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If you're considering a career change, you're not alone. According to dozens of career change reports, the average person will change careers five to seven times during his working life. In other words, it's not uncommon to graduate high school or college, set out on your chosen career path and discover that the type of job you're doing simply isn't for you.
Switching careers – especially late in life – is never easy, but it's completely possible. Shifting to a new field may require intensive training and pursuing additional education, but dedicating yourself to a new job pursuit is always worth the effort. After all, chances are that you won't regret changing careers to something that's better suited for your specific skill set and talents. However, you'll likely regret staying in a dead-end job out of a sense of obligation.
Should I Make a Career Change?
When it comes to changing careers, it's crucial to take stock of your situation, identify your likes and dislikes about your current job and ensure that you're making the right choice. There's a difference between occasionally dreading waking up early in the morning to go to work and knowing that you're stuck in a job that isn't a good fit. Finding a career that's a positive, productive extension of who you are is important, but how do you know when it's time to make such a huge life change?
There are a few signs that you could be ready to change careers. If your current job makes you fundamentally unhappy, compromises your values and keeps you in a permanent state of unhealthy stress, it's probably time to switch careers. The right career should provide you with a strong sense of purpose and pride, not fill you with constant dread or unhappiness.
Tools for Making Your Decision
Still, even if you experience some warning signs, it can be tough to know whether it's time to change careers. Luckily, there are some excellent tools available to help you make the decision. Self-assessment tools can be helpful during this process:
- CareerLeader. Specifically for those interested in business, CareerLeader is an online self-assessment program for people who aren't sure which industry to pursue.
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. One of the leading personality assessment tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can help you learn key aspects about your personality and value system, which can in turn help you decide which type of career is best for you. The MBTI tries to answer four questions about a person's information processing, decision making, environmental needs and energy sources.
- Career Story Workbook. This is a career development tool that helps you assess your life from a storytelling, nontraditional perspective, which can help you gain a clearer picture of what type of career would be a good fit for you.
Understanding what skills and talents you want to utilize, the types of people with whom you want to work and which values and standards of integrity must be supported with your work are all important pieces of the career-change puzzle. Personality-assessment and career-assessment tools can help you figure out what you want and what form of work is the best possible fit for you.
Popular Reasons for Changing Careers
There are several reasons why people decide to embark on a new life adventure by changing careers. The most common reason is feeling routinely bored, frustrated or stressed out, which is typically what happens when you're not on the right career path. It can be a depressing, frustrating reality to spend your waking hours doing something you don't like doing.
Another popular reason that people switch careers is money. Though this shouldn't necessarily be the driving factor behind a career change (you shouldn't do something you hate just because the money is good), if you've been struggling to make ends meet in your current job, you may want to explore a more profitable avenue of employment.
People often switch careers because they want more flexibility in the workplace. For example, employees who are juggling a full-time career and the demands of young children may decide they'd prefer to work in a more flexible environment or work from home. Sometimes, our jobs don't allow us to focus on our other passions and commitments, so flexibility can be a crucial reason for a career switch.
More Reasons to Make a Change
Another common reason that someone may want to find a new career is because of unsatisfactory leadership or a toxic workplace environment. Even if you enjoy your job, if your manager lacks good leadership skills or you're stuck in an office with bad company culture, this can be a solid reason to change careers. While there's no such thing as an ideal workplace, being in a toxic work environment doesn't have to be the only solution, which is why so many people move on from their current jobs to something new.
Finally, as life goes on, many people find that their goals and philosophies change. As you age, you may find that your value system changes or that what used to interest you doesn't hold your attention anymore. A job is like a relationship; sometimes, it's normal to grow in different directions.
Make Connections in Your Field
If you're confident that you want to change careers, there are a few core steps to take to ensure that you're ready to undergo such a big shift. To start, it's important to do research in your new field to determine whether it's right for you or not. Talk to people who have the kind of job you want, and if possible, ask if you can shadow them for the day. This is the best way to get a true sense of what your new career would look like.
