Making a Career Change? Five Tips to Work you through the Process

By John Focht

Making a career change can be a tough and challenging process to work through.  If you are making a career change ten, fifteen, twenty years into your existing career, you may be faced with starting from the ground up again.  Your annual salary will probably take a significant hit from what you are currently accustomed to.  Your lifestyle may take a hit too with a lowered salary.  Are these things you are prepared for?

When do you even know it’s time to take your career in a different direction?  Does it hit you over night?  Is it weeks, or months, or years of painstaking uncertainty of trying to figure out how, when, and why you make that career change?  Do you just look for a new job in a new industry, or do you need schooling or special training?

Unfortunately there is no cookie-cutter answer to any of these questions.  For some, it is a methodical process that takes a bit of time before a career jump can be made.  For others it happens overnight because you may have been laid-off in your current job and decided this was the time to make the jump you always wanted to make.

Whatever the decision making process, it is a major life-changing event.  With any major life-changing event, it’s good practice to try to get a plan and a set of goals in place to ensure you can achieve what it is you are after.

When changing careers, it’s best to create a list of goals and targeted completion dates to achieve your goals.  This will help you in determine when you are most prepared to make the jump.

A few big items to keep in mind when deciding if a career change is best for you:

Research Schooling and Training:

If you are making a major career change, odds are you are probably going to need some sort of schooling or training.  Research and understand what type of further education is required.  Is it finishing your Bachelor’s degree or going back for your Masters?  Do you need specific certification or training to make your career jump?

Whatever the educational requirement is, research the commitment, time, and cost associated with it.  Begin mapping out goals to complete the education by a certain date.  Now, at least, you have a starting point as to when your career change may actually take place.  Whether it is six months, a year, or three years, you can assess whether this is something that you can even accomplish, or figure out what you need to do to accomplish your goal.

Employer Reimbursement:

Now that you have costs figured out, find out if your current employer will absorb the cost, or a percentage of the cost.  Most employers will at least absorb a percentage of your education or training if there is long-term benefit to how you will use that training or schooling within that company.

Be aware though, if your employer flips the tab, you will be required to stay with that employer for a certain amount of time post-graduation or upon completion of the training/certification.  Understand what that commitment is and make sure there is no penalty if you leave the employer prior to the end of that commitment. Be sure this is an employer you expect to have a long-term career with before allowing them to flip your tuition bill.

Evaluate the Salary:

Evaluate the salary of the new career you are thinking of moving into.  How does it compare to your current salary?  Odds are you will be taking a decent size salary hit against your current salary for at least a few years.  Can you afford to take that type of hit?

Be sure to also review what the salary growth is in this new field.  How and when do you start seeing increases to your salary?  One year?  Three years?  Five years?  If you are taking a 30%, 40%, 50% salary cut to move into a new career, will that type of salary hit over a 1-5 year time period make you miserable?  If so, is a career change really what you need?

Job Market:

What does the job market look like in this new field?  This may be the most important task you do.  It would be a shame to spend the next three years in school, taking out a huge loan, and changing your lifestyle, only to find out it’s a real tough job market in this new field.

Research what the market is and what the growth potential is.  Will you remain at the bottom floor, or can you make your way up?  If so, when and how?

Plan…and Plan Some More:

If you lose your job and get a new job that requires you to switch careers, that’s one thing.  But if you are legitimately looking at a new career, be sure to research, evaluate, and plan.  Don’t make a jump overnight to a new career.

Research and understanding the schooling requirements, the time it will take to get through school, new salary structure, lifestyle changes, and the long-term job market and career growth.  Be methodical and deliberate in your approach.  If your new career can help your existing employer, share your plan with them; they may assist you in getting to where you want to go more quickly.

It’s never too late to start anew with your career.  Just be sure you have researched your options.  If you don’t do it now, you may one day look back and regret that you didn’t.