How to know if you should change careers or just change jobs

It might present some challenges, but with motivation and passion, a career change is possible regardless of where you are in your life. Caiaimage/Martin Barraud

Everyone gets down about their job every now and again. But that’s not necessarily a reason to consider switching careers altogether.

“Happiness is so important in a role because, other than sleeping, work is where we spend the majority of our time,” says Paul Wolfe, senior vice-president of human resources at Indeed. “But you really need to ask yourself if your unhappiness is because you don’t like what you do, or if it’s because you don’t like your job or the culture of the company you work for.”

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That’s why Wolfe says this decision starts with a lot of introspection. Ask yourself what is at the root of your unhappiness and what you think it’s going to take to make you happy.

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“If you’re restless or unhappy in your current role, first consider the possibilities outside of your department within the company, and then outside of the company altogether,” says Angela Payne, general manager at Monster Canada. “Employees may find that they don’t get along with colleagues or aren’t challenged enough daily. Look to make small changes that may have big impact in your job satisfaction before looking to change careers.”

If you do decide to change careers, keep these things in mind.

Make sure you know the ins and outs of the field you’ve set your sights on

It’s possible that you’ve painted a rosy picture of your new career for yourself without considering some of the realities. Now the onus is on you to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for a fictitious dream industry.

“You’ve probably made some assumptions based on your self-reflection and in determining what you want, but you need to validate those assumptions by networking with other people in that industry and understanding if it is what you think it is,” Wolfe says.

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In addition, do some homework. Look at the potential trajectory this career offers you and what kind of future the industry has in store. There’s no sense in training for a new career if it’s only going to be obsolete five years down the road or there isn’t room for growth.

There will be some difficulties

If you’re making the switch from recruiting to human resources, for example, there are a number of transferable skills that are applicable to your new focus. If however, you’re looking to make a more drastic change, say from teaching to law, there will be larger hurdles.

For starters, you’ll probably need to get some additional education or certification, so you’ll need to ask yourself if you’re in a financial position to quit or scale back on your present job to make time for training.

“If changing careers means going back to school short-term or long-term, consider the impact that it may have on your life outside of the working world,” Payne says.

However, even the most disparate careers can require similar soft skills, so don’t be discouraged by the differences in the jobs.

“Don’t discount the fact that many organizations are looking for new perspectives; not only fresh eyes but fresh ideas that can come from adjacent or different industry best practices,” she says.

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Timing isn’t everything

While the experts agree that it’s invariably easier to make a career change early in your working life, the amount of time you’ve put into your current job shouldn’t dictate whether you make the leap to another field.

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“If it’s important to you to make a change, weigh what it’s going to take, including the risks and costs associated with it,” Wolfe says. “But at the end of the day, if it’s going to make you happier, go for it. Because that’s the most important thing.”

There may be a learning curve involved in your new career that will take some time to master, but with dedication and a lot of networking, you’re sure to gain momentum fairly quickly.

“If you’re motivated and passionate for your career change, there shouldn’t be many surprising challenges,” Payne says. “With any change, there are some roadblocks, but staying positive and opportunistic will present great reward in your new career.”

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