For example, are you interested in making a career change to the medical field? Reach out to your network of friends and family to see if they know any medical professionals you can contact with questions. Want to switch from a career in journalism to a career in book publishing? Reach out to a book publisher friend and seeing if she'll swap her professional tips for a cup of coffee with you.
If there are conferences or networking events in your town that are applicable to your new field, attend them. Not only will this help you decide if your professional path is right for you but it will also help you make connections in your industry. People in your network can give you job leads, introduce you to the right people and offer you good advice about a particular company or industry.
Develop an Action Plan
When it's time to change careers, developing a solid plan to support your transition is critical. This starts with making a financial plan, so do your research and explore your desired job change with your accountant (or a financial consultant) to discuss the financial realities of your decision. You may need to save up a certain amount of money before switching careers or simply gain a better understanding of the financial requirements necessary to support you through this transition. Either way, a financial professional can greatly help with this.
Apart from finances and making connections in your new field, it's a great idea to update your skills and broaden your knowledge. Depending on the field you have chosen, you may want to take an adult education course, make plans to obtain a new degree or work to receive a new certification. Updating your training and skills to fit your new career will look great to future employers.
Finally, gaining experience in your new desired career can really help you solidify your decision. This experience can come in the form of volunteering or even working part time in your new field before you quit your old career altogether. In a sense, when you're switching careers, you're starting from square one. This is why it can be so helpful to gain experience.
Resume and Interview Tips
Knowing how to rewrite your resume and answer interview questions can really make or break your ability to embark on a new professional endeavor. You have to spin your resume for a different industry and refresh your interview skills, and none of it is easy. Some tried-and-true resume and interview tips to follow if you're set on switching careers include:
- Believe in yourself. It's corny but true: Whether on your resume or in an in-person interview, if you want to convince a new employer that you're the best possible candidate for the job (and for your new career), you have to believe in yourself. Make a list of all your accomplishments and professional skills. Commit the list to memory and incorporate it fluidly on your resume. Knowing your value and believing in yourself is half the battle.
- Spin the past. For both your interviews and resume, it's important to spin your previous career and skills in a way that makes sense for the new job. Certain skills are transferable, like communication, marketing, research, multitasking and others. Try playing up these kinds of skills and focusing less on specific duties to demonstrate your relevance to your future employer.
- Add new certifications or educational courses to your resume. If your new career requires certification or specific training, one of the best things you can do is to take it upon yourself to become as educated as possible in your new field. Then, you can show it off on your resume and in your interview.
Second Career Jobs in Demand
There are many second career jobs in demand (and even for third and fourth careers). Regardless of whether you're seeking the best career change jobs at 40, 50 or 60, it can be helpful to know your options so that you can make the best-informed decision.
Depending on level of experience and desired flexibility, many workers are choosing to pursue independent contractor work, either by freelancing or starting their own businesses, such as in the tech, media, business or nonprofit worlds. Some other common second and third careers include teaching, health care and government work.
Though there are many career options for second and third careers, one thing is for certain: Far from easing into retirement, more people than ever are choosing to start fresh in their later years. After all, when our working lives can easily exceed half a century, older people may not be ready to wind down for retirement just yet, and plenty of younger people simply want the chance to start something new at any stage in life. It's certainly never too late to change your career, and the evidence of that is all around us.
- edX: EdX Survey Finds That About 1/3 of Americans Ages 25 – 44 Have Completely Changed Fields Since Starting Their First Job Post-College
- Harvard Extension School: 5 Tips for Changing Careers
- CNBC: Here’s an Example of the Perfect Resume, According to Harvard Career Experts
- AARP: Great Second Careers
- Kiplinger: 5 Great Second Career Moves
Justine Harrington is based in Austin, where she writes about current trends in workplace wellness, co-working, and millennial career culture. Her work has been published in Forbes, USA Today, Fodor's, Marriott Traveler, SAS Airlines, the Austin American-Statesman, Austin Monthly, and dozens of other print and online publications.