Why Most People Fail At Career Change

Career Change

Are you unhappy with the direction of your career?

You’re not alone. Each year, there are new surveys on employee engagement that suggest millions are frustrated with their current job. In fact, Jobvite’s 2012 Social Job Seeker Survey found 69% of Americans they were either “actively seeking” a new job or “open to” a new job. According to Glassdoor research, common frustrations include poor leadership, technology and working hours (The Worst Companies to Work For).

What Forces Are Driving The Need For Career Change?

Several trends are powering a growing rise in career change. Think of these trends as powerful waves in the ocean. They can propel you forward or you can overwhelmed by them.

More Industries Are In Crisis.

Over the past twenty years, several industries have experienced major losses. In Ontario, a sharp decline in the number of automotive jobs prompted governments to provide billions of dollars to large car companies to boost the industry. In the travel industry, travel agents have been impacted by the rise of services such as Kayak and TripAdvisor. Whole books have been written about these trends.

What It Means For Your Career.

If you are currently employed in a declining industry, that trend will negatively impact for career advancement. To use a military analogy – while it is possible for a small force to defeat a much larger force (e.g. the defenders in the 1529 Siege Of Vienna), it is a high risk move. If career growth matters to you, competing in a declining industry is like running a race with your eyes closed. Do yourself a favor and move to a company with higher growth prospects – that will ease your path.

Megatrends Are Creating New Opportunities

Economic change often gets a bad reputation because the pain it causes attracts a lot of attention. A Fortune article reports findings from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas: nearly 500,000 layoffs were announced in 2015 (an increase compared to 2014). At the same time, other large scale trends are creating new opportunities. Here are three trends that I have been following over the past year:

  • Analytics and Data. This trend is creating new jobs at large companies (e.g. Amazon), startup firms and everything in between. For detailed insights on technologies, training and opportunities, read my InfoWorld article: Career boost: Break into data science. Another option is to start a formal program of study such as Coursera’s specialization in business analytics.
  • Internet of Things (“IoT”). What happens when Internet connected sensors become more common? I have reported that IoT improves air travel in both airlines and airports. Unlike the other two trends mentioned, this trend is still early. However, I see significant growth coming in the future. A key challenge for IoT connects to analytics and data science – what data should we collect and how do we use that data to improve results?
  • Cybersecurity. For immediate employment, this is one of the highest demand sectors I have seen. The arm’s race dynamic (attackers vs defenders) mean a constant demand for new ideas. Cybersecurity jobs are found at large companies like IBM, cybersecurity software companies, IT security consulting firms and beyond. For more on this topic, read my CSO article: How to get started in IT security consulting.

What It Means For Your Career

These above technology trends are likely to generate new companies and employment for years to come. What if you are not interested in technology jobs? Look for other trends that are likely to increase over time. Energy and healthcare are two industries that combine a history of high quality jobs and a bright outlook. Consider a 2016 article in Bloomberg showing the rapid growth in solar and wind energy since 2000.

Realizing You Have An Accidental Career

Trends and economic change suggest directions but only you can select a direction. My research and conversations suggest that many people fell into their current career rather than choosing it. Some people may be content with such a path. On other hand, if you are discontent with your current career, it is time to pursue a change.

Note: If you are interested in rethinking your career and life generally, I suggest reading Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Daniel Harkavy and Michael S. Hyatt. It is a short book that explains how life planning works. The website linked to in this paragraph also includes resources to guide you through the process.

5 Ways To Fail At Career Change

Deciding to change your career direction is exciting! You might have a relatively small move in mind (e.g. web development to mobile development) or a major change in mind (e.g. graphic designer to accountant). The key is to capture that frustration and channel it toward productive change.

Make sure you avoid these five failure points as you plan your career change.

1. Do Nothing. This failure is where you do nothing but dream and fume at how frustrated you are with your current career situation. Clearly, this is not enough.

2. Complain. This is a slight step up from the point above. At this point, you are expressing the problem. I think of career discontent as fuel – it has the potential to power change but only if you put into an engine and have a direction.

