For many of the million-plus individuals who have been laid off over the past year, changing careers probably sounds like a good idea. For individuals having a difficult time securing new employment in the same field as their previous job, making a fresh start in a new, perhaps more fulfilling career could seem inviting and even exciting.
Unfortunately, If you are somewhat experienced and used to living a certain lifestyle that your former income provided, 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, and may take five years or more to get back to their previous salary level. The more years you have invested in a career, the longer it takes to equal the former salary in the new career. 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, some workers condemn the entire industry, or worse, their field of expertise, leaving themselves with a false choice. They see 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 options. The matter of career investment must be considered. 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?
People are far better off capitalizing on their experience by staying within their primary field of expertise. Finding a job within the same industry gives the jobseeker a double fit – function and industry – whereas switching industries may provide much greater long-term job security.
For example, the individual who has expertise in data processing and information services can work in any type of business or industry today because businesses are dependent on technology in their daily decision-making and operations.
Another example is sales. No business can succeed without business development, making it a function in universal demand. A stock broker may define herself by the industry. In a job search, however, it is the ability to find and keep customers that may be her most valuable asset. Sales forces throughout the country are on the lookout for that ability.
Other examples of transferable expertise include marketing, accounting, finance, engineering, purchasing, and distribution.
Realizing your options opens up a whole new world of job opportunities. If your functional area of expertise is accounting and you have worked all your life for a telecommunications company, and you focus your job search on the Baby Bells and long-distance providers, 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 only call 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, because you never know where the next job lead or offer will come from.
For example, the accountant who worked for a 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 to see if she could provide any job leads. It turned out that her friend’s manufacturing company wanted to hire an accountant, and the "telecom accountant" soon landed a job in the manufacturing industry.
In most areas, it is feasible for people to transfer their functional skills to another industry and be welcomed 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.
No Time to Waste
In setting a search objective, the number-one danger to jobseekers is deciding that they have no future in their primary area of functional expertise. When that happens, jobseekers may waste many months, at a time when they are most hireable, exploring the idea of changing careers. The fresh field often looks brighter, but few people are willing to accept the substantial lifestyle disruptions caused by such a decision.
Individuals who change careers often find themselves at an immediate disadvantage because they have to go back to entry level to learn the new career.
A prudent step upon being laid off is to evaluate clearly where your accomplishments have been concentrated in the past three to five years. Determine your strengths and weaknesses and go after positions that best utilize your strengths.
Do not put yourself in the box of believing that your only job opportunities are those within your old industry. You will be surprised at how many other employers will value your current experience, knowledge and skills.