You graduate high school and decide that you want to be an engineer. You pursue your chosen career path, gain skills and education on the way, and get your first full-time position in your early 20s. In your early 30s, you begin to question if you made the right choice. Or maybe in your 50s, satisfied with the experiences you’ve gained, you decide to dial down and seek part-time work.
Finding a career that best fits your skills and aligns with your interests is a journey of trial and error. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an average person holds about 12 different jobs in their working lifespan, or between the ages of 18-52 years.
That means you might still have some job changes in your future — and there’s no wrong time to learn how to pick a new career.
Shifting careers is a complicated decision at any stage of your profession. Worries about long-term financial wellness, adjusting to a new work culture, or rebuilding your network may make a career change feel impossible.
But your work likely makes up a big piece of your identity. According to a 2023 survey by Pew Research, 73% of respondents reported that their jobs were extremely or somewhat central to their personal identity. If you yearn for new opportunities or a deeper connection to your professional life, it may be time to dream about your next career.
With careful thought and planning, it’s always possible to successfully transition into a different career at any life stage.
When should you make a career change?
Your career is like any other aspect of your life. It experiences natural ebbs and flows. There may be moments when you feel dedicated and fully engaged. Other times, you may feel unmotivated or in need of a breather. The latter often indicates time for a break to unwind and protect your energy.
But when the feeling is constant and persists over an extended period, it’s a signal to dig deeper and imagine where your job fits into your life’s vision.
Here are a few clear signs that indicate it’s time to change careers:
1. You feel like you have untapped potential
Your current role doesn’t resonate as deeply as it once did. Your daily tasks and long-term responsibilities, which once felt engaging, feel routine and tedious. You might feel like your skill set and work experience aren’t leveraged to their fullest, or professional growth opportunities are lacking.
When you consistently feel that you have more to offer than your current job permits, it’s a sign that it’s time to explore new career opportunities.
2. You lost your motivation
You know you’re adding value to the organization’s long-term goals and vision when you consistently perform well at a job. That feel-good alignment encourages you to meet your deadlines, show up for your team, and give your best each day. A high performance also contributes to your professional growth and sense of belonging at a company.
When your motivation dwindles, your relationship with your job shifts dramatically. You feel disconnected from your work and your organization. The clarity you felt about your career path starts to feel fuzzy, and you underperform. Deadlines might slip through the cracks, you contribute the bare minimum, and you may feel frustrated with regular work tasks.
Apathy toward your work is a clear sign that something needs to change. If you have trouble feeling like you add value to your workplace (and that your workplace doesn’t contribute to your professional growth), seek opportunities that reignite your passion and sense of purpose.
3. You experience eternal boredom
Everyone has days when they aren’t fired up about work. Instead, you might find yourself daydreaming about your next vacation or even a new role. If this feeling starts extending from a few days to almost every day, it might be the time to look for your next move.
Boredom at work can make even small tasks seem tedious and leave you with depleted energy levels at the end of a workday. When the feeling of dread about your work starts spilling into other areas of your life, it’s a surefire sign that you need to start a job search.
4. The only reason to stay is the money
Your compensation is undeniably a major consideration in choosing a job. But job satisfaction relies on more than a monthly paycheck. The work environment, industry culture, and personal growth opportunities contribute to your daily sense of fulfillment.
Relying solely on a paycheck as your primary motivation may lead to burnout or a sense of emptiness over time. If your enthusiasm for your job wanes and you worry about the legacy you leave behind, it’s time to recalibrate and find a job that contributes to more than just your retirement plan.
5. You don’t see a future in your current career
If you aren’t excited about leveling up in your current job, consider whether you’re on the right career path. You may take every day as it comes, and you don’t think about where you want your career to go over the next few years.
If you’re taking the one-day-at-a-time approach and avoiding thinking about the future of your job or career, it’s a clear sign you need to shift out of your current role and find something you’re excited about pursuing.
6. Stress defines your day
Every job has challenging moments or pressures. Challenges may even be what motivates you to show up to work and perform every day. But when stress becomes the defining emotion of your workday, it’s a cause for serious concern.
Regular physical exhaustion, strained relationships, or a non-existent work-life balance are telltale signs that your current job is chipping away at your well-being. It’s not always easy to see the signs.
Set aside a few moments each day to journal, meditate, or reflect on your emotional state at work to gain clarity. If stress overshadows fulfillment, it indicates seeking more flexible work and career options that align your professional aspirations with your overall health.
The good and the bad of career change
Changing jobs is as exciting as it is uncertain. It’s an opportunity to apply transferable skills and learn new ones to your professional toolbelt. But it’s also a choice anchored by questions about financial security, culture shifts, and learning curves. Taking stock of the pros and cons of embracing a new career path can help you prepare yourself for the job journey ahead.
Pros of changing your career
Taking the plunge into a new career is a bold move. Here are some benefits you can look forward to:
- Learn new skills: Lifelong learning keeps you engaged with your day-to-day, promotes healthy habits, and contributes to longevity in later life. Doing the same work day in and day out can make you feel like your learning has flatlined. Moving on to a new job gives you a chance to upskill, learn new tools, and adapt your transferable skills to new challenges.
- Get a fresh perspective: Staying in the same position can be comforting and familiar. While there’s nothing wrong with yearning for stability, too much of the same thing might also fill you with a sense of stagnation. Even if you enjoy your organization or job, exploring new opportunities can be a rejuvenating experience. Transitioning allows you to reevaluate your strengths, do some Inner Work, and realign with your personal values and aspirations.
