So you’ve made up your mind to change careers. From banker to graphic designer, doctor to photographer, teacher to software engineer, violinist to psychotherapist – and so on.
You feel excited that your life is finally going to change, but also feel wary about how everything is going to roll out.
The reason might be that as for most important things in life, there is no fixed path for a career change.
There may be recommended steps to start a certain new career. But in reality, it is not always possible to carry out these exact steps in the exact order.
If career change were the only thing on your mind, you might be able to change careers swiftly without many obstacles.
But if you are like most people, then there are things in life that you need to juggle at the same time. Your finances, health, family, and other responsibilities.
So the career change process needs to happen in a way that respects these other areas of your life as well.
This thing that might be the most important thing to you at the moment, may at the same seem so uncertain.
Will it work out? Will I get a job in this new field? How am I going to tell my friends? Will I be able to make a living? Will I need to take a pay cut?
It is a long and winding road. The process is strenuous and challenging. The more drastic the career change, the more it will seem like a black box.
The good news is that you have a good chance that you’ll make it. As long as you have the patience, endurance, and avoid some common pitfalls.
But what if you’ve already made one of these mistakes? Don’t worry. The first step toward improvement is recognizing the problem. In most cases, it is not too late to undo or rectify it.
Here are 10 career change mistakes to avoid:
1. Quitting your job or career cold
While some people are methodical in everything they do and carefully plan out their steps, others decide rashly and are more hotheaded.
While this might be okay when changing vacation plans, it can be disastrous for your career and life.
You may not achieve your new career goals as fast as planned. You might run out of money if you don’t have a new income source lined up.
But the biggest risk relates to your self-confidence.
Leaving your old career behind without having anything new to replace it may create a vacuum.
Let’s say you were a teacher and want to change careers to become a full-time musician. But you’re not there yet.
You’ve left your teaching career, and you’re no longer a teacher. You’ve started to spend more time making music, but you can’t call yourself a professional musician yet. This leaves you somewhere in between – which may work fine for some people.
However, for many people, this can create negative mental space and mess with their self-confidence.
And for many people it is an unbearable pressure of being in a sort of limbo, not being able to clearly state their job or profession.
2. Expecting career change to happen in a single move
Ideally, we’d like to move from career A to career B in one move, in a single straight clean step.
This is how it would look like: Lucy had a banking career for 5 years. Then, she applied for a job as a web designer at a University and immediately got accepted. She smoothly transitioned from banking to web design.
This rarely happens.
What is more likely is the following: Lucy worked in banking for 5 years. She initially worked in product development. She made a horizontal move into Marketing where she oversaw the e-banking area. In the evenings after work, she took web design courses. She dialed down her banking job to part-time and started getting freelance design job. Then she applied for a job as a web designer at a University and got accepted.
Career changers who expect a drastic career change to happen with a single move will likely feel disillusioned.
It may seem as though some people managed to pull this off.
But if we were to peek behind the curtains, we would see that usually the career change involved multiple steps.
Instead of happening suddenly, the person likely pivoted within their career and made small shifts over the course of several years.
Oftentimes, a person starts working on his or her second career while still in the first career.
They may even end up keeping both careers! But that’s a different topic.
Minor career changes can certainly be made within a short time frame.
However changing to a totally different career is usually a long game.
Expecting anything else is likely to leave you frustrated and impatient. When will I get there? Why can I still not get the job that I want yet? Why is it so hard to break into that career?
Treat career change like a marathon, rather than a sprint.
By realizing that career change is a long game, you will be able to pace yourself. Plan your career change over the course of several years instead of just a few months. Monitor your progress quarterly, instead of daily or weekly.
3. Not testing enough
Some people have 100% clarity on their career goals. They know without a doubt what they want.
For example, Mike used to be a surgeon, but now he knows for sure that he wants to be an architect.
But for most people it’s looking more like this: Jane is a high school teacher. She wants to become a psychotherapist. Or perhaps a chemist. But she’s not that sure. She’s also interested in art and might want to be a children’s book illustrator instead.
This confusion is the result of not having done enough probing, testing and self-evaluation.
Testing means to get hands-on and try out activities that come close to the activities in the target career.
Of course, you can’t practice therapy without a degree. But what you can do is to explore how serious you are about wanting to be a psychotherapist. Try reading several scientific papers. Spend some time talking about issues with a friend. If you can’t even spend an hour doing that, then it might not be for you.
Take some time to do a self-evaluation. What is your purpose in life, at least within the next 10 years? What kind of skills do you want to develop and apply? What is the working environment in which you thrive?
Not having clarity about these questions might lead you to the wrong path.
If you’re anything like Jane, then you need to take one step back. Review your plan, your intentions. Look at it from a birds-eye view.
