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I would think that most people would agree that making a career change can be a little anxiety provoking at the very least, and completely terrifying at the very worst. Many people will make a career change fairly easily, but unfortunately, there will be many people who will be unsuccessful. During 2021, according to some statistics almost 50 million Americans quit their jobs. They were hoping for higher pay, better benefits and/or more exciting career options. This mass employment exodus was called the “Great Resignation”. However, also according to some statistics about a quarter of these individuals, roughly 12.5 million people ended up regretting their decision to leave. For many of these employee’s the grass was not greener on the other side and were left with feelings of tremendous regret. There are as many ways to make serious mistakes during a career change, as there are to make a correct one. My intention in writing this blog is to help you make correct ones.
Many career changes will not have disastrous consequences. However, when I think of a career change for my clients, it reminds me of those stories where kids get seriously injured when they go diving. I am sure that you have heard of them. These are the stories that involve children diving in their pools, gorges, grottos, lakes or other favorite body of water and end up getting gravely hurt or even paralyzed. These kids injure themselves because they initially think that the water is clear, only to find it was too shallow or there is a large rock lying just beneath the surface. What was supposed to be a day of fun, ends up in tragedy.
I am not saying that a career change will lead to a complete tragedy. It’s certainly not advantageous to have a catastrophic mindset when attempting to initiate a career change. Having this kind of mindset is what stops people from making a career transition in the first place. Many people can get completely caught up in a mind of “doom and gloom”. On the other extreme though, it’s not wise to have “pie in the sky” thinking either. If you are unrealistic with your expectations, then similar to those children, you will not be ready for the rocks underneath the surface of the water. Before you make any transition, you need to find out what kind of industry, company and work environment you are leaping into.
It’s easy to think that everything about a company you want to join will be great. However, you also need to find out if they have suffered severe losses during prior years, and will be trimming their work force. You will also need to know if there are employees leaving because one of their managers is completely blind to low company morale. You will also need to know after investing in a change in education, only to find out that the career you chose is not in high demand or that you need to go through lower paying positions to get to a higher one. There are strategies that you need to use to avoiding hitting the bottom of the pool or cracking your head on an unseen rock.
1. Specific Career Goal
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when changing careers is to not know what you really want. Many job changers get caught up in wanting a change for many reasons. They may have been a job too long, becoming bored. Some people encounter a boss or coworkers that they don’t get along with. There are also some who don’t want the long commute to the workplace anymore or feel they the job is way too much work. A lot of individuals simply want higher pay. In these cases, people have an idea of what they don’t want. However, getting to a better job is not about avoiding what you don’t want, it’s about having very clear and specific expectations of what a happens after you get the new job. Why is this important? This is important because there is no such thing as a “perfect” job, there are only jobs that you think are perfect. Your commute may be too long, but the jobs that are closer, may not be as fulfilling. Wanting higher pay may mean having higher education, greater responsibilities or more work hours. Finally, bosses are bosses. Leaving one company for a supervisor that you dislike, does not mean you won’t go to another company and find one more supervisor that is just as bad or even worse. So, you need to be clear on your expectations and understand your specific career goals when making any transition. You must determine what’s really important to you in your career.
To avoid jumping into the complete unknown, it’s important to have a clear idea of what your new work environment will be as much as possible. Many job seekers forget to complete the most important job activity when they are changing careers: it is research. Unless you really like bad surprises, it’s well worth your time and energy to investigate companies that you want to work for. I am not just talking about your salary, although this is very important. You need to have a greater awareness of other factors and conditions that will be just as important to you. All these important factors must be kept in mind along the entire spectrum of your entire career change. Important decisions start from the very beginning of your transition, as you consider moving into a new job role, right up to the interviewing stage where you are deciding on whether to join a company or not. Having the clearest picture of what lies ahead during your transition is vital. Some important factors and considerations to keep in mind include:
* Specific Job Responsibilities
* Financial Health of the Company and Industry Sector
* Salary Progression / Additional Benefits and Perks
* Training, Development and Growth Opportunities
* Work-Life Balance/Flexibility
* Organization / Team Culture and Morale
* Organizational Stability
* Management (Current Teams and Bosses)
Most career experts will tell you to “never stop networking”, even when you are employed. In fact, the best time to network is when you are working, because building a network takes time, energy and consistency. These three elements are very scarce during an active job search. The primary way of finding a new successful career opportunity will not come through an application, posting or internet, it will come through a contact. As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” A network is critical to your job search success and having to build an entirely new network during a search can dramatically increase the time in finding your next position. So, having a pre-existing network will be an extremely valuable resource. Unfortunately, many job changers rely way too heavily on searching through job postings, finding many dead ends. A successful career change will be dependent on your ability to reach out and make connections.
4. Know Your True Value
Many career changers believe that experience and education are valuable selling points to employers, and to a degree they are. However, what’s more important is your knowledge and skills for being able to successful manage all assigned responsibilities, while also effectively resolving all the problems and issues that come with the role that you are being considered for. In many ways, education alone may not be enough to make an employer view you as a suitable candidate for a position, and this is one reason why new graduates have many challenges during the initial part of their career. I once encountered an individual who decided to leave teaching and wanted to get into the HR field in training and development. She had many years of teaching, but none in the HR field. She was shocked to find out that her starting salary in the HR field would not be the same as being a teacher. She did not anticipate a decrease in wage and was stuck. So, if you are considering changing from one role into an entirely new role, you will need to gain clarity on your true worth in the labour market. Not only will you need to consider the appropriate education, you must properly use and leverage your prior career experience. Being able to effectively market and sell your experience and knowledge towards a new role will be a critical aspect in influencing the decisions of any hiring manager.