New Year, New You: Switching Careers

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“That’s it. I can’t do this anymore. I have to find a new job.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Dreading what awaits at the other end of the commute has become something of a national pass time. A┬árecent survey of American professionals showed that nearly 40% of professionals planned to leave their current jobs in the next five years, compared to only 30% just three years ago. If you’re among that restless 40%, it’s probably time for a career change. So how do you know when to make your move?

Pulling the Rip Cord

For some, the opportunity to pursue something new isn’t necessarily a choice. Layoffs, downsizings, and company closures are never good news, but they may come with an upside, especially if a severance package is involved. Layoffs can provide both time and perspective on your true career goals, and being separated from the daily grind can help you hone your ambition and focus on what you’d really like to do, rather than what you’re already doing.Bestselling author Gillian Flynn once noted that being laid off from Entertainment Weekly made her “the luckiest laid-off journalist in America.” With her second book set to come out just months after her layoff, Flynn found the ability to pursue her creative writing full-time a blessing.

Doing a job you dislike can take a toll on your — and your employer’s — wellbeing. Burnout can make your productivity suffer and your effort stagnate. As a result, your career stalls. If you find yourself counting the seconds until quitting time or hiding in the restroom to dodge the boss, it’s probably time to make a change.However, making a serious career change while still employed may actually be more difficult than doing so after a layoff. With limited time to devote to taking that next step, it can be hard to even get started.

Finding Your Landing Zone

Management consultant Todd Cherches recommends making a Passion and Skills Matrix, with one axis for what you’re good at and not good at, and another for what you love doing and dislike doing. (While his matrix was originally designed to help professionals determine where to focus their efforts in order to be happy at in their current roles, it works just as well for determining where your best opportunities for a fulfilling career may lie.)

Once you’ve made your list, see what falls into the Love to Do/Good At quadrant. With any luck, at least some of what you see there will be marketable as a profession. If, for example, you love teaching and happen to be excellent at it, it’s probably time to stop being an accountant and start teaching accounting at your local community college.

If you’re still uncertain about what path is right for you, a great way to ease yourself into a new career is freelancing. Freelancing provides a great opportunity to do as much or as little work in your new field as you like, and will give you a substantial preview into the day-to-day work that a new career requires. Better still, you can freelance in almost every industry and at any stage of your career.

It’s Never Too Late

Changing careers isn’t just for those early-career dilettantes. Established professionals with a demonstrated history of success in their field are always in demand, and it’s often relatively easy to leverage your experience into two different new career paths.
Teaching is a common second career, especially in the business world. It’s often as easy as approaching the deans of the applicable departments at colleges in your area. Inquire about their needs. They might not make you a distinguished professor right away, but you might come away with the chance to teach a few classes. Also, the smaller the institution is, the better your odds are likely to be. Small community colleges are often eager to hire instructors with real-world experience to teach business and professional classes.

Another common course for late-career movers is consulting. If you’re well-established in your career, it’s likely that you’ve got a considerable list of contacts. Leverage that by reaching out to those whom you know best and see if there’s a need for your skills and knowledge. Consider targeting those who have recently moved to a new company or started their own business.
Speaking of which, entrepreneurship is another very common second career. If you’ve always wanted to be your own boss — and who hasn’t? — and have a skill or product to sell, consider hanging out your own shingle. Make great muffins? Build amazing apps? Do your research and determine what the market conditions look like. If you’ve got something people want, and if the addressable market can support you, then now may be the time to start your own business.

Be Realistic

No matter what path you choose, know that it’s not likely to be as stable as your current job. Think back to the first few positions you held in your career. Remember how you had to be hungry to succeed and how hard you had to work? A second career is likely to be just that demanding, so make a plan. Set attainable goals for yourself. Be realistic about what you can and can’t reasonably expect in the first years of your new career. Setting unattainable goals will only frustrate you and lead you right back into the cycle of burnout you just escaped from.
If this sounds daunting, that’s because it is. But when planning for a new career, remember that you’ve now got two key advantages that you didn’t have when embarking on your first career: you know yourself and you know your experience. Stay true to those and it’ll be hard to go wrong.

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