope not).
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 in. The industries that worked in the past won’t always work in the future. Fortunate are those in 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 lists 10 signs that show you might be experiencing burnout:
- Lack of motivation
- Frustration, cynicism and other negative emotions
- Cognitive problems
- Slipping job performance
- Interpersonal problems at home and at work
- Not taking care of yourself
- Being preoccupied with work… when you’re not at work
- Generally decreased satisfaction
- 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 uninterested 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 are 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.
When is it too late to change careers?
It’s never too late to change careers! Whether you’re 30, 40, 50 or 60, nobody can tell you that it’s too late for a career change.
No matter how long you’ve been at a job that you no longer like, who’s going to tell you that you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life?
For more on the topic of age and career change, consult our excellent guide on “ How to change careers in life: The guide to mid-life success.” If you want more career change help and are considering a switch past the age of 50, our tips on avoiding age discrimination in your job hunt will help you get there.
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. A career change is 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 who hasn’t had the chance to show it. Or you have an eye for design that’s been waiting for an opportunity to flourish.
A career change gives you a chance to fulfill your ambitions — ambitions that were put aside due to circumstance or lack of opportunity.
What jobs will be in demand in 5 years?
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, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has crunched the numbers:
Occupation and growth rate, 2020-30
- Wind turbine service technicians: 68%
- Nurse practitioners: 52%
- Solar photovoltaic installers: 52%
- Cooks, restaurant: 49%
- Agents and business managers of artists, performers, and athletes 46%
- Exercise trainers and fitness instructors 39%
- Occupational therapy assistants: 36%
- Statisticians: 35%
- Physical therapist assistants: 35%
- Animal caretakers 34%
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 who 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 they're already committed to 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 benefits of a career change. 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 on 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 to change careers 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 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.
Take a look at our guide on how to write a resume that will get results.
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.
EXPERT TIP: Check out Hubspot’s list of the 46 Best Free Online Courses For Whatever You Want to Learn.
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.
So is it time for a career change?
- 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 advancement, 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.
- 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.
If you’re ready to take this plunge, or even if you’re still exploring the possibility, consult the detailed career change resume and guide at resume.io. You may feel like you’re jumping without a net, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jump without some good instructions. Here, we explore if you should really apply for that job you have been scoping out.
We've also gathered our favorite career lessons from successful founders that might help to move you in the right direction here.