17 Nov 6 Questions You Must Consider Before a Career Change Decision
A career change decision is likely to come up for most of us, that too many times over the course of our professional lives. Everyone needs to be prepared for career changes. With an ever-increasing number of career choices, 30% of the workforce is now changing jobs every 12 months. The average person will change careers 5-7 times during their working life according to Career Change Statistics. With increasing lifespans and longer working lives, changing careers several times will become the norm rather than the exception.
If career change is inevitable, how do you prepare for it? Career change involves external and internal shifts in the way we see ourselves. What are some of the things which you must consider before making a career change decision? Our career experts recommend thinking about these 6 questions before career change:
Do you know your transferable skills?
Do you know your transferable skills, because the first question you will get asked if you are trying to switch domains/functions is “Why should we hire you?”. The answer lies in flaunting your transferable skills – all those skills and strengths which you are going to carry from one kind of role to another, even if in a different domain.
Every role helps you build a solid set of transferable skills (usually soft skills and in some cases technical / hard skills). You need to know what your transferable skills and completely own the narrative around them.
How can you do that: First, identify the common skills needed for the switch from your current and past experience – write them down and build the narrative on how precisely they will be applied to the new role.
Second, identify the skills that make you different. Write them down and FLAUNT them – you will be the only one in the team with a diverse perspective and potential for innovation.
And third, confidently demonstrate capability to learn and research to pick up technical skills. Your experience cannot be replicated and that is exactly why they should hire you and nobody else.
Have you immersed yourself enough in the new career idea?
When making a fairly different kind of switch, it’s important to have immersed yourself sufficiently into the new career idea or domain. It is all too easy to fantasize that you would like a totally different career, but then when you actually come up against the daily grind or tasks that the new career involves, you may find yourself completely at sea.
Test the waters and immerse yourself in your new career idea before going for a career change decision
Take the example of Deepak Sabharwal, a finance and compliance professional who found his idea of a career change while working at large corporates like GE and Pepsi. Deepak wanted to move into organic farming, but he didn’t just hang up his boots one fine day and then become an organic farmer. For 4 years, he spent every weekend at his own farm, learning and experimenting with organic farming. During this time, he not only practiced organic farming, he developed an understanding of the farming ecosystem as well, including agri-input supply chain, working with farm labour, agri-marketing and working with the local government bodies. Such a complete immersion ensured that he wasn’t looking at career change through rose-tinted glasses and finally, after 4 years, he was ready for a complete career change.
Take your time to evaluate a career change decision – as in the case of Deepak Sabharwal
Is this a now or never stage for you when it comes to career change?
Most of the successful career changers we know are those who time their change right. This doesn’t mean that they have everything perfectly laid out for their career change. Rather they get the timing of their career change right, by matching their inner need for change with something that they pick up in the external environment in terms of opportunity.
Ask yourself, is this a now or never stage for a career change decision?
One very successful portfolio careerist and career changer, Dipankar Mukherjee, explained the timing of his career change decision like this, “After 8 years in consulting, working at places like IBM and PwC, I felt that it was the right time to try something different. It was not as if I did not like consulting – I actually loved the consultant’s life and the bag of skills that I could use in my consultant role. But I also felt that before I got too comfortable, I needed to push myself to try out my career change idea. I knew that if I couldn’t make it take off in about 2-3 years from then, I still had ample career capital, built up from my consulting experience, to get a foothold back into consulting or other domains.”
Ask yourself, “Is my desire for career change meeting the emerging opportunities in the environment, are they somewhat in the same direction?”
Does the ‘new you’ after career change feel like someone you want to be?
Career change can mean donning a different avatar – there is a change in identity involved. For many of us, what we do for a living and the work identity we have, say as a legal head, project coordinator, sales manager etc, form a crucial part of how we see ourselves. According to Gallup, 55% of American workers get their sense of identity from their job. If this is under threat of change, it can make people very uncomfortable and restless till a new stable identity emerges. In the words of Herminia Ibarra, Professor at INSEAD, “One of the reasons people experience career change as a time of confusion, insecurity, or uncertainty is that they feel they have lost the narrative thread of their life.”
Do you feel like the ‘new you’ you will become as a result of the career change is someone you want to be? For instance, if you are shifting from being a full-time employee in a large corporate to becoming an independent consultant, how does the identity of independent consultant make you feel? Working independently, you may not have a title and the associated status from working in a large organization. You may also have to see yourself differently as you may no longer earn a stable high income, and your income may fluctuate.
How do important people in your life feel about your career change idea?
Career change can be intense and involve emotional and mental recalibration. Important people in your life are often accustomed to seeing you in a particular way and when you are considering a career change, then they may also need to shift how they see you.
Ask yourself, “How will people I hold important feel about my career change decision?” When switching from being a well-heeled professional in a global organization, to turning to a far less lucrative profession of teaching, one career changer we know, shared with us how he initially met with disbelief and even disapproval from his family. However, over time, as he explained his reasons and motivations for the career change, their disapproval changed into neutral acceptance and a wait and watch approach.
The important thing is to remain in an open frame of mind to listen to people’s feelings as you bring up the career change decision before them. Allowing them to express their concerns, and not rushing them to accept your decision, gives them the time and space to recalibrate how they see you and come to terms with the impact of your decision upon them.
What is your notion of success and satisfaction that you want to achieve through career change?
Perhaps, the most important question around career change is this, “What is my new definition of success and satisfaction at work, which is prompting my career change idea?”
What will success and satisfaction look like after your career change, is a question to ask before a career change decision
Thinking about this, sets the stage for many of the other related questions like the ones discussed above. If you have some clarity on how success and satisfaction will look like once you are on the other side of the career change, you will be able to take all other required steps to make this happen.
Do you want to work with greater autonomy?
Is working on a problem close to your heart important for you at this stage of your career?
Will success and satisfaction mean doing things at scale, creating something strikingly original, generating high growth, using a range of your skills which are not being used now?
Asking yourself such questions to understand what success and satisfaction mean to you will enable you to take a career change decision more confidently.
Kavita, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, brings 20 years of experience in Experiential Learning, Coaching, Personal Growth & Change. Her forte is Career Transition Coaching and Leadership Development for mid-senior individuals, helping them find success and fulfilment at work . She also teaches Career & Self Development courses at leading management institutes including IIM Kozhikode, IIM Udaipur, IIM Indore and at the IITs.