For many of the approximately five million individuals who have been laid off over the past ten years, changing careers probably sounded like a good idea at the time they were discharged.
If the individual had had a difficult time securing new employment in the same field as the previous job, making a fresh start in a new – maybe even more fulfilling career – could seem inviting and even exciting.
But wait! If you are somewhat experienced, used to living a certain lifestyle that your former income provided, or perhaps supporting a family, changing careers comes with an immediate and severe economic impact.
On average, individuals who change careers can lose 20 to 50 percent of their former income on the new job. It can take five years or more to get back to the former salary level after changing careers.
The more years an individual has invested in their career, the longer it takes to equal the former salary in a new career. Career changers may face significant lifestyle changes in accepting a salary reduction. After close examination, most people are reluctant to see their standard of living drop appreciably.
Rather than identifying the particular circumstances that caused their layoff, people tend to condemn the entire industry, or worse, their field of expertise, leaving them with no alternative to rejecting the former job function other than trying something new and completely different.
What is required is a careful examination of all your options, including considerations such as your current career investment. Is it worthwhile to nullify the considerable time and expense it took for education, training and on-the-job experience that qualified you for the field in the first place?
Stick With Your Skills
People are far better off capitalizing on their experience by staying within their primary field of expertise. Switching industries gives the jobseeker much greater long-term job security.
In most areas it is feasible for people to transfer their functional skills to another industry and be welcomed by that industry at competitive salary rates. From the employer’s standpoint, industry changers frequently bring the advantage of a fresh perspective. They may see situations differently and be able to use their functional abilities in suggesting new solutions.
Discharged individuals have often invested many years in their particular function, clearly making that the option of choice rather than starting over in another career.
For example, the individual who has expertise in data processing and information services can work in any type of business or industry today because practically all of them are dependent on technology in their daily decision-making and operations.
Fields of Opportunity
Another example is sales. No business can succeed without customer development, making it a function in universal demand. A stockbroker may define himself by the industry. In a job search, however, it is the ability to find and keep customers that may be his most valuable asset. Sales forces throughout the country are on the lookout for that ability.
Other examples of functions or fields include marketing, accounting/finance, engineering, purchasing, distribution – in fact, almost any expertise.
Realizing your options opens up a whole new world of job opportunities. Let’s say your functional area of expertise is accounting and you have worked all your life for a telecommunications company. If you focus your job search on the Baby Bells and long distance companies, you will severely limit your opportunities and prolong your search.
Almost every industry requires the services of an accountant. When you develop your list of people to contact for job leads, do not call only people whom you know in your industry. Call and meet in person with everyone you know who may be able to provide a job lead or set up an interview for you. You never know where the next job lead or offer will come from.
For example, the accountant who worked for the telecommunications company started her job search in the belief that her only job opportunities were there. After a few weeks of unsuccessful interviews, she grew more and more frustrated and decided to call an old friend who was in manufacturing to see if she could provide any job leads. It turned out that her friend’s company wanted to hire an accountant. She met with the person who was in charge of hiring for the accounting position which then led to a final interview and a job offer.
In setting a search objective, the number-one danger to the individual is deciding that he or she has no future in the primary area of functional expertise. When that happens, the person may waste many months at a time when they are most hireable, exploring the idea of changing careers. The farther field often looks brighter, but few people are willing to accept the substantial lifestyle disruptions caused by such a decision.
Individuals who change careers place themselves at an immediate disadvantage because they will not match the salary of their previous job, and will likely go back to entry level to learn the new career.
A prudent step upon being laid off is to evaluate where your accomplishments have been concentrated in the past 3 to 5 years. Determine your strengths and weaknesses and go after positions that can utilize your strengths.
Do not put yourself in a box and believe that your only job opportunities exist solely within your industry. You will be surprised at how many other employers will value your current experience, knowledge and skills.