Switching Careers: How To Design Your Own Career Roadmap
The pandemic has shifted the way people think about their careers and education.
A Prudential survey found 20% of workers transitioned into new careers in 2020. Another 26% plan to switch post-pandemic. The majority of respondents said they'd change fields and pursue a non-degree education over a traditional path if they were fired, according to a Strada Education Network poll.
"People are evaluating what's important and looking for better alignment between their personal values and their professional lives," Madeline Schwarz, communication coach and strategic adviser, said.
The trade industry is a non-degree route in huge demand. While money isn't everything, Lester Mclaughlin, vice president of operations at Blue National HVAC, said if you're looking for a switch, the trades are a "no-brainer."
"If you're qualified, you're essentially guaranteed a high-paying, quality job," Mclaughlin said.
Wherever your professional path has led you, it's not too late to reroute — and that doesn't necessarily mean spending time and money on a traditional degree. Here are our tips for changing your career while preserving your peace of mind.
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Focusing on your reason for changing jobs can help you navigate the compromises that come with a career transition. Driven by his motivation for more control in his career, Matt Paskow left his 15-year tenure in tech sales to run his own car detailing business. He traded in a higher salary for happiness in his career.
"If switching careers is what you truly want, I don't think making the most money possible should be your number one goal," Paskow said. "Instead, decide on the least amount of money you can accept."
Schwarz cites other popular motivators for career switchers, including the pursuit of more flexible work arrangements and recognition from managers.
Top-reported reasons for switchers in Prudential's poll included:
- Work-life balance
- Trying something new
- Career advancement
Whatever your reason, clarifying it can help inform your next steps.
Schwarz suggests looking at your current work situation and determining how your position can better suit what you want out of life. For example, if you want to travel more or spend more time at home, consider seeking a job with more flexibility.
But don't get too deep just yet — think more about how your job can aid who you want to be, not the other way around.
Fortunately, you don't need to write a mission statement to discover what you want to do.
If you're starting from scratch, try taking career aptitude tests online to spark some ideas for careers you might want. For example, the Lantern Career Interests Quiz uses your personality type and preferences to suggest different jobs that suit you.
Believe it or not, you probably already have crossover skills that you can use in many diverse industries.
"When I was deep in the midst of a career switch, so many people said 'Do what makes you happy,' frustrating advice because if I knew what made me happy, I would have already been doing it," Schwarz said. "When I work with people now, I help them identify their strengths and core values so they know what to look for when they're switching careers."
For example, if you excel at solving puzzles, working with your hands, and studying real-world applications of science and technology, consider careers in the trades.
Still feeling stuck? Remember, it's natural to overlook our hidden talents. Try asking former colleagues, classmates, or friends what you do best.
By now, you may have an idea of what potential careers interest you. It's time to do your research. You can start exploring career options — and what education you'll need — at no cost. Below are some ideas for diving into potential career paths.
|When you're ready to…||Try…|
|Learn about industry trends and find events or trainings you can attend to gain essential skills or credentials.||Trade association websites, for example, the American Welding Societyor the American Physical Therapy Association.|
|Gain more experience in a new field without quitting your current job.||Freelance, volunteer, or shadow at a company that interests you.|
|Apply for a new job.||Online job boards and job search apps.|
A thorough plan can help your career switch. Yours should include these basics:
Determine if you can afford to take a pay cut in your next career, and decide how much money you can dedicate to education or training.
For many career switchers, returning to school isn't in the cards. Mclaughlin said getting a non-degree education is a fast and low-cost option in line with the current job market.
"The world is changing so fast that employers' needs are also changing fast," he said. "This means that you won't have the luxury of stepping out of the labor market for 4+ years to get a degree. You need to be able to learn new skills in 6-12 months so that you can get hired right away."
Especially if you're breaking into the trades or starting your own business, research job availability, projected market growth, and businesses in your area. But don't be afraid of competition.
"That's a good sign!" Paskow says. "If there's no competition, there's probably no market."
Not only can friends and family encourage you — they can also look out for opportunities.
Set long-term mile markers for completing the necessary training, and commit to a schedule for working on your career change.
University of Pennsylvania and UCLA researchers found that when you build missteps into your long-term plan, you improve your chances of reaching a goal.
Your go-to story
Employers will ask for your career story and reason for switching. Develop an answer using the motivation, interests, and transferable skills you've discovered. Your story doesn't need to be epic.
"Good stories don't include every detail," Schwarz said, "They include the most interesting and relevant details and edit out the rest."
Meet the Sources
Matt Paskow spent 15 years in tech sales before switching careers. Today he's the owner of Fresh Look Mobile Auto Detailing in Carlsbad, California.
Madeline Schwarz helps quiet leaders speak up in a world of loud talkers and helps organizations articulate their vision in clear, concise messaging.
Lester Mclaughlin, VP of operations, runs the day-to-day functions for Blue National HVAC.
The Bottom Line
Reflecting on his career switch, Paskow's satisfied.
"Human nature is to take the path of least resistance," Paskow said. "But the thing you do every day from the time you wake up to the time you come home from work will have a huge impact on your happiness."
It's not too late or too wild an idea to change. For more tips and resources for your situation, check out these guides:
- A guide to coping with career transition stress
- Making career moves after 50
- How career changers can personalize their online job hunt
- A parent's guide to getting back in the workforce
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