The following article first appeared in the December 11, 2009 issue of Westport News:
Faced with what they consider dim prospects for finding a position comparable to their last job, many of my clients are asking, “Is this the time for me to change directions in my career?” There is never a blanket answer to this kind of question, but there are certain questions that I ask my clients to help them reach an answer that is right for them. Before making such an important decision, I help my clients by making sure that they understand the basic options that are available for career change and then we begin an extensive “Q&A” to help narrow the options to the ones that work for that client. Because changing careers can mean so many things, it is important to understand the various options before embarking on one. This and the next three articles will focus on the decision-making process and the various options that are available to those who choose to follow a new road.
What Are the Options?
I use three basic categories of potential career change: working for somebody in a new field, using skills that haven’t been used before. For example, a financial analyst looks for a position in sales, or an advertising copywriter wants to get involved with a “green” company. A second option is where someone who has always worked for somebody, big company or small, decides to go out on his or her own, by buying an existing business or a franchise. The final category is where the individual has a passion or an idea that he or she wants to turn into a business, like a home cook who wants to start a catering business (think Martha Stewart), or a computer whiz who wants to design IPhone applications.
In each of these cases, the level of risk and reward varies significantly and the required personality traits and skills of the individual are key to whether the particular selection can lead to success.
Evaluate Your Skills and Personality
You’ll need to be honest with yourself about your skill set, particularly if you’re trying to find somebody to hire you to do something that you’ve never done before, or whether you have what it takes to start or run a business. In an economy where there are so many skilled applicants for a limited number of positions, you need to ask yourself why you would be the ideal candidate over somebody with experience in the field. If you’re thinking of going into business, you need to ask yourself whether you can make the kind of commitment necessary to make a business successful, and whether you have the variety of skills, including business savvy, what I call the “sales gene” and fundamental knowledge of how businesses work.
What Is Your Tolerance for Risk?
Risk tolerance can be measured in several ways. In looking for a position in a new field, risk tolerance is best measured by the amount of time you can afford to pursue a new career without jeopardizing your economic well-being. For example, you might want to give yourself a specific amount of time for a job search in a new area to see if you are a viable candidate, or you might want to pursue a traditional position and an alternative career at the same time.
If you’re considering starting a business, you need to assess the financial implications. How much can you afford to invest in a business? Can you afford to operate a business without positive cash flow? Can the business generate an income comparable to what you were earning as an employee? Can you afford the fringe benefits (like health insurance) that were previously paid by your employer?
Is This the Right Time for a Career Change?
A difficult economy adds another layer to the question of career change. Money is tight and employers as well as banks, which finance new businesses, are taking less risks. In order to succeed in a career change you’re going to need to be able to present a solid case to a potential employer that you’ll do a better job than somebody with experience. If you’re starting a business, you’re going to have to convince a bank, the person selling the business, the franchisor—and your spouse—that you have what it takes to make the business a success.
You can be successful in career change, even in these difficult times, but you may decide that the better approach for you is to continue your search with more vigor.
Next time: finding a position in a new field.