Career change is a momentous step with rippling effects and not to be taken lightly. But as the pandemic eases, more people are reflecting on their professional lives and reevaluating them in a way that was unimaginable a few years ago. According to a recent study from Achievers Workforce Institute, more than 52% of employees plan to job hunt in 2021 and many of these job seekers are looking for new types of opportunities. For many, the question has now come front and center – is this the time for career change?
Almost a decade ago, in my late fifties, I decided to make a career change, though it didn’t feel like much of a choice. After 20 years in the film industry, I lost a high-profile position without much warning, when the role got relocated across the country. As I struggled to get rehired, it became clear that I was aging out of the profession. The subsequent journey that led to my becoming a career coach was long and bumpy. I sometimes wonder if I’d had the guidance of a coach who was asking the right questions, the path might have been a shorter one. Now, with my first-hand experience of what it takes, and what I’ve learned through years of coaching others, I’ve identified the most important steps to help find clarity during the decision-making process and, if you’re ready for career change, how to move into action.
create a priority checklist
Evaluating a career change starts with doing an inventory of your most important priorities, including ones that reflect both pragmatism and passion.
At the top of most priority lists when it comes to assessing a career change is the reality of finances and financial responsibilities. There are some basic, blunt questions that must be asked and honestly answered before making a move, because change doesn’t happen overnight. These questions might include:
- how much are your total monthly expenses?
- how much money do you have in reserve?
- who depends on you financially, and conversely, can you depend on anyone else?
- what’s your ability to get a loan for retraining or pursing an entrepreneurial idea?
Family responsibilities are similar to finances in that they’re usually fixed priorities, but in this case, connected to time commitments. One of my clients has worked in the insurance field for 25 years, is the father of two and concisely summed up his priorities on our first call, ‘Flexibility is more important to me than title or salary. I want to have time to spend with my family.’ Another client, a director of sales at the time, has rethought her work priorities in the last year, saying, ‘The pandemic has made me think that I was outsourcing my parenting. I want a job that will enable me to enjoy my kids while they’re still home.
One of the pandemic’s most dramatic changes has been to the physical spaces in which many of us work. Without warning, people had to carve out a place at home, whether it was a spot at the cluttered kitchen counter or a makeshift cubicle in the garage. There were plenty of downsides to this arrangement, but it also had a few positives. And most notably, it has forced a rethinking of the perils of a long commute, its impact on a balanced life and the ability to spend more time doing satisfying activities beyond a job.
As life opens back up, my clients seem to be split on their eagerness to return to what used to be normal – with some more than ready to get out of their homes and interact, in person, with colleagues at a dedicated workplace. And there are others who are newly insistent that their next job be remote. According to a recent Prudential study, 42% of current remote workers would change jobs if they were required to go back to an office. Companies are now more responsive than ever to the idea of remote workers, or at least a hybrid model. This opens a new world of geographic possibilities, such as with one of my clients who is living in Tahoe, while working for a tech company based in San Francisco. As you assess career change, consider adding this to your priority list.
Job seekers who are drawn to a career change do so for a multitude or reasons. A few are like me, whose hands are forced because of circumstances beyond their control. But I hear from many others who have come to a point in their professional lives when they want more meaning from their work. And within this group, a common sentiment is finding employment with a company or institution that closely aligns with their passions and values. It can be as direct as someone who loves being in nature pursuing a job at REI or Patagonia. Or as another example, one of my clients, a marketing executive at a film studio, has decided to turn his talents to promoting issues of climate change and sustainability. The culture of the workplace tops the list of many people with whom I speak, as expressed by this business strategist, ‘Who you work with is more important than what you do.’
career change or pivot
As you compose a priority list of what aspects are the most important for your next job, it’s worth spending time considering the opposite – what elements from your last job you want to leave behind. This will help to clarify the motivation for change, and how big the fix needs to be. Does the actual type of work in which you’re engaged need a complete overhaul or are there issues related to a specific workplace? For some, changing companies and finding a more amenable environment with like-minded coworkers might be enough of a shift. Or it could be doing a similar job in a different sector, which could provide the right amount of change to put one’s professional life on a better track. I’ve coached clients in marketing, sales, finance and data analysis (among other fields), all of whom have made a good case for how their skills are transferable in different industries.
career arc and retraining
There was a time when the stages of a career would have a similar arc. The bulk of training happened early on, whether it was an internship, college or trade school, followed by deepening expertise in the years that followed. For my father’s generation, it was not uncommon for someone to remain in one career, and even at one company for their entire professional history. Even now, several of my clients come to me having worked 25+ years at the same place of employment. But today, with outsourcing and frequent corporate reorganizations, people tend to move around a lot. The good news is that there’s less stigma attached to someone with a diversified resume. But along with that comes the need to be more nimble during the course of a career.
I learned this the hard way and was not prepared when I was no longer deemed a competitive candidate in my industry. And faced with little choice (other than an early retirement), I decided to do what I couldn’t have imagined even a few months earlier. I went back to school for a year to become an accredited coach. I’m the proof that career reinvention is achievable at any age. But if possible, I urge you to consider this more proactively than I was able to do. I regularly encounter job seekers in the earlier stages of their careers who are looking into finishing their degrees or going on to graduate levels of study (like an MBA). And mid-career is a typical time for restlessness and an openness to something new.
In assessing a career change or pivot, it’s a good idea to rigorously evaluate the realities of retraining, whether it’s the financial or time investment, and where you are on the career arc. There are professions that would probably be out of reach later in life, like an elite athlete or astronaut (though you never know). But, at the same time, allow yourself to imagine the possibilities.
If training doesn’t seem like the right fit and you have an entrepreneurial idea that ignites you, go through a similar checklist, whether it’s transforming from full-time employment to consulting in your field or, as two of my clients have done, starting a business by developing an app.
taking a step forward
The pandemic has been a forced awakening, as so many of the expected patterns of life were turned on their head. What I’ve heard repeatedly bubbling up from clients (and friends) is a renewed sense of urgency. Time is fleeting and precious. If by choice or circumstance, a career change is on your mind, take the first step today. The priority checklist is a good place to start. And then get out there. Begin talking to as many people as you can. Tell the story of your aspirations and learn from those who have made the change. Join a Mastermind group with others who are exploring a career change and, if feasible, consider working with a coach to streamline the process. Be willing to explore what’s next with an open mind and an open heart.