How to figure out a career change

Once upon a time, an organization could take on a young, new employee, and know that with slow and steady development, that individual would loyally climb the career ladder, remaining with them until retirement age.

Nowadays, the concept of a career for life has become outdated. Our professional lives are becoming increasingly squiggly, with a new normal that allows us to move frequently and fluidly between not only roles, but careers too.

Even those in vocational, so-called lifelong jobs may feel the urge to leave, as I know only too well myself. My transition from working as a doctor to becoming a freelance writer came with huge uncertainty.

Thinking about changing careers is likely to provoke inner turmoil, stress, disruption and even feelings akin to a personal crisis. It’s therefore reassuring that following certain strategies can make the process as painless and as exciting as possible.

The extinction of the single career 

With the idea of a lifelong career becoming archaic, there has been much interest in what a modern career journey looks like and what millennials and younger generations will expect. 

In 2021, research found that 49% of employees “had changed careers from a wide range of industries”. However, in many cases it had taken an individual years to upskill, network and prepare themselves financially for making the change successfully.

This preparation may be particularly pertinent when individuals are recognized to be making frequent transitions that cross significant boundaries including industry, occupation, labor market and geographical location.

Furthermore, one is more likely to be driven by opportunism. If our current role has little potential for growth or promotion, we will apply for roles elsewhere to ensure professional development.

Not everyone seems to be made equal when it comes to career change. A study by Carole Kanchier and Wally Unruh showed that occupational change is more likely for those who place a higher value on personal fulfillment and intrinsic job rewards. Career changers are also likely to have higher self-esteem than those who stay put.

Knowing when it is time to leap

It can be difficult to know when it’s time to attempt a career change. However, there are three tell-tale signs that may alert you to the fact that you are ready to move on.

1. Physical signs

  • Lack of energy. You want to feel that you are getting a buzz from, and thriving, at work, even if the role itself is demanding and you feel tired at the end of the day. If you feel lethargic, drained or apathetic about your role, this could be a sign that rather than inspiring you, there is no joy left in your current role. 
  • Struggling to get out of bed each morning. Tiredness is common, but work should not cause you to dread getting up each morning. Pay attention to this sign, because it could indicate that your current role is having a negative impact on your mental health.

2. Psychological signs

  • Boredom. Every job has tedious tasks and you will need to accept that each role will have its less enjoyable elements. However, if you always find work boring, it is time to look for alternative jobs or careers.
  • Poor concentration. Work that does not captivate you is far harder to focus on. If you find yourself taking too many breaks, regularly being distracted by your phone, or making poor progress with tasks, then you could be in a job that does not suit you.
  • Feeling stuck. If it appears that there is no opportunity for growth or progression, you may feel frustrated or bored. Ask about upskilling, professional courses, sideways moves or promotion. If this confirms that you have hit a wall, consider alternatives.
  • Dreaming of a new career. If you feel you are in the wrong job, you may fantasize about your dream role. If these dreams are intense or persistent, it could be time to start preparing for a new venture.
  • Feeling envious. You may notice you feel envious of friends who have a much smaller salary, but clearly have enormous job satisfaction. Money may not be as important to you as you once thought, and considering a lower paid job may increase your options for a career change.
  • Financial motivation. If you feel you only go to work for the money, then it is likely that you are dissatisfied with your role. It is important to recognise this sign, as you may be able to earn a similar salary with far greater satisfaction elsewhere. 

3. Behavioral signs

  • Reading about other careers. To distract yourself from a role you dislike, you may spend hours reading about the careers of others you admire.
  • Not talking about your job. If you find you avoid talking about your job at parties, this could be a sign of your dissatisfaction.
  • Coasting along. If you are not making the effort to perform well, consider whether your heart is truly in your current career.
  • Lack of interest in your employer. Appreciating a role often leads to interest and emotional investment in the company. If you feel indifferent, perhaps this company is not for you.

Figuring out a career change

I was certain that I wanted to transition to a new career, but finding the right alternative took time and taking the plunge was daunting. If you notice one or more of the above signs, there are several ways to figure out your career change so that you can make the move with confidence.

Firstly, define your career goals by considering your own personal values, how much purpose you assign to your occupation, and the careers that appeal. Write down the skills you have and those that you want to acquire, as well as your financial requirements. Reflect on whether flexibility is important to you, and how happy you truly feel now.

Explore alternative career options objectively and be open to both the pros and cons. This should help to confirm whether you are changing careers for the right reasons.

Next, you will need to accept that career change is often slow. If you want to go freelance, you may need to start up a business that you can run alongside your current employment so that you remain financially secure.

To transition into a new sector, you may need to consider lower paid roles that will allow you to gain experience and new skills before you can progress to a more senior position.

Commit to expanding your professional network to discover new work opportunities that may not be obvious. If this is difficult, you may even find it helpful to work with a mentor or career coach to support you while you metamorphose.

Career change is common in the modern workforce, but when figuring out how, when, and which role to transition to you may experience extreme stress and internal friction. The shift will not happen overnight, so take your time to reflect on your current job and dream career, while also exploring your motive for change.

Even if you have undergone rigorous training or development, if you are unhappy, disillusioned, or bored by your role, persevering is unlikely to be the right choice. By thoroughly investigating the alternatives, you will feel more confident in making a leap of faith and dedicating yourself to a career that you love.

Join 100,000 mindful makers!

Ness Labs is a weekly newsletter with science-based insights on creativity, mindful productivity, better thinking and lifelong learning.

One email a week, no spam, ever. See our Privacy policy.