If you’ve worked in the same career for your whole professional life, or even for just a few years, it might be time to ask yourself if you’re sticking with it because it’s something you truly love or if it’s just because you’re scared of making a change. If it’s the latter, you might want to take the leap into a new career.
Changing careers could be something you’ve already thought about but haven’t taken the steps to actually do. Perhaps something is pulling you to explore new options, or maybe you just feel completely burned out or bored by your current career.
Whichever camp you belong to, there are some key signs that tell you it’s time to make a major career shift. GOBankingRates spoke with career experts to identify what these signs are and outline the steps you should take if you decide to try something new.
Last updated: Aug. 28, 2020
You’re Mentally Checked Out at Work
“If you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel and your go-to response when asked ‘How are you doing?’ is a monotone ‘Livin’ the dream’ with a corresponding eye roll, then you’re probably checked out,” said Elizabeth Pearson, an executive career coach. “If the mere thought of sitting at your desk or through another long conference call makes your energy plummet, you need to make a change.”
You’re Numbing Your Work Dissatisfaction With Bad Habits
“If you find yourself overindulging in bad habits, it may be stemming from your unhappiness at work, which typically takes up the majority of our waking hours every weekday,” Pearson said. “Many times when we’re unhappy or unfulfilled in a certain area of our life, we’ll try to ease the discomfort it brings with external distractions. If you’ve increased your daily intake of the following, it’s a red flag: trash TV, trash social media, alcohol, junk food, online shopping or toxic relationships.”
You’re Only at Your Current Job for the Money
“If the sole reason you show up to work every day is for the check, then it’s probably time to move on,” said Pearson. “Yes, everyone has bills to pay, but there are endless ways to accomplish making money, and it doesn’t have to feel soul-sucking. When you do something with the only intention being to make money, you’ll have no chance of ever really being uber-successful or happy. When you operate from a lack mentality or out of a survival mindset, you will always fear taking risks and following your passions. The money you’re making will become a prison of complacency.”
Your Career Is Making Your Relationships Suffer
“If your job is taking a large enough toll on your personal life that you’re losing friends and romantic relationships, then it may be time to reevaluate if it’s the right fit and if it’s aligned with your values,” Pearson said. “The caveat to this sign is if you are blissed-out happy in your job and feel incredibly fulfilled but your partner hates it — then maybe find a new partner. But if you don’t have a passion for your career and your relationships are suffering, then it’s become a lose-lose situation and it’s time to put your hat in the ring for some other job opportunities.”
Your Career Isn’t Bringing You Closer to Your Personal Goals
“While it’s important to take into consideration how passionate you are about your work and how excited you are to get up in the morning, there’s a difference between waking up unexcited but knowing that your day-to-day activities are bringing you closer to a larger goal, and waking up unexcited and knowing that your work is meaningless,” said Jessi Beyer, a personal development coach.
“For example, if someone’s goal is saving for their child’s college expenses, it might be worth staying in a high-paying but less fulfilling job for a few more years rather than starting off on a passionate venture of entrepreneurship. On the other hand, if your current job goes against your personal values, brings you no closer to your life goals and is generally unfulfilling, those are all pretty good signs that a career change is necessary.”
You No Longer Take Pride in Your Work
“If you no longer take pride in what you do or feel inspired to push yourself to achieve new goals, you’re likely to feel even less motivated over time,” said Sue Andrews, a human resources and business consultant with KIS Finance. “The situation won’t resolve itself, so you need to take some positive steps to turn things around.”
Your Career Has Stagnated
If “you reach a place where you can’t progress or receive any type of promotion,” it’s probably time to consider a career change, said Damon Nailer, a career consultant.
“Oftentimes, it’s time to make a career change whenever you stop feeling challenged or things become too predictable,” Nailer said. “[If] you know all of the routines, processes, job descriptions and tasks of everyone in the company, [that’s] a hint that it’s possibly time to transition into a new profession.”
The Negatives of Your Career Outweigh the Positives
“If you can no longer think of more positives than negatives about your current job then it’s time for a change,” Andrews said. “Make a list to focus your mind on the good and the bad points about your current career. You can then analyze what it is that matters to you in a job, which can help you to narrow down the types of careers that would inspire you.”
Your Self-Esteem Is Suffering
Your career is a big part of your identity, so when you aren’t happy with your job, it can negatively impact how you view yourself.
“Starting to lose belief in yourself and doubting your own abilities is a clear sign that you need a change,” said Andrews. “Ironically, no longer being confident in your ability to make decisions can actually hold you in the wrong job if you don’t trust your instincts to do something else. Taking the leap to do something completely different takes courage, but the rewards will be worth it.”
A Better Opportunity Has Become Available
Change is scary, but a fear of the unknown isn’t a good reason to stay in your current career.
“If a greater employment opportunity is presented that pays a greater salary, provides tremendous benefits and affords you the ability to advance, then you may want to consider making a career change,” Nailer said.
Your Career Doesn’t Take Advantage of Your Skills
“Sometimes you are working in a field that is not using your ‘dominant gift’ — your strongest talent that you are truly passionate about using,” said Nailer. “If you stumble upon a profession that will make use of this skill and pay you an equal or greater amount, then it may not be a bad idea to pursue it.”
