How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Straight Talk About Changing Careers

What really happens when people try to change careers

Yesterday, a client in her late 40s, we’ll call her Lily, said that after 20 years in marketing, she wanted to do something she’d find more meaningful.

Indeed, many people want to do something different before it’s too late.

I’ve been career coach to many would-be career changers. Perhaps I’m simply an inferior career counselor but my clients generally find it tougher to make a career change than some TV shows and articles would have us believe.

Based on that experience, here are my honest thoughts about each of the five ways you can change your worklife. I start with the most difficult and move down from there.

Make a radical career change. Many people want a major change: a new job in a new field. For example, Lily, the aforementioned marketer, is attracted to becoming a health care advocate for patients, a college admissions officer, or a pet photographer.

Unless she turns out to be unusually driven and focused, she’ll have a hard time. Most working people are too tired at the end of the day to get trained in a new field. Then, they’ll need the energy and moxie to start a business or convince an employer to hire an older newbie for a job so superior that it justified all their efforts.

That’s all easier if the person is willing to quit the current job to work full-time toward the career change but that’s costly and something that—unless someone else is supporting them—most people are unwilling to do. And of course, while age discrimination is illegal, many employers prefer younger workers—They’re seen as more energetic, technically savvy, and likely to learn quickly and remember what they’ve learned.

Alas, it’s not much easier to pursue a different career within your current field. For example, Lily works in the financial services industry. Even if she were willing to stay in financial services and just switch from marketing to, for example, human resources, most employers would be reluctant to hire her over someone with HR experience.

Change fields but stay with your same job title. That’s a notch easier because you’ve done that job. Your challenge is only to convince an employer that experience in that industry isn’t crucial—for example, that HR is HR, whether in banking or nonprofit work. You can more easily make that case if you take the time to learn about the industry, which takes much less time than getting trained for a new career. So, for example, Lily is open to doing marketing for a university because she likes the idea of working on a college campus. So I suggested she write a white paper—an adult’s version of a term paper—on best practices in marketing universities, which she'd submit along with her job applications and when requesting an informational interview with university marketers.

Change job or boss but stay in your current line of work. This is a notch easier still.Here, you’re not trying to convince anyone to hire you with less experience and expertise than other applicants’. You need only address the usually unasked question, “If you’re so good, then why are you looking to change jobs?” You may be able to satisfactorily address that in your pitch. For example, “My boss really likes me but after five years there, I’m feeling a little bored. I’m ready for something different.”

Tweak your current job. This is even more doable. Only sometimes is your job description cast in stone. For example, Lily most dislikes the part of her job that requires her to close deals. The part she likes best is event planning. She may decide to ask her boss for a tweaked job description.

Sometimes, the main cause of your worklife misery is a coworker. Could you, perhaps with your boss’s help, reduce your interaction with that person? Develop more of an emotional shield against letting the miscreant get to you? Even try to orchestrate that person getting transferred?

Change yourself.  Would it help to gain new skills that will make you feel better about your current work? Or is your attitude an issue? Some people’s malaise follows them wherever they go. So, do you need to look inward and try to make an attitude change, replacing your half-empty attitude with a half-full one?

Change your outside-of-work life. Perhaps easiest of all is to make changes to your after-work life. Rather than endure the serious challenge of making a career change, might it be sufficient to take on a hobby, volunteer for a cause you believe in, or get more serious about meeting a romantic partner? I’ve had a few clients who were unhappy with their worklife but after they fell in love, it somehow didn’t matter much. Sometimes, indeed, love conquers all.

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of his seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. Marty Nemko's  bio is on Wikipedia.

 

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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