Switching Careers: 7 Giant Mistakes to Avoid

Switching careers can be scary--but you can avoid these mistakes.

Source: Flickr user cafnr.

If you’re considering switching careers, then there’s no doubt that you’re probably a bit scared.

Making the jump from one career to another can be a great choice. It can help you advance, earn more, or find a rewarding job where you feel fulfilled. But, none of that diminishes the fact that the actual act of changing careers is full of potential pitfalls. Sometimes people are so paralyzed by this fear that they never make the career change they need to be happy.

You shouldn’t let that happen to you. Sure, there are risks. But, if you know and understand those risks, you can execute a successful career switch without your worst fears coming true.

So, what are the major mistakes that other people have made, and how can you avoid them? Here are 7 of the biggest things to avoid:

1.  Over-aggressive change of direction

Chances are that if you’re looking for a career switch, it’s because you don’t like what you’re currently doing. Maybe you don’t feel it’s a good fit for you, you’re burned out with the industry, or you just aren’t passionate about your current field.

Whatever the case may be, your instinct can be to run as far away as possible from this career path–to do something completely different.

This may not necessarily be the wrong choice, but first consider why you are making the that decision. Are you doing it for a good reason, based on research and a real assessment of your skills, strengths, and passions, or are you simply doing it as a reaction to wanting to get as far away as possible from your old position?

How to avoid this mistake: Don’t ever–ever–make your career choice based on an emotional response. It can be tempting to “chase your passion”, but be sure that your passion is a realistic and well-reasoned choice for you to make.

2. Following someone else’s lead

This one should seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning.

Do not–under any circumstances–choose a career based simply on what someone else has done or was successful at doing. Just because a cousin or aunt or sister has a great career as a medical coder does not mean that it’s the right career path for you.

Be especially cautious not to choose