Understanding the Challenges of Changing Careers

People typically change careers for one of two reasons: They leave their career or their career leaves them. Either way, employment challenges during a career change are much the same when it comes to marketing yourself in places where you haven’t been before.

Even when you think you can easily transition from one career field or industry to another, employers can be a hard sell when it comes to greenlighting career changers for a payroll. Except when they’re filling entry level jobs, hiring authorities have a frustrating habit of preferring candidates who have already proven that they can do the work a job requires.

Global trade is changing life for many workers. Technology is automating human processes. Teleconference marketing is replacing sales trips. Highly qualified candidates are being hired on temporary contracts and cut loose when the project is over or the job is shipped offshore to cheaper labor nations.

Keep your dreams alive as you assume the role of career changer in a new era, but be aware of the challenges you'll face. Consider the following points:

  • Career change is not job change. A career change involves a marked shift in jobs requiring new primary skills or knowledge, or a totally different work environment — or both. For example, when a manager in the telecom industry leaves one company for another managerial position in the same industry, he makes a job change; when he leaves the telecom industry to become a museum curator he makes a career change to a different job and different industry.

  • Retraining may be unavoidable. When you attempt to make a clear change to a different kind of job in the same industry, you may well be able to pitch your way into an employer’s graces without investing in additional formal education or training. Your challenge is more difficult when you try to change both your job and industry at the same time, but you may be able to pull it off without immediately spending additional time and money in school. However, you won’t be able to get out of educational renewal to satisfy credibility and licensing requirements in such careers as law, public accounting, and nursing.

  • Employers worry most about risk. Managers are concerned whether the crossover skills you acquired in your former career will translate to your new career. When your skills don’t convert and you can’t do the work, the business suffers a negative impact and — if you’re canned — a risk of being sued for wrongful discharge. Another worry is whether you’ll suffer changer’s remorse, quickly becoming dissatisfied and turning into a “bad hire.” These risks drive employers to seek out directly applicable skills in proven performers.

  • Your competitors are new graduates. When you’re starting over, you compete with new graduates who are starting out. Expect to be paid entry-level money; an employer is unlikely to compensate you for your 15 years’ experience in another field (unless you can show that your experience can save or earn money for the new employer). Even so, you have an ace up your sleeve: You bring judgment, commitment, high motivation, proven good work habits, and real-world lessons.

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