Management & Leadership

4 Things to consider before making a career change

Jul 17, 2019

Career change used to be rare; in the future, it will be inevitable. But you should still think carefully before committing to a career change

In the old days, it was unheard of to suddenly change careers in mid-swing. People earned their qualifications, went into a trade and practiced that trade until retirement. Middle class life in much of the developed world was safe and predictable; few people changed companies, let alone careers.

Those days are long gone. Philosophers like Yuval Noah Harari, bestselling author of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, predict that in the world of the future, career change will be a routine occurrence, rather than the product of a midlife crisis. In an interview with GQ, he said: “Unless you are 80 years old or something, you will have to repeatedly reinvent yourself in the coming decades—you’ll probably change your job a number of times.”

So if you’re worried that it might be too late for a career change, realise that in the future, midlife career changes will no longer be a risk, but a requirement. There are already plenty of examples today of people who have made successful career changes at 50, or even 60. Just look at Philippe Gaud, who in his mid-50’s, decided to pursue a career as a teacher, after having spent 25 years in Human Resources. He is now an affiliate professor at the international business school, HEC Paris.

Things to consider before making a career change

Of course, the fact that career changes will become increasingly normal in future does not make them any easier to deal with right now. They still carry a great degree of uncertainty, and you should certainly put a lot of thought and planning into it before committing to a career change.

Here are some things to think about before making a career change:

Is it the right time for a career change?

The most difficult question to answer; how do you truly know when it’s time for a change? Is your current discontent just a phase that will pass, or an opportunity to find your true calling?

You may never know for certain, but here are some signs you should look out for:

  • You’re getting too comfortable. Slipping into a comfort zone is one of the main reasons people stay in a career that no longer inspires them. You should always be ready and willing to change.
  • You’re feeling undervalued. How long has it been since your last pay raise? Or since your employer demonstrated any level of appreciation for your contribution?
  • You’re not learning anything new. Philippe Gaud says a good time to change careers is when “you can’t answer the question: what did I learn today?” Of course, you don’t need to learn something new EVERY day, but if you’re not learning new things on a regular basis, it may be time to move on.
  • The industry has no future. This will become more of an issue as advancing technology continues to disrupt industries. Some have already all but disappeared, and more will follow; but others will rise in their place.
  • You no longer enjoy the work environment. A work environment that has become heavily politicised is no longer worth the effort. A work environment that has become too corporate will repress creativity and innovation. Look out for signs that your workplace is no longer conducive to personal growth.

Have you done sufficient research into your desired career path?

Equip yourself with as much data as you can before making the switch. Some good areas to start would be:

  • Job postings. Looking at job advertisements for the career you’re hoping to pursue will give you an idea of what employers in that industry are looking for.
  • Education. Find out what kind of training and qualifications your new career will require. Even if you don’t need any official qualifications, studying a course or programme is still useful for the networking opportunities.
  • Experience. Find out if there are opportunities to get on-the-job experience, along with an idea of what the lifestyle for this new career entails.
  • Skills. Look into specialised skills that will be beneficial in the new career path, and make a list of the skills you’ve picked up in your previous careers that will serve you well in the new one (this will be especially useful for job interviews).

Are you financially prepared for the change?

You may have to go without the security of a regular pay cheque for a prolonged period, so be sure to take some precautionary measures, such as:

  • Setting aside emergency funds. Most advisors recommend three to six months of emergency funds, but Elisabeth Schreiber, Vice President of Alex Brown, suggests having 12 months of funds set aside to cover the cost of living, as well as potential unforeseen circumstances.
  • Listing expenses that were previously covered by your employer. For example, healthcare and travel expenses may have previously been covered by your employer, and will now need to be factored into your budget.
  • Recreate the feeling of having a salary. Lex Zaharoff, CFA of HTG Investment Advisors, suggests scheduling a monthly transfer from your portfolio to a local bank account, so as to recreate the sense of having a “salary” and prevent you from overspending during your unemployed period.
  • Acquiring the services of a financial advisor. They can provide professional advice on managing your finances over the coming months.

Who can give you the best advice on making a career change?

The majority of people will probably give you entirely subjective advice. If they’re conservative types who have been in the same career for a long time, they’ll likely advise you against switching. Similarly, if they themselves are free spirits, they’ll see no problem with making a big change.

So, seek input from people who are in a position to give useful advice. This may include:

  • People who have changed careers. Especially people who have an unconventional career path. They will have successfully overcome the same uncertainty you are currently experiencing.
  • People who work in an industry you’d like to be involved in. They’ll be able to give you an idea of what’s required.

Prepare for the future of industry

If you want to learn more about career development, the future of leadership, and the changing business landscape; studying a coaching course would be a good place to start.

In fact, if you’re looking for a change but are not entirely sure of your direction, you could do worse than pursue a coaching programme. Professional coaching is one of the world’s fastest growing industries (the second-fastest growing profession after information technology, according to Erickson International), and even if you elect not to pursue a career in coaching, you will acquire valuable skills that can assist you in a wide variety of career paths.

The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of coaching courses that provide valuable insight into the business world. These include full-time and part-time courses, as well as the option to study online. For more information, enquire now with SACAP.

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