Finding a fulfilling career can be a long, incremental journey. Few people enter the workforce knowing exactly what they want to do. In fact, by age 50, the average person has held 12 different jobs in an effort to find the “right fit.” For many, this requires changing careers completely.
As of February 2023, roughly 4.4 million workers made the leap, leaving their current roles for work in an entirely different field. This trend has only grown in popularity in the post-pandemic workplace. With the accelerated adoption of remote work, e-commerce, and automation, many people are reevaluating their professional priorities.
So if you’re considering a career change, you’re not alone. Taking action on these thoughts, however, can be daunting. For some, it can mean deserting a stable job to head down an uncharted path. For others, switching job functions mid-career may mean a lateral move, which can feel like a step backward—but it doesn’t have to be.
Each stage in your career provides an opportunity to learn more about yourself: your talents, interests, challenges, and workplace values. Career choices you may perceive as “missteps” often prove to be the most informative and transformational on the journey to a fulfilling career.
What’s more, the notion of career fit is a two-way street. Most employers would prefer that you feel enthusiastic, engaged, and fulfilled in your role, because happy employees are more productive employees. Understanding when it’s time to move on from your current role to pursue other passions can be a win-win for everyone.
If you’re reading this, chances are you feel the current career path you’re on might not be right for you. Take this opportunity to examine your feelings toward your current role and consider these key signs when determining if it’s time to change. If you can relate to the descriptions below, keep reading to discover what you can do to get out of your rut and into the career you’ve always desired.
Signs It’s Time for A Career Change
1. You’re apathetic and complacent.
As each day passes, you feel increasingly disconnected from your original reasons for entering the field. Mentally, you’ve checked out; you’re underperforming, your deadlines are slipping, and you just can’t muster the energy to fake enthusiasm about the company’s mission anymore. But this isn’t normally like you. What’s going on? The truth is, even at a job you’re passionate about, there are times when work is just going to feel like work. But if you can’t remember the last time you felt energized by a new idea or invigorated by your next project, it might be time to reevaluate your role.
2. You don’t feel like you’re making an impact.
Your job duties are the same day in and day out. Every day looks and feels identical–you’re simply performing on autopilot. You feel undervalued—like your time and talents are being wasted, and your greatest skills aren’t being put to use. Over time you’ve stopped actively seeking out new opportunities to contribute, demoralized. It’s time to find a new role that plays to your strengths, provides opportunities to develop new skills, and allows you to make meaningful contributions. Your career should boost your self-esteem, not diminish it.
3. You dread going to work.
Everyone has those days when you hit the snooze button one too many times, or it takes a little extra boost to get up and out to work. Maybe the project you’re working on just doesn’t excite you, or you’re anxious about a meeting with the boss. But this is different—this is every day. You live for the weekend, but despite your best efforts, the dread of Monday creeps in by Saturday night. If you find yourself this dissatisfied with your current role, it’s time to think about what other areas of work might better align with your passions.
4. Even your salary can’t make up for your dissatisfaction.
The pay might be good, but the work is mindless and dreadful. At one point you could justify staying because of the paycheck, but now, even that isn’t enough. You find yourself watching the second hand of the clock tick by during meetings. You’ve reached Tuesday after a long weekend and you’re already marking your calendar until the next vacation day. While you appreciate the stability your job provides, you’re beginning to feel like you’re wasting your potential. These are clear signs that someone could use a change.
5. Your job is affecting your personal life.
Work should be challenging, but not debilitating. If you’re chronically exhausted, losing sleep, suffering from headaches, or experiencing other physical symptoms, this may be your body’s way of telling you your career is not right for you. It’s important to remember that your professional life shouldn’t seep into your personal life. In fact, being permanently stressed can impact your relationships with others close to you. Have your friends and family commented on your irritability or constant complaining? If work is turning you into an unhappy or bitter person, start to explore activities that will make you feel like yourself again.
6. You daydream about a new career.
You spend your lunch breaks thinking about what you’d do in “your next life” and relishing the thought of how you would deliver your two-weeks’ notice. You find yourself browsing job boards instead of work emails, and you’re starting to become jealous of your friend’s careers, wondering how they landed such “perfect” jobs. You cringe when people ask you what it is you do because you wish it were something different. You’ve thought about leaving, you’ve even brought the idea up to friends in passing conversation. Would you leave your job “if you could?” If so, it’s time to go.
How to Change Careers
So, how do you change careers if you can relate a little too well with these statements? First, it’s important to acknowledge that changing careers sometimes isn’t a personal choice, but a necessity. For example, you may have found yourself on the wrong end of a significant layoff and are ready to pivot for more long-term job security. Regardless of the reason behind this change, there are various steps you can take to make the transition work to your benefit.
