How to Tell if a Career Change is Right for You

John Grisham, Julia Child, Bill Gates, Whoopi Goldberg - all highly successful individuals who made a career change at some stage in their lives. The point? As terrifying as switching professional lanes can be, it can, and sometimes should, be done.

Our jobs consume most of our waking hours, and how we feel about them impacts every other area of our lives. So, if you're terribly unhappy in your current profession, moving into a new field might just be the best thing you could do for yourself.

But that's not to say that jumping ship is a decision that should be made lightly. Switching professions can be a costly, stressful endeavor, so you want to be sure it's the correct choice. To determine whether a career change is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:

Is it my job or my career that's making me miserable?

It's important to make the distinction between being unhappy in your job and being dissatisfied with your career. The first is easier to resolve - by moving to a different company, changing departments within the same company, or addressing frustrations in the workplace. The latter signals the need for a bigger, more significant shift - a shift at the career level. 

How do you tell the difference? Well, if your discontent stems from factors specific to your current position - a callous manager, unfriendly co-workers, an unrealistic workload, a noisy office, or poor pay, for instance - then it's more likely a job-related issue. However, if you can relate to the following tell-tale signs that your dissatisfaction goes deeper, then you should certainly be considering a career change.

  • You feel chronically bored and drained
  • You're frequently ill and physically run-down
  • You can't shake the feeling that you're wasting your talents and could be doing something more meaningful with your life
  • You've checked out and have no interest in your work anymore
  • Your day-to-day duties just don't feel very 'you'
  • Despite reaching goals and earning a nice salary, you still feel like something is missing
  • You dislike talking about what you do for a living and feel jealous when you hear others speak enthusiastically about their careers

What would I rather be doing?

It's all well and good knowing you want to shift professional gears, but if you're unsure what work you'd rather be doing, then a career change might not be right for you right now. You don't just want to be leaving something; you want to be heading towards something else.

So, take time to figure out a suitable new direction for yourself before making the change. It might be helpful to consult a career counselor, who can offer you advice and shed some light on the options available to you. There are also a host of self-assessment tests and quizzes that can help you determine which line of work best aligns with your interests, values, personality, and qualifications - CareerMaze and CareerPlanner are just two examples of reputable career discovery tools. You can also check out resume examples and cover letter examples for the careers that you're potentially interested in moving towards.

What are my transferable skills?

If you take time to think about the skills you've developed in your current profession that are transferable to a new industry, you might find that making a career change no longer feels like such a massive jump. The realization that you won't necessarily have to start from scratch can help to make a professional shift feel much more manageable - it could even convince you that it's the right move for you.

But how do you identify your portable skills? Start by asking yourself, "Which of the competencies that I honed in career A would I draw on daily in career B?" You could also analyze job descriptions for positions in your desired field and note skills listed that are in your repertoire. Abilities like analytical thinking, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and solid verbal and written communication skills are all examples of strengths that could translate well in a different occupation.

Can I afford to make a career change?

Even if you're certain you'd be happier in a different profession, you need to consider whether your current financial situation will allow for such a change. Switching careers can be costly - you might have to take a big pay cut, do without key benefits, and even study further (translation: go back to school) - and making this change without careful planning could just swap one source of stress for another.

That doesn't mean you should let go of your dream to be an author or chef. It just means you need to think practically about when and how best to make the leap. Speak to a financial advisor, draw up a budget, reduce unnecessary expenses, and pay off debts before leaving your current career. You'll feel much better about finally jumping ship if you get your ducks in a row first.

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