I did not set out to make a career change. A career change landed on me. As I wrote about here, a sequence of events that I didn’t see coming was the catalyst for my most recent job search. This is not a bad thing. Life happens, and as the streets and Nationwide Insurance say, “life comes at you fast.” This experience forced me to reassess what I want from my life and the role I expect my career to play in helping me achieve it. With the clarity of hindsight, here are the five questions I wish I would have answered before beginning my career pivot.

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Am I Prepared to Relocate for My Next Job?

I’ve relocated for work several times before. This includes in-state and out-of-state moves. Originating from the Great State of Texas gives me one unique benefit: four of the top 10 largest cities in the United States are found within the borders (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin). Therefore, my career search can span four major metropolitan cities without even looking outside of my own state. There are moving costs associated and each city has its own cost-of-living, culture, and other dynamics to consider. If you choose to partner with a recruiter or use a third-party service like LinkedIn, this will be one of the first questions you’re asked.

Key Takeaway: knowing whether you are willing to move or not is a great first step in determining where you should or should not cast your career net.

Can I Afford to Relocate for the Right Job Opportunity?

The want to relocate is not the equivalent of the will and means to relocate. Let’s assume you’re even casually open to relocating for the perfect opportunity. That doesn’t mean you can automatically afford it. This is why it’s good to have an emergency fund or debt-free plan in place. If offered a golden ticket, you don’t want your personal finances to be a career blocker. But if you decide that it is worth the move for a certain job, you can increase your likelihood of getting it – this builder is a great, free option for creating an effective resume. An interesting and readable resume will really stand out to an employer.

Unfortunately, not every company is able to provide relocation services or offset cost-of-living increases. For this reason, even if you’re only remotely interested in relocating for work, I recommend consulting a few cost-of-living calculators to see how far your dollar will or won’t stretch in any cities you may be interested in.

Related:

Key Takeaway: As a Hiring Manager, I have seen plenty of applicants lose out on thousands or tens-of-thousands of dollars simply because they estimated their salary based on where they currently live, versus where they are moving. Don’t make this mistake. For ease of use, CNNMoney offers a very straightforward cost-of-living calculator while Bankrate has one of the most thorough.

How Much Money Should I Ask For (Know Your Worth)?

Whether you plan to relocate, promote, transfer or make a lateral move within your current company, it is always a good idea to know your value. Even a guestimate is better than nothing. Although tools have improved in this area, it’s still notoriously difficult to learn how much money you should ask for.

Further, if you’re open to a career change or career pivot, you may need to consider whether you’re willing to take a temporary or permanent pay cut if the right opportunity comes along. Money is important but as you move through your career path, a lot of people learn it’s not the key to happiness. Money only cures our money problems.

For example, maybe work/life/balance is more important to you than a 10-percent promotion in pay? Maybe you’d rather chew threw your left cubicle wall than have to manage a team of 25 FTEs, clients, or external contractors, even if it does come with a shiny new corner office?

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For instance, I still enjoy many aspects of my current career, but I noticed as I worked my way up the career ladder I was doing less and less of the things I enjoy most (managing versus doing “the work”). Continuing on this path meant more and more management and visionary oversight versus hands-on work. In other words, a lot of the roles and responsibilities of primary interest to me were becoming fewer daily requirements. As a mentor warned me when I was younger:

If you wan to see your future, look at least two job roles ahead of where you are now. If you’re not interested in those roles or don’t want to do what those people are doing for a living, it’s time to start looking for another job.

This great advice was given to me when I was too young to appreciate its meaning. In short, sometimes the expectation of the career doesn’t change for any other reason than you’re good at your job. When you’re a good worker bee, management naturally wants you to move up the career ladder so you can groom other worker bees in your image. If you simply like work maintaining the hive, this gap in expectations and reality might begin to grow. To be fair, some people’s only life goal is to be the one at the top of the hive that rules them all. That’s fine too.

Key Takeaway: In either scenario, over your career life, you will sometimes find that it is sometimes better to be at the bottom of the career ladder you are still excited to climb than it is to ride an elevator to the top floor to occupy an executive suite you’re indifferent about.

Are The Goals I Have in the Middle of My Career the Same as What I Wanted When I Started?

This isn’t an easy question to answer, and I honestly don’t have the magic response. It is still a question you should ask yourself. In fact, despite looking for work for two years, it was actually my psychiatrist who asked the very straightforward question: what do you want from work?