Start making a plan to find a job that embraces your passions, because happiness is a key component of job performance and career advancement. Follow these steps to push yourself off of autopilot and make the change.
1. Get specific about what’s not working.
First, take time to understand what exactly is causing you so much distress in your job. Does your dissatisfaction stem from external factors, such as your co-workers, boss, organizational culture, or even the commute? If so, would switching teams or leaving the company remedy your unhappiness, or do you still have that same sense of dread thinking about the work you’ll be doing, regardless of a change in scenery? If your discontent is related to the functional responsibilities inherent to the job itself, a more drastic change may be in order.
2. Identify what you like about your current role.
Think back to when you first started in your current role. What were your motivations? Was it the day-to-day responsibilities? The promise of career growth? Then, examine the parts of your job you still find enjoyable and seek to understand why they interest you. Is it the creativity your role involves? Strategic thinking? Number crunching? Do you love the constant change…or maybe you crave stability? Keep these themes in mind when looking toward your next role. By assessing your current likes and dislikes, you’ll have a better grasp on areas to seek out or avoid in your next career move.
3. Consider your core values.
In any job, it’s important to find a good cultural fit. Examine your values and understand what type of company culture will complement your personality. Do you value autonomy, community, innovation? Would you be uncomfortable working somewhere where maintaining the status quo is encouraged? Or maybe it’s important to you that you’re working toward a benevolent cause.
Whatever your values, when taking this type of self-inventory, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Think about those friends’ jobs you covet. Are you actually interested in their role, or is it really the freedom and empowering culture you crave? Find out what makes you feel alive, even if it’s not what you (or others) think you “should” be doing. It may be that your values have changed since you first started working—and that’s ok. Just be clear on your priorities today.
4. Assess your strengths and skill gaps.
If it were not for money, time, location, or whatever other reason, what would you be doing? Now is the time to figure out how to do just that. While a complete one-eighty isn’t feasible overnight, examine how your current role and your ideal role overlap. Think about your transferable skills, related experience, and network connections that can help you make the most credible transition, particularly if your current and dream jobs are worlds apart.
It’s also wise to chart out the gaps in your skills and experience that may get in the way. You may need to get creative: start a side gig, engage in part-time internships, or even return to school. Carving out a career that’s rewarding and pays the bills can take time, so be patient, and develop your plan.
5. Research popular jobs for career changers.
While the ideal job for you will depend on your unique background and interests, certain fields present fewer barriers to entry and are more open to hiring career changers than others. Career changers often find success in high-paying fields like computer science and data science, for example, amongst others.
Computer science and data science careers are ideal for career changers as they are in high demand, provide competitive salaries, and offer many different pathways to enter the field. For example, someone interested in gaining computer science skills can participate in a coding bootcamp, take online courses, enroll in an undergraduate program, or pursue a master’s degree.
6. Develop and execute your plan.
After a thorough self-assessment, map out your goals, identifying short-term milestones along the way, and give yourself reasonable timelines. Perfect and polish your personal brand to boost your career search. And along the way, focus on expanding your network and reaching out to old contacts, and continually developing your skills.
What Age is Best to Change Careers?
As you consider a career switch, you might start to doubt whether it’s a feasible move for you. Some thoughts might include, “Is it too late?” or “It might not be worth pursuing a different career at this stage of my life.” Maybe you’ve spent too many years in your current role and doubt if there’s a career that suits your dreams.
But the truth is, there’s no limit to when you can change careers. A successful career change is possible for anyone who’s willing to obtain the qualities and skills needed to perform the job effectively—regardless of your age or stage in life.
Don’t be scared or disheartened by the search for your new career. And don’t forget to check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure your current role is aligned with your long-term goals. Take advantage of any job opportunities that come your way but also know when to walk away, and when to move on. It’s never too late to start again in order to do what you love, every day.
Easing the Transition
While switching careers might seem overwhelming, you owe it to yourself to do something that you enjoy. As you plan your career transition, consider ways that you can facilitate the process and acquire any additional skills necessary for the transition. A graduate degree is often a great way to further your skills and shift your career trajectory in a different direction.
Northeastern’s graduate degree programs provide working professionals who are looking to make a change with flexible part-time and online options.
Additionally, Northeastern offers programs designed specifically for career changers: Computer Science Align and Data Science Align. These programs are for students who have an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field and are seeking to begin a career in the field.
Regardless of the career that you choose, pursuing a graduate degree is a great way to gain the skills, professional relationships, and hands-on experience necessary for a smooth transition and lasting success.
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