3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Switching Careers

Time To Read 3 MIN READ

Maybe you've gone as far as possible in your current career, and simply changing jobs won't improve your life. The handwriting on the wall says to go. Now what? There's plenty to consider before changing careers, but start by asking yourself three key questions.

Can I afford to change careers?

More earnings potential might look very attractive, but without experience in the new field you might have to settle for a smaller paycheck until you prove yourself.

Start by asking yourself how important compensation is to you. According to the Society of Human Resources Management in its 2009 comparison of important aspects of job satisfaction, compensation ranked third by a slim margin behind job security and benefits. If you believe you can earn more by pursuing a new career, then explore it.

The larger issue may be whether added compensation alone warrants a new career. For example, jobs in the not-for-profit sector may generate less income but more satisfaction. Or maybe you’ve started a family and better benefits trump additional compensation.

You should also consider the value of lost benefits or any perks you’re accustomed to. For example, if a new medical plan requires larger employee contributions, more out-of-pocket expense or lower caps and coverage limitations, those costs effectively reduce your new salary. Conversely, more generous benefits will put money back in your pocket.

Can I afford to stay where I am?

Maybe not, if you hit a compensation ceiling, benefits are too meager or your current career stalls. Years spent in an unsatisfying career can erode your quality of life. Emotional costs may not have dollar signs but they can impose unsustainable burdens on mental and even physical health. Just make sure you evaluate them with objectivity. Talk to a professional career counselor. Try to solve problems before you leave them behind. If an underlying source of friction accompanies you to a new career, all you may really be changing is your location.

How can I manage the risk?

Few dreams are risk-free. The moment you envision a career change, start to add to your reserve fund. And don’t take any big steps before you write a realistic budget that considers possible lower compensation. You may need an extra cushion to bridge an income drop or in case the new career doesn’t pan out.

Your first safety priority during any transition is health insurance. If you are unemployed, the cost of family or individual coverage comparable to group policies can exceed $1,000 a month. You should have enough money to stay afloat financially for up to six months without having to touch your retirement accounts.

Don’t underestimate the challenges you’ll face when you change careers. If you decide to pursue another career, make every effort to keep your current job and benefits until you leave that job, even if writing resumes, cover letters and interviews gobbles up evenings and vacation days. Otherwise, a prolonged career search when you're unemployed may exhaust your savings.

Finally, don’t kid yourself about the expenses involved in career hunting, especially if you expect to travel far for interviews. Airfare and hotel bills can run up a sizeable tab.

Stepping out of one career and into a new one is a risky proposition. But risk can have ample rewards—few more satisfying than pursuing the career you really want.