- Put you in the driver’s seat: Changing jobs puts you in control of your career path, filling you with new excitement. The proactive approach empowers you to shape your professional journey and actively pursue roles that align with your career vision. Likewise, taking charge of a career transition can boost your confidence, reinforcing your belief in your capabilities and decision-making.
- Find core competency: A career shift requires you to evaluate your core skills and strengths and continue to build your career out of them. The introspective process helps you to hone in on what truly drives you. While it’s a difficult process, it’ll help you position yourself in a role that capitalizes on your competencies and brings greater job satisfaction.
- Expand your network: Switching roles and industries opens up new avenues for you to network and learn from new colleagues and potential mentors. Engaging with diverse professionals exposes you to new insights, enriching your know-how and career perspective. Plus, new connections can offer powerful mentorship opportunities that pave the way for future collaborations, ventures, or professional growth.
Cons of changing your career
Taking a hard left turn on your career trajectory requires careful consideration. Here are some disadvantages to prepare yourself for:
- Financial insecurity: Leaving a stable, paying job behind and jumping back into the job market can pressure your finances. Carefully analyze your financial well-being to ensure you have the support to move forward without sacrificing essentials like healthcare coverage or a car payment. A financial coach can help you build an action plan to cushion your transition without sacrificing your long-term financial wellness.
- Not everything goes exactly to plan: You may feel uncertainty — that’s normal. It’s okay not to have everything mapped out precisely. And even if you do map it out, you’ll likely need to adjust parts of your plan along the way. Each of these steps offer valuable learning and growth opportunities. Reading books about career change can help you approach the transition with flexibility and adaptability, transforming the transition phase into a valuable learning experience. Working with a career transition coach can help guide you through these challenging times of uncertainty.
- Learning curve: Switching industries introduces you to a new world of skills. The learning curve to enter a new industry can be jarring, especially if you’re switching careers after 40 at a mid-to-senior career level. Proactively acquiring new skills and immersing yourself in the industry by gaining certifications, pursuing internships, or setting informational interviews can help you prepare to fill in potential gaps in your career development. You’ll embrace small failures and open yourself to unforeseen opportunities.
- Pressure to prove your worth: As a career changer, you might feel pressure to prove the value you bring to new managers and colleagues. You’ll likely need to go out of your comfort zone and perform job duties that you’re unfamiliar with. Remember, your cover letter and resume were accepted. You impressed at your job interview and got the job for a reason. Believe in yourself and channel your self-compassion. It’ll help you integrate more easily into your new environment.
- Increased competition: You might feel like entering a new industry puts you at a disadvantage compared to more established candidates and colleagues. While seasoned candidates bring deep industry knowledge, your diverse background brings unique skills and insights. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the organization and industry. Careful positioning will show you have what it takes to learn and contribute effectively.
How to choose a new career path
Imagining a new career path is exciting but requires careful strategy and intentional planning. Before you dive head first into filling out job applications, consider the following strategies:
Revisit your core values
You made the tough decision to become a job seeker again for a reason. You’re dissatisfied at work, feel undervalued, or simply want a change of scenery. Before you start reading job descriptions, take time to examine your core values and career vision. This will help you determine the underlying motivations that drive your career.
The exercise can be simple. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What values are non-negotiable?
- What do I need to feel like the best version of myself?
- What do I want to contribute to my profession?
Your personal values naturally shift over time as you gain new life perspectives, take on more responsibilities, and envision later life. Sometimes, without realizing it, your career path falls out of alignment with these values. A significant shift is an opportunity to properly realign them.
Use this opportunity to get a clear view of what matters to you now and how you’d like your work values to manifest in your life. Working with a career coach can help you step back and envision a plan that brings big dreams into actionable steps. Likewise, they work with you to reflect on how past and current choices lend to or take away from your values.
Take an assessment
Knowing you need a change doesn’t necessarily mean you know what that change is. A personality test can help you better understand your skills and interests. It may guide you to roles and industries you didn’t imagine would thrive. Here are a few options:
- Myers-Briggs Test: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the MBTI, is more than just a personality quiz. It provides insights into your decision-making style and communication preferences and can illuminate the work environments you excel in. By understanding your MBTI type, you can target roles and companies that align with your intrinsic motivations and strengths.
- Keirsey Temperament Sorter: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter classifies people into four personality types: artisans, guardians, rationalists, and idealists. Your personality type can teach you about your inherent work style and leadership qualities, letting you pursue a career path that resonates with your temperament.
While these tests shouldn’t be the sole determinant in a job search, they can provide you with a launching pad to better understand your strengths and motivations. From there, you can analyze options for an appropriate career choice.
Gather more knowledge about the career path you’re hoping to break into by attending industry events and talking to people already working in the roles you’re considering. This networking will give you an insider’s perspective on what to expect from your new job. Plus, you can make connections that you can later leverage when applying for jobs in the industry.
You can contact people in your desired roles or industry on LinkedIn for career advice. Additionally, join industry associations to be in the know about events where you can network and potentially hear about jobs before they’re widely advertised.
Get help from a career coach
A career coach helps you engage in self-reflection to take stock of your skills and find jobs that are a good fit. Likewise, they’ll help you build an action plan to transform an overwhelming job hunt into a manageable process.
Look for a career transition coach who makes you feel immediately comfortable. It’ll help you bring your Whole Self to the process and confidently go through the job search.
It’s never too late to make a career change
One of the significant roadblocks to figuring out how to pick a new career is inertia. You might feel comfortable with your current work situation and hesitant to rock the boat.
However, overcoming that inertia and taking a step toward career change can set you on a path to a career that fills your work with meaning and nurtures long-term fulfillment fulfilled in the long term. A clear understanding of your motivations, identifying skills and strengths, and building an action plan will put you one step closer to your next dream job.