3 Things to Consider Before Transitioning Careers

The mental struggle that accompanies career change decisions can be harder than actually making the change. I’m not here to tell you to jump ship and follow your star (though, that’s what I did). What I’d like to offer are important things to consider if you’re feeling an urge to make a change. And if you are, you’re not alone.

A Huffington Post poll revealed almost 80% of workers in their 20s want to change careers, followed by 64% of those in their 30s, and 54% of workers in their 40s. They also discovered 73% of these collective workers had not landed the job they expected.

Landing a job you didn’t plan or expect isn’t always a bad thing. However, Forbes reports only 19% of people surveyed by Right Management in the U.S. and Canada said they were satisfied with their jobs, while 16% said they were somewhat satisfied. The rest, a whopping 65%, said they were unhappy at work.

Here are some important considerations when making career change decisions:

  1. Beware the advice of others

Your friends, family, and co-workers can keep you stuck, so it’s important to recognize a few things about their advice:

  • Co-workers have a vested interest in you staying and have something to lose if you leave. Whether it’s the loss of camaraderie, increased work-load, or a streak of envy they’re not in a position to leave themselves (misery loves company). Recognize that people come to the table with self-interests and bias, even if it’s operating at a subconscious level.
  • Family members also have a vested interest in your decision. They may have a self-preservation instinct that kicks in if you’re thinking of pursuing a path that’s unproven or carries an element of risk. Even the most self-actualized people have knee-jerk reactions of self-preservation when their safety and security feel threatened. Our brains are wired to protect us, therefore, most people have a negative initial reaction to change. This doesn’t mean your career change is a bad one. People do not see things as they are–they see things as they are.
  • People who know you well may have difficulty seeing you in a different context. If you’re an accountant and have always been an accountant, but want to pursue a passion as a self-employed children’s entertainer, recognize your accountant identity has been deeply seeded in the minds of others. Because of the strong association, people may have difficulty seeing you in a new context. There’s definitely value in the opinions of others, but if your instincts to try something new are tugging strongly at you, don’t ignore them. Valid and reliable assessments are one way to confirm your instincts, as well as talking to people who do the work you’re interested in. Don’t brush aside your dreams because others aren’t able to see the vision.

To be fair, you can’t exactly go rogue and ignore the input of your loved ones if they haven’t bought into your career change. There are two simple questions you can ask to get to the bottom of their objections and land on the same page.

When I wanted to quit my corporate job to go out on my own my husband was concerned about the leap. To move beyond surface-level objections, I asked the following questions:

  1. What is the greatest, single concern you have about what I’m proposing?
  2. What would it take for that threat to be removed?

My husband said if I walked away from a six-figure job he was concerned we wouldn’t be able to meet our obligations. For him to be comfortable with the decision he felt I should have six months of expenses saved, above and beyond the emergency fund he had in place in case of his job loss. Also, we both agreed I needed to be willing to take another job if I wasn’t able to make ends meet with my business.

Voila! I allayed his concerns by agreeing to these simple ground rules, and I received his full support to make the change. People often present objections without stating their core concerns. Once you identify their fear, you can create a plan that everyone can buy into.

2. Be aware of your own blind spots

Herminia Ibarra, a Professor of Organizational Behavior, has done extensive research on job changes. What she discovered — that I’ve also seen in my own clients — is people can tell you exactly what they don’t want to do, and why, but they usually can’t tell you what they want to do instead.
Figuring out what you don’t want is as valuable as knowing what you do want. My grandmother used to say identifying a problem is 80% of the way to a solution, so don’t be discouraged if the vision isn’t clear, yet.

The first step of any career change is recognizing your unique gifts and abilities, and how your experiences can transfer to new opportunities.
Ibarra’s research suggests the way we tend to think about what we’re good at is quite limiting and tends to be functionally specific–in other words, tied to what we’ve historically been doing. Instead, you should think of your skills as being “portable competencies” that can be applied in a wider range of contexts.

As an example, earlier in my career I worked in IT as a Lead .NET software developer, and later in Reporting. While the core tasks of my job were quite technical, I developed many transferable skills while in those positions.

Here’s a sample of those skills:

  • On-boarding and training new team members
  • Training process and documentation
  • Presentation skills
  • Task delegation
  • Project life-cycle
  • Project estimation
  • Effective communication skills
  • Negotiation tactics
  • Advanced Excel skills
  • Trend analysis and analytical thinking skills
  • S.WO.T. analysis
  • Working effectively with cross-functional teams
  • Contractor/vendor relationship management
  • Meeting management
  • Process and quality improvement
  • Ramping up on new projects in a short period of time
  • Multi-project management
  • When you read this list, it doesn’t read like a technical job description.

Research by Korn/Ferry International suggests 15% of skills are specific to a job, while 85% of skills are more general and transferable across roles. Start thinking about your breadth of experience in terms of those portable competencies, and how they might apply in new ways.

3. Recognize there’s risk in staying

If you’re staying in a role that’s sucking the joy out of you, there’s a cost to staying. Those costs are numerous and varied, but could be opportunity costs by not learning new skills or feeling fulfilled at work, increased stress and poor health outcomes, negative affect to your family life, decreased productivity, performance, or quality of your work, developing a negative attitude, and lack of motivation.

Making a leap can be hard, and even scary. A sound decision begins with becoming confident about who you are and what you can offer, learning to be discerning about the advice of others, and working to gain alignment with loved ones who are impacted by your career choices.

This post was written by Kristin Sherry. Kristin is a member of the Crossroads Career Board of Directors. She is the best selling author of YouMap & Your Team Loves Mondays…Right? She joined our board in 2019 and lives with her husband and 4 kids in North Carolina.


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