Given the emotional and mental health issues during this pandemic and the economic downturn, how are you progressing with a career change? This is probably the most important issue preventing me from actively pursuing my career pivot instead of continuing to “plan” for it. I still have a job that still earns me a paycheck, at least for now, and while I’m deeply unhappy in this job, I’m very reluctant to make this leap for fear of not being able to provide for my family (I’m the only income of current earners) just for the chance I’ll be happier in another job/company/industry. – Kera
With several companies (Intel, Warner Bros. Discovery, Robinhood) announcing layoffs, aspiring career changers like Kera might decide to pause their efforts. If you’re already worried about the economy, you might not want to add fear of a job hunt. Even if you’re lucky enough to land a new job, job security for the newcomer is more tenuous—you could be the first to get out in a market downturn. If your emotional and mental health is weak, the stress of a new job might be too much.
However, you don’t have to quit your job right away. You can still approach your dream job without jeopardizing your income. Even in a declining market, you can minimize career risk while maximizing your chances of getting a job you love.
1- Learn to be happy in an unhappy job
Jay worked in a niche area of tax where the typical career path stayed flat for years. He felt stagnant but generally liked his work and colleagues. Rather than abandoning a mostly good situation, he addressed the specific problem area – his lack of growth and challenge – by pursuing professional development outside of his job. He took on a part-time job and became active in his professional association. Though he eventually quit his job, it was years later, and his efforts outside of work were instrumental in getting him his next bigger role.
Like Jay, identify the specific reason you are dissatisfied with your current job and work on it. You may find enough fulfillment outside of work that your unhappy job contributes less to your overall well-being. Or you can work with your manager to restructure the scope of your work, change your schedule, or improve your work environment. Figuring out how to be happy in an unfortunate situation helps minimize career risk for several reasons: 1) you’re in no rush to leave and won’t settle for a suboptimal move; 2) You increase your resilience, which is a helpful trait for navigating the inevitable ups and downs of a job search and career; and 3) you maintain an upbeat demeanor that makes you more attractive to employers, including your current employer.
2 – Start your career change calmly
Maybe you’ve already tried talking to your manager or trying other areas of your life instead of your job. But you know for sure that it’s your job that is at the root of your unhappiness and it has to go. You can search for a new job or work on a career change in confidence without jeopardizing your current job security.
Never use your work computer, email address, or other work-provided resources for your search. Plan your research, networking, and other activities for lunchtime, breaks, and after work. If you’re working from home, make sure you’re available when you’re expected and don’t take so much time that you can’t get work done.
3 – Seek a career change that doesn’t require a pay cut
It’s a myth that changing careers means making less money. A political analyst went from nonprofit to tech, so he actually made more money after switching industries. You can improve your chances by targeting high-paying industries. Then save your raise as a buffer in case the market goes down!
Even if you’re already in a high-paying industry, a career change can still be a viable option. An investment banker who went into education forgot the big bank bonuses, but actually earned the same base salary when she went. She was able to land a senior position in her new industry by focusing on transferable skills and expertise in the new industry – something all aspiring career changers should do.
4 – Negotiate your next job offer with job security in mind
There is real risk in moving to a new job and being first in a downturn. Before accepting a new job, negotiate a severance package if your job is eliminated or reorganized into something significantly different. It doesn’t cost the company anything to guarantee your severance pay, since they only pay for something they do (like a job cut or a reorganization). Guaranteed severance clauses are usually structured so that they won’t be paid out if you quit or are fired for cause.
In addition to seeking guaranteed severance pay, you can improve your job security by thoroughly researching a company before joining. Is your industry growing? Is your market share growing within the industry? How strong is your financial position? How strong is the particular department you are joining?
Career risk is there whether you stay where you are or make the move
Sure, changing careers comes with risks and inconveniences. However, staying there is still risky, and if you’re unhappy where you are, you’re already uncomfortable. The risk of staying put is that you will still be fired, even if you have been employed for a long time. Additionally, your indolence can cause your skills to atrophy, your expertise to become obsolete, and your motivation to wane – making you less competitive once the market improves. The best way to minimize career risk is to continually grow and challenge yourself – including overcoming your fear towards your dream career.