Nearly three-quarters of adults in their thirties crave a new career, according to a recent University of Phoenix study. Forty percent say they’re unsure which path is the best to pursue. In a rapidly shifting economy, the desire for a change of pace may be the only constant. In fact, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2019 that the average person could expect to have 12 jobs in their lifetime. You can make the most of this new world of frequent career shifts by pursuing an education that prepares you for the economy of tomorrow. In 2018, nine out of 10 new jobs went to people with a college degree. Georgetown University predicts that by 2020, 35 percent of new jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree.
Before you upend your life, quit your job, or return to school, you need a clear understanding of which positions are available and most accessible to you. Here are nine questions to guide your quest for a new role.
Why do I want a career change?
Even if you’ve been thinking about changing roles for months or years, you might not have considered the ‘why’ behind your decision. Being clear about what’s not working in your current position can help you make a leap to a better job. Is the problem the pay? Work-life balance? Boring work? A lack of respect for the work you do? Or is the problem specific to the company you work for? If a bad boss is your primary reason for changing careers, consider pursuing a different job in the same field first. Likewise, if unfriendly co-workers, bad benefits, or a grueling commute figure prominently in your decision, you might save time and money by searching for a similar job in a different company.
What am I interested in doing?
Everyone has heard the advice to do what they love. Of course, the thing you love most might not be the best or most lucrative job. So instead of following the path you’re most passionate about, consider striking a balance between work you love and work that helps you achieve the life you want.
Although it’s important to enjoy your work, finding the right role is a bit more complicated than doing what you like. In every job, there will be things you enjoy doing and things you don’t. Consider the specific daily tasks you enjoy most in your current position. Do you prefer to work with others? Interact with customers? Set your own schedule? Try making a list of your most loved and loathed tasks, then talk to people in your ideal career to determine which job might minimize drudgery and maximize time spent doing things you enjoy.
What is daily life like in this job?
It’s easy to build up your dream job in your head. You might picture writers sipping hot tea while quietly drafting in an isolated cabin, without considering that most creatives work in offices and must meet tight deadlines. You might want to become a social worker to revolutionize foster care, without realizing that many people in this job are so exhausted they can barely manage their cases.
Before investing in years of training for an unfamiliar job, interview others in that role. Invest time in conversations with workers at various stages of their career, as well as self-employed people, those who work for large companies, small business employees, and government workers. Ask for the good, the bad, and the ugly. You may find that you had significant misconceptions about the job. You might even find that a similar career to the one you already have is a better fit—or you may confirm that this really is your dream position.
How high is the earning potential?
You choose your job for many reasons, but most people work to pay their bills. So don’t shy away from researching the specific earning potential for people with your training and skills in your area. In some careers, there’s a definite ceiling to how much you can earn, no matter how successful you are. In others, the harder you work, the larger your paycheck will grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great place to research the range of typical earnings. To learn about how much you can make at a specific company or in a geographic region, try searching occupations on GlassDoor. Alison Greene, the author of the Ask a Manager blog, recently polled readers on their salaries. There’s some great specific data in the comments.
Do I need to return to school, and how much will doing so cost?
In some careers, you can only advance with the right education. Without the right degree, your ascent up the corporate ladder may stagnate, or your salary might be capped.
Some titles--doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers--require specific educational achievements before you can get your foot in the door.
Other jobs may prioritize experience and skill over education. An aspiring writer may have several advanced degrees but struggle to break into the field without a compelling portfolio. In certain sales roles, exceptional interpersonal skills or a deep list of contacts may be more important than the right degree.
Look into the specific requirements of the job you want. If returning to school offers the best path to this career, weigh the cost of your education against the value of your new position. Will you earn enough or enjoy the change enough to offset the expense? What about other benefits, such as increased prestige or room to grow?
Will I be employable after school?
Don’t just assess whether more education is a necessary prerequisite to your dream job; look at how likely you are to have a job after you graduate. Most professors have advanced degrees, for example, but many highly educated people struggle to find professorships. Similar phenomena may exist in your chosen field. Some questions to ask as you look at employability include:
- What percentage of people who graduate from my chosen school are employed full-time within a few months of graduation? How many of them are working in their chosen field?
- What is the unemployment rate in this field or among people with this degree?
- What will my school do to help me find a job?
- Does my school partner with local employers to help students find internships and make important professional connections?
Is this occupation growing?
It’s not enough to find a job that promises good earnings. A generation or two ago, a travel agent could potentially work from home, earn large commissions, and achieve great work-life balance. Now, thanks to online travel sites and changing vacation norms, they’re lucky to find jobs at all. Don’t just look at current earnings when you consider your future. It’s equally important to weigh the future of your chosen role. The jobs that offer the most stability and job security are those in growing sectors, such as healthcare and technology. Jobs in manufacturing, publishing, and telecommunications are declining. The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers occupational insights to help you determine whether your chosen career is one that will offer plenty of job opportunities in the coming decades.
Who is hiring where I live?
It’s easy to hear that a career is growing and to think that this means there will be opportunities for you. The truth is that there’s a lot of variation across geographic regions. If you plan not to move, you need to look at which industries offer the best opportunities where you live. People living in Silicon Valley, for example, may find plenty of jobs in tech, while those in rural regions may struggle to find similar roles. Contact your Chamber of Commerce for details about local positions and to research your region’s biggest employers.
How’s the work-life balance?
Finding the right job is ultimately about finding a higher quality of life. For some people, this means making as much money as possible, though for most, it means still having some time for family, hobbies, and other non-work activities. In some jobs, work-life balance is virtually nonexistent, at least for a few years. Resident physicians may sleep at the hospital, while new associates at big law firms may routinely work 80-hour weeks. This may be manageable if you don’t have children yet and want to make as much money as possible. If you’re a parent returning to school, however, make sure your educational investment will open doors to a job that allows you to spend some time with your kids while they are still at home.
At SNU, we believe that the right job is one that helps you live a life you love. We believe every student can thrive at work with the right training and support. That’s why we work with you to understand your needs and map the path to the right career. Give us a call today to learn more about our exceptional adult education programs.