4. Rushing into getting a second degree (and not exploring enough options)
Some people hate their job or their career overall so much that they want to get out of it and starting something new as soon as possible.
Don’t end up taking a second degree for the wrong reason.
If you know you want to become a doctor but have a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, then, by all means, study medicine.
With other career choices and changes, it may not be that obvious.
Careers and jobs that are not regulated don’t always require you to get a second Bachelor’s degree.
If you are intending to change to an unregulated career – e.g. life coaching, graphic design, acting, then discern carefully whether or not you need a Bachelor’s degree.
In many cases, a diploma, a postgraduate degree, or even just a course will suffice.
In many areas, having practical experience and a portfolio to show, may prove even more valuable than a degree.
Jumping into a 4-year study program for the wrong reasons or when it’s unnecessary is a waste of time and resources.
Did you know, that to start working as an accountant, you don’t necessarily need a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting?
At some level, to get to a certain position, you’ll need an Accounting degree or become a certified CPA. But to merely start working as an accountant, there are other possibilities.
Exceptions might also apply to other careers.
5. Not having enough funds saved up
Career change is a long process.
If you want to make a drastic career change, make the move to become an entrepreneur or freelancer, then don’t expect that you’ll be able to generate a comparable income in a short time.
Although we want to be optimistic, it’s wise to err on the side of caution.
If you haven’t built up a second income stream while you were in your first career, chances are it will take you a while until you earn as much as you did before.
It could be 6 months, 1 year, but it could also be 2 years, depending on how difficult it is to break into your new career.
If you haven’t prepared sufficient savings to fuel your career change process, then it could be game over soon.
Meaning that you might be forced to go back to your old job. And I guess that’s the last thing that you would want.
Or, once you run out of cash, you might need to take any job available at that moment just to earn an income.
You might be in the middle of running your new business, and in the 13th month run out of money to pay your bills. At that point, it will be a bummer to leave your business to work an unwanted day job.
Alternatively, consider the option of intentionally working in a part-time job of your choice or freelancing on the side. This is part of your plan to get through the years of pursuing your new career.
An even better option: Start developing your career while you’re still in your first career.
6. Expecting to start at the same level in the next career as your last one
People who change careers need to manage their expectations. Unrealistic expectations will leave you disappointed and depressed.
Usually, when changing careers, a person will have to start from a relatively junior level. Why do I say relatively junior?
It may not necessarily an entry-level position, but the level you start at will likely be lower than the level at which you worked in your last career.
Let’s say right now you’re an HR manager with 10 years of experience, and you want to become an actor. It may happen in 0.0001% of cases that you immediately get a role on broadway.
But what’s more realistic is, that you will need to start by taking small roles. You might get a supporting role at a smaller theatre, or work as an extra. Or act in a student film.
Changing careers will require some form of starting over.
Perhaps not necessarily from the very bottom. But you’ll need to learn a lot of new things and gather experiences, which will make you feel like a beginner.
And that’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a price worth paying if you’ve really set your mind on something.
It’s just important to manage your expectations.
Don’t aim to achieve your end goal in it’s most perfect form, all at once.
If you were a VP in Marketing in a consumer goods company, don’t expect to immediately continue as VP when you move over to product development in an insurance company.
Of course, there are always possibilities that may happen, depending on your experiences, skills, and knowledge. But you may need to accept the fact that you need to start at a lower level, e.g. as manager.
Don’t be disheartened by this.
It will only be transitional. If you learn fast and perform well, in a matter of 1-2 years you might be able to move up the ladder once more.
At least you are moving up the right ladder.
7. Not discussing options with experienced people
You definitely can do it on your own. I tried to do it on my own, but I wish I hadn’t.
You can google your way through a career change. By listening to videos. Reading blog posts, like this one.
By doing that, you might come up with a good enough plan. Information on what your new career would require and how to get there.
But you might get to the wrong conclusion. Go into the wrong direction and going back and forth. Wasting time and money doing things inefficiently.
Nothing can replace the input and information that you can get first-hand from people who have experienced it.
If you know anyone who is already working in your target field and career, try to reach out to them.
Ask them questions about their career. What do they like and not like about it?
What did they do to get there? How long did it take and how much did it cost them? What would they have done differently? What to pay attention to, and what are the pitfalls.
Share with them your rough plan, how you intend to go about your career change.
Ask them for their honest opinion.
They might give you ideas and present options for getting into your desired career, that you would have not thought about.
The feedback that you will get from these people will be invaluable.
You can save yourself a lot of headaches, frustration, but also time, by retracing the path that other people already successfully walked on.
You don’t have to do it the same way. But at least you’ll have some insights that you can use to modify and optimize your strategy.