Related: JD Roth of GetRichSlowly.org: Your Personal Mission Statement

I haven’t asked myself this question since college. In truth, I’m not sure I knew how to respond at age 22, nor am I any closer to an answer at age 36. Instead, I pursue work that pays well and that generally interest me based on the job description. Stated another way, I don’t always know what job title to look for, so I just search for any type of work that I think might fit my skills.

I’ve rarely searched for a ‘purpose’ from work, and I’m not saying that is the right or wrong approach. It simply has been my approach. However, nearly 15 years into my working career with who knows how many years remaining, this question has grown in relevance.

Because I still don’t know the right answer, I started identifying roles where transferable skills might apply, even if the job titles themselves didn’t mirror my own. This approach was rewarded with a related, yet completely new job title and field.

My advice here is simple but different from most of the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard about most people’s job search. Basically, I started applying for jobs that interested me, period. Although this approach inevitably leads to more “nos” than “yesses,” how is that much different from any other reality where I kept doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results? By definition, that is insanity.

I looked for jobs that had some–but not all–the required skills. I applied with a strong cover letter, where applicable, or I revised and tailored my resume to best reflect and callout those skills that matched even if I didn’t hit all the preferred skills on their checklist. This makes some people uncomfortable.

I offer this insight in response: if you want to change careers, very rarely will it happen organically. You’ll have to initiate the change or set yourself up to be found. Often times, just like you, recruiters go looking for people already in the field. Why would they look elsewhere? The reasonable assumption is that most people are already working in jobs they want to do (For the record, that is not supported by the data.) In reality, a lot of people work at the job that said yes, but that doesn’t always mean it is the job they wanted to say yes.

During several interviews for new career fields, it was brought to my attention–and sometimes I was already aware–they had an opening for my current job title in another department. There are two approaches you can take here:

  • Politely turn them down and reinforce that you’re interested in a career change; or
  • You may want to apply for the open position that more closely aligns with your current title within the company/division you want to work. The theory here is that it is much easier to navigate within a door you already have your foot in than from the outside looking in.

Key Takeaways: If you only knock on doors you’re already familiar with, you will just continue getting the exact same limited responses. Further, don’t be deterred by others, even those with the best intentions, on your career path. It is yours to chart. If you are qualified, it is other’s responsibility to give you a chance to knock. But, if you want to make a career change, you should be the one to initiate it.

Will My Career Field Exist in 5 Years? 10 Years? 20 Years? Does it matter?

Your career-needs will change at ages 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60. For example, let’s say your 60 and five years from retirement. Who cares if your industry is scheduled to go the way of the typewriter in 10 years? You’ll be retired. However, if you’re 20 and planning to graduate in 4-years while majoring in a career field that has negative projected growth in 2-years?

Houston, we have a problem.

In either scenario, I like to consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I know what you’re thinking, “The government, ew, gross.” I’m not here to advocate for the government. I know firsthand they’ve got mad issues, bro.

Collecting data is one thing the government does really, really well. This specific resource is useful, and I have referred to it on several occasions with success. For illustrative purposes, below are their ‘Quick Facts’ on two fields I was considering.

As you can see, although I’m moving into a field with a smaller aggregate number of positions, the projected growth for the field as a whole is slightly larger. Overall, projected growth over the next 10 years is faster than the average (10 percent) for both fields. In theory, since the skills I referenced on my resume are transferable between the two, I may be able to switch again if the prospects suddenly dim in one or the other.

Accessible here, these data points are available for a variety of jobs you might be interested in (On a related note, if you’re considering a move/relocation, the Fed’s Quick Facts database provides a quick overview of your potential new home). Most people are afraid of risk, which makes perfect sense. The above is how you make a calculated risk versus an uninformed guess, hope, or prayer about your future.

Key Takeaway: When it comes to career growth, I believe in having as many options as possible. (I want a buffet of options!) I prefer my career choices are always choices, rather than mandates.

Financial Independence / Remain Employed

For those focused on mastering their personal finances or small business, additional factors may be taken into consideration. Whether you plan to reach FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) or transition into a full-time side-hustle or entrepreneurship in the next 5 – 20 years, taking the time to do analysis upfront will increase the probability that you go into any career field with your eyes wide open rather than being blindsided.

Related:

In closing, I believe answering these five questions will put you several steps ahead of the competition and back in the driver seat of mapping your own career path. If I’ve missed anything, drop your favorite career ‘best practices,’ thoughts, and tools in the comments below.

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