You Have an Entrepreneurial Itch
If you’ve always worked for someone else but long had the desire to work for yourself, you might consider leaving your career to branch out onto an entrepreneurial path.
“Some people long to be their own boss. Others start a side hustle and then find it’s paying most of the bills,” said Karen Southall Watts, author of “Ask and Achieve: Questions in the Middle of a Woman’s Life.” “If you start thinking about what it would be like to rule your day or your side business suddenly takes off, it might be a sign that you should take the leap and go full entrepreneur.”
You Can’t Stop Thinking ‘What If’
Even if you don’t want to work for yourself, you still might feel a pull to do something different with your professional life.
“[If] there is something that you absolutely love doing, but you never followed the bliss [and] your regular job feels like it’s dragging you further away from your dream, it is time for a change,” said Michael Tomaszewski, a career expert with the online career and resume-building tool Zety.
Your Industry Is in Decline
One of the more pragmatic reasons to switch careers is that your industry is in decline, said Damian Birkel, founder and executive director of Professionals In Transition, a career support organization. These jobs include those that are facing extinction due to automation, such as computer and telephone operators and machine setters.
You’re Financially Stable and Able To Make a Career Change
“If you are wholly unsatisfied with what you’re doing each and every day, and you have the financial stability to move on and find a new job, by all means, do so,” said Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants, clinical associate professor at Pace University and a former HR generalist. “Your career should be one that you find passion in. Don’t let boredom take over your life until retirement.”
How To Transition Careers
If some (or all) of these signs ring true to you, it’s probably time for you to change careers. Starting on a brand new career path can be daunting, but if you follow these steps you can successfully make the transition.
“Remember that who you are today may not be who you were when you started your career, which is why self-awareness is a critical step in the process,” said Heather Ishikawa, senior vice president of marketing and commercialization at Caliper, an employment assessment tool. “Personality assessments that also measure values and motivators can provide insights about strengths and challenges that you may not have considered. Compare what you learn with your prior experiences, feedback and self-perceptions. Many individuals find that a career coach can help out immensely in this process.”
Spend Some Time on Self-Reflection
“Reflect on what you know about yourself and explore what you might want to do next,” said Ishikawa. “Career transitions not only include the practical transition of a new role, but they can also impact salary. As you reflect on your current state, make sure to explore finances.”
Ishikawa noted that a career transition may include a step down before you can move up. She said to ask yourself the following questions before choosing to transition into a role that might come with a pay cut or lower title: “How comfortable are you in moving to a lower level role? How much must you make?”
Other important questions to ask yourself are, “How much time could you spend on additional education or training?” and “What skills do you currently have that could be easily transferred into a new role?”
Explore Your Possibilities
If you know you want to leave your current career but aren’t exactly sure what to do next, make sure to explore all of your options. Finding the right career could require some research.
“A great place to start is O*NET OnLine,” said Ishikawa. “This career site provides data-driven information about most careers in the United States. You can explore options by industry, field of work, education, tasks, etc. The site will also provide information about how in-demand the job is, physical requirements, recommended education or training, and a range of pay. Make a list of jobs that might be interesting to you.”
Tap Into Your Network
“Once you have a list of possible roles, it is time to share your goals with friends, family and networks,” Ishikawa said. “Ask for ideas, recommendations and feedback. Attend professional conferences and seek networking opportunities with groups that align with where you want to go. [People in your network] may know of opportunities that you are not aware of.”
You should also seek out people who already have your dream job.
“Ask for an informational interview to understand more about what they do [and] how they do it, and to ask for suggestions,” Ishikawa added. “It’s a great way to learn more about the role and demonstrate an interest in learning and growing with someone who may be able to open a door for you.”
Get the Skills You Need To Succeed in Your New Career
Next, work on educating yourself to fill in gaps in the skills and expertise needed for your new chosen career.
Ishikawa recommends asking yourself the following questions and taking the necessary steps to remedy any shortcomings: “What additional skills, education or training do you need? Are you up to speed with the current technology required for the type of work you are moving to?”
Find Nontraditional Ways To Boost Your Resume
Sometimes you need more than education or training to be qualified for a new job.
“If you find that you are lacking certain experiences that would help you move into this new role, then find non-traditional ways to grow,” Ishikawa said. “Volunteering is a great option for developing skills and experience to help you move to the next level. Join a board. Join a committee within an organization. If you are looking at becoming an entrepreneur, work part-time to learn more about the business from someone who is doing it. Whatever you do, get involved.”
Make a Plan
To ensure you’re on track to make your career transition, create a plan for all the steps you will take.
“Identify your plan and clearly note the goals and estimated time frame for completion,” said Ishikawa. “Continuously track your progress against the plan.”
Implement Your Plan
“Consider your career transition like it is a side hustle,” Ishikawa said. “Work it like a business. Hold yourself accountable. Seek mentors who can guide you and/or help keep you on task.”
With some research, networking and skill acquisition, you’ll be well on your way to a more fulfilling career.
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