8. Not communicating well with your spouse/family
A career change will most like affect your spouse and family.
These are the ways your career change process will intersect with the people close to you:
- You might spend more time away from your family to take a course or simply work on your second career
- There’s a chance that you might need to take a pay cut for some time, to maintain the same income level, need to work more hours
- It’s also possible that you’ll need to use some of your savings during the time you transition to your new career
- You might need to draw on your savings to finance a one-year study program or course
- You’re likely to spend a lot of time absorbed in your new interest
All these things will affect your time spent together and apart, and your financial situation. If your new career involves working from home, it will also change your home environment.
If you fail to keep your spouse and family up to date on your plans and intentions, this can lead to a lot of misunderstandings.
Some family member(s) might not even be on board with your plan, and not communicating it will make things worse.
As soon as you are serious about your career change, communicate your intention openly and clearly the people close to you.
They may or may not agree with you, but in any case, you will need to get over with it and talk to them about it someday.
The earlier you address the subject, the faster you can get your spouse or family on board and focus on carrying out your plan.
You’ll be able to hash out any issues that arise. You may even get their understanding and support.
And I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a spouse and family members who understand where you’re coming from, why you do what you’re doing, and cheering you on.
9. Giving up too fast
If you happen to be in the middle of a career change and about to give up, hold on, and give it another chance.
Retrace your steps and think about all the reasons why this career change was important to you. What bothered you about your first career.
Why do you want to change your career so badly? There must be important and valid reasons why your started changing your career in the first place.
Sometimes when we’ve worked on something for too long, working on a career change for 3, 5, or more years without seeing any concrete results (yet), it’s easy to get disheartened.
It’s easy to start thinking things like ‘this is no use’, ‘this will never work’, ‘I’m so tired, I can’t do this anymore’, and so on.
That’s a reliable sign that you need a break.
Take a step back from your efforts and regroup.
Draw a timeline. When and from what position and situation did you start. Where are you currently? What steps have you taken and what little successes have you made?
Every single success no matter how small is immensely valuable because those small successes are which will get you to your goal.
Continue to draw a timeline to your next career goal. Plot out the steps and the time you think you need. Get a new fresh perspective on it. Manage your expectations, especially in regard to time and results.
In the beginning, perhaps you thought that you could become a successful entrepreneur within 2 years and make a profit. But maybe, it turned out that even after 2 years you weren’t able to launch your product yet and your cash ran out.
Take a time-out and assess your plan in light of your current goals and situation. If possible, discuss it with someone else and get a second opinion.
Of course, quitting is always an option. In some cases it makes sense.
But don’t give up for the wrong reasons.
Quitting because it’s no longer relevant to your overarching vision and goals – that makes sense.
But don’t give up just because you’re frustrated and tired. Don’t give up because you’re bored.
Instead, try to reroute. Perhaps there is another way?
Patience and persistence are what will pay off in the long term.
10. Expecting your Career Goals to remain the same throughout your entire life
It puzzles me when I find people who think that they need to have one career goal and one clearly defined career path that they want to and must pursue their entire working life.
And currently, if you’re a millennial, the time during which you’ll be working can be anywhere between 40-70 years.
With lifespans becoming longer and the quality of life increasing, people can (and in some cases must) work longer.
There is a group of people, and I am in awe of these, who at the young age of 18 already know what exact career they want to pursue for the rest of their lives.
For example, to become a Japanese archeologist and continue on a closely related path until the age of 70.
Or, to be a professional pianist, and dedicate one’s whole life to nothing else besides that.
We’re fortunate to have those types of people, who focus so intensely on one thing for 50-60 years so that they become highly specialized, and a master in their area.
But for the many of people, that’s just not how it works.
The least people have their lives and all their goals figured out and set by the age of 18. Or even 30!
Most people will go through ups and downs and turns, getting to know themselves better, exploring their interests, experimenting and trying out new things, questioning their decisions, until at one point perhaps they find ‘it’ and settle into something.
Or even several things.
It makes sense that one’s career goals may change throughout their life. At 18 people may have a totally different set of experiences, knowledge, interests compared to when they are 35.
Some people spend their 20s working in Finance only to find out in their 40s that they need to develop a second career in the arts.
For other people, it’s can be the other way around.
A career is like a tree. Branches grow into different directions, shapes, and sizes. But all these parts are attached to one main trunk, originate from the same roots. They find different expressions at different points in its life, but ultimately, are one unity. A leaf cannot grow without the branch developing first.
It’s the same with careers. You must go through a process.
Remain open to the idea that the career that you wanted when you were 20 may not be the same as the one that you want now in your 30s. And the ideal career in your 50s might look different altogether.
Having this kind of mindset will save yourself a lot of frustration.