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At some point in your career, you’re probably going to contemplate a career change. The way a linear career looks on paper is that you choose something you’re good at when you’re young, and then you do it year after year.

Eventually, your skills improve, you move up the ranks, you make more money. Then you retire from that career you chose all those years ago.

In reality, life happens.

When you started your career in your 20s your life was going a certain way. Then by your 30s it probably changed in ways you never could have predicted a decade ago. Rinse and repeat for each new decade.

As your life changes, it’s natural to take a good look at your career and either 1. reaffirm that you like what you’re doing and you want to stick with it, or 2. consider making a career change in the hopes that your new path will more closely align with your true, happy self.

Making a career change can be a tough decision, even if it seems like your only choice when things at work get to suckin’. But, before you decide to make that career change from finance manager to scented candle maker, you need to get real about the path to happiness (and income) in front of you.

Here’s a quick guide to help you make that decision.

When you CAN make a career change

If you’re moving to a new specialty within your skillset

Example: Communications Coordinator to Public Relations Manager

After you’ve completed formal education in a new skillset

  • Example: Nanny to Registered Nurse after earning a Bachelor’s degree

You have a strong network connection or recommendation

  • Example: Your husband’s best friend hires you to oversee operations for his small business

When you CANNOT make a career change

Moving to a new career field with no formal education or training in the subject matter

  • Example: Police Officer to High School Science Teacher

This is obvious. You need to have education or training in the subject matter for your new career. Some people confuse this with peripheral experience.

In the example, the peripheral experience would be that you’ve tutored high school kids in Science on the side so you think you’re qualified to teach. Not so.

Moving to a new career field with zero experience

  • Example: Financial Analyst to Art Director

You will not get hired into a new job if you don’t have any experience. Even entry-level professionals must have some experience to show on their resume to be a top candidate for an open position. It’s competitive out there y’all!

There is a myth being told to students that make them think that the moment they get their degree, employers will be banging down their door to hire them.

That’s not true.

And it’s actually the opposite of what really happens. So many people have the same new degree that you have that it’s not as special as you think.

What is special is your experience in the field.

The same is true for seasoned professionals. If you want to move from Financial Analyst to Art Director, you better have a killer portfolio of artwork to show.

The most important factors in whether or not someone is going to hire you are 1. how much experience you have, and 2. how well you’ll fit in on the team.

Your education is influential in the decision-making process to hire you, but it’s not weighted as heavily as you might think.

What should you consider if you’re contemplating making a career change?

The first thing to ask yourself is, “What’s driving my decision?”

If the answer to that question is that you want to maximize your earnings before retirement, and you have more than 10 years of experience under your belt, then you’re probably better off staying on your current career path and moving up. There’s a good chance you dislike the people or the company more than the work itself.

Remember, you can change where you work and who you work with without switching careers. I have a saying that I use all the time with my clients and that is, “You can do anything if you’re working for the right boss.”

If you’re thinking of making a career change because you don’t like the company or the people, then I recommend trying a job change in your career field before you blow it all up to sell piña coladas on the beach.

That may seem more appealing now, but believe me, there are good bosses out there who make work a lot of fun.

On the other hand.

If you feel a calling to make a change in your life because you want to do work you’re passionate about, you should go for it. You only get one life, so why not do something you love? 

Keep in mind that when you decide to change careers, you will be starting at square one.

And you will take a pay cut.

Eventually, you may earn more in this new career because presumably you’ll be highly engaged in the work.

What I’ve observed is that promotions come naturally to those who have aligned their career path with their passion. 

So what do you do?

I think more people should leave their jobs to do what they love if they can afford it. You get one shot at life, so don’t waste it doing work that doesn’t align with your purpose or passion.

If you want to help people, you should help people. If you love working in spreadsheets all day, you should do that. Whether you make $58,000 a year or $65,000 a year really doesn’t make that much difference in the grand scheme of things.

But if that job making $58,000 a year makes you feel excited to get up every Monday, and that job making $65,000 a year makes you feel anxious every Sunday night, TAKE THE PAY CUT!

Your mental health is worth so much more in this life than having a premium cable subscription.