Career change is the new normal of working

Stacy Rapacon, special to
Job seekers, right, speak with recruiters at the San Jose Career Fair in California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Whether you've been on your current career path for 30 days or 30 years, changing directions may be your best next move — and plenty of people are making it.

"The world of work has changed significantly over the past decade, particularly since the financial crash," said Natasha Stanley, career change coach and head of the Pioneer Course at U.K.-based Careershifters, an eight-week online boot camp designed to help guide you through switching careers.

"The single career path or job-for-life certainly isn't dead, but it's becoming more and more likely that people will go through at least one career change in their lifetime."

What's driving this trend is part practical and part impassioned. During the Great Recession, many people lost their jobs and were forced to consider new career choices as they struggled with unemployment.

Nicole Mayer, a financial advisor and life transition specialist, said she has been seeing this trend even more recently with many of her firm's clients who have been laid off or offered an early retirement package.

"What we hear over and over again is that [people] fell into their line of work, and 10 years later, they don't know why they're still there," Stanley said. "They don't want to look back on their lives and regret spending so much time doing something that they didn't choose and didn't enjoy."

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Whatever your reason for making the change, the first thing you should do while still in the thinking-about-it phase is enlist a support team, suggests Stanley. Whether it's family, friends or some kind of professional coach or advisor, you need people to bounce your ideas off of and talk you through this transition.

"Career change isn't a quick journey, and it can be far more of an emotionally challenging experience than you'd expect," she said. "'Don't do it alone' is our first principle."

The truth will get you hired

The people around you are also likely the key to your next career.

"As a career changer, chances are your CV and cover letter won't pass the first stage if you apply through the usual routes," Stanley said.

"But if you can have authentic conversations with people from the start — if you can share your passion and life experience and enthusiasm with someone, human being to human being — you're far more likely to make a meaningful impact," she added.

Networking is very important. You should tap into your own circle of colleagues, friends and family, and reach out even further to their connections as well, Stanley said.

Consider also joining professional groups such as the Ellevate Network, which caters specifically to women, and BNI, an international business networking organization. And don't forget to plug into social media networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

Once you land the opportunity to speak with someone in your new industry of choice, whether in an actual job interview or a more casual meeting, be prepared to explain your situation.

Be honest about your lack of experience, but emphasize your transferable knowledge and skills — whether gained from previous jobs or outside of work — and the new perspective you can bring to the table given your different background.

Also highlight your emotional investment. "Make it clear that you're making a career change into this field because you're passionate about it, and then share why," Stanley said. "Skills can be taught, but genuine passion and a hunger to contribute doesn't come along every day. Don't be shy about yours."

The biggest hurdle to successfully changing careers is you.

"Fear of failure, of looking silly, of being rejected, of losing status — it's the single biggest dream-killer in the world of work," Stanley said.

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Preparing yourself financially can help. First off, you need to fatten up your emergency fund. Mayer recommends saving a minimum of six months' worth of living expenses. If your new career comes with an expected pay cut or if you're planning to start your own business, she suggests you save even more — at least one year's worth of expenses.

"You really want to make sure you have a cushion there in case things don't go," Mayer said. "People are generally optimistic about the way things are going to go … but if you prepare for the worst, anything above that is good news."

You also need to be realistic with your expectations. Both Stanley and Mayer advise that you do your research and understand what kind of income you can expect from your future endeavors. And make sure it can work for your budget.

"Doing what you're passionate about, you may not be able to make the same dollar amount you were making, and that's OK," Mayer said. "But you need to know what the minimum income requirement in your transition is and make sure that this plan will still let you meet your long-term goals."

Correction: This story was updated to correct Nicole Mayer's title.