3. Resign Immediately. In rare cases, resigning immediately is the smart move. If your discomfort level is sky high, leaving makes sense. For 95% of people, resigning immediately – before you have a basic plan and knowledge of your next steps – is a recipe for failure.

4. Underestimate The Challenge. The easiest job search is where you do the exact same job at a different company (e.g. Java Developer at company X moves to a Java Developer role at company Y). The further you want to move away from your established skills, the harder the career change will be. Why? You will be competing against people who have been in your new dream job for years. Why? From the employer standpoint, a career changer means greater uncertainty compared to

5. “I’ll Figure Out Myself” Fallacy. Given enough time and patience, it is possible to make the “DIY” approach to career change work. That said, most of us have constraints to work against. You might give yourself a year to build up a client list. Or you realize that you only have 5-10 hours per week to learn new skills while you hold down your current job. In that case, you need all the help you can get. Learn from others who have already achieved success in your new dream job.

The Low Risk Strategy For Career Change

Whew! You might be thinking, “Does this mean I’m stuck in this career path?” Not at all. There are ways to move forward. Even better, there’s no need to quit your job tomorrow. Instead, use this approach to deconstruct your frustration and set direction.

Define Your Frustration.

Putting your frustration into words is a key step to planning a career change. Are you frustrated by compensation? Or is company culture more of a problem (e.g. high risk aversion)? Perhaps you are fundamentally bored or disengaged with the content of your work. At the same time, think deeply about what you like in your work (e.g. you like building spreadsheets and models? Maybe your interest here is really about applying systems thinking).

Read To Explore Your Horizons.

Expanding your career horizons through reading is low risk and high impact. If you are looking to expose yourself to a wide variety of jobs in a short period, look into The One-Week Job Project by Sean Aiken. If you have a specific focus in mind – e.g. explore if product management is right for you – read interviews with people in that profession. Next, read 2-5 of the books on the topic with the highest rating on Amazon.

Start your reading process with these resources:

Connect With Multiple People In The Field

Time to leave your office and meet people! The above reading step gives you ideas, a sense of a field’s opportunities and history. However, it is incomplete. It is vital to connect with several people (rule of thumb: at least 5 people at five different companies) doing the kind of work you are interested in. Write out some questions in advance and go ask for insights.

What if you don’t have any contacts that are related to your field?

  • Associations. Most professions have associations where people gather together to share advice, professional education and network. Look into joining an organization, reading their association newsletter or going to their events. WEDDLE’s Association Directory is a helpful resource to get started.
  • Educators. Similar to the point above, there are instructors who teach a wide variety of career skills. Many established instructors have developed extensive networks in their field over time. Read the instructor biography and then email them with a few questions to start the conversation (Tip: How to Connect with VIPs: 5 Tips for Cold Emails)
  • LinkedIn Groups. Joining LinkedIn Groups is an online strategy to gorw your network. For the best results, look for groups where multiple people are regularly contributing material and comments.

Validate Your Interest With A Project

Eventually, you need to do the work. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for InfoWorld explaining how to become an Android developer. During my research, several managers and experts commented that building an Android app is one of the best ways to set yourself apart and break into the profession. Whenever possible, look for a way to demonstrate your skills with a specific project. You can either work on a solo project or work in a group. For job search specifically, the best scenario involves creating something that other people use and have input on.

Here are X ways to do a project to validate your interest in a new career before you quit your day job.

  • Technology Careers. If you’re interested in switching to a technology or development career, you are in luck! Many companies offer free or low cost resources to developers. Explore CodeAcademy if you are interested in Python, PHP and other programming languages.

Question For The Comments:

What career change are you interested in?

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3 thoughts on “Why Most People Fail At Career Change

  1. Interesting guide. I will forward to some friends in career change. As for me I am thinking on a second career and here there are a couple things I would like to consider. As a seasoned professional on engineering, systems integration, consulting and project management, I am thinking on all the new technologies like IOT, AI and data science that were incipient when I first studied them in my early years. If I can combine new learning of those with a more social, giving-back type of work or entrepreneurship, that would fantastic.

  2. Always fascinating and factual. Thanks for your guidance and I look forward to additional commentaries to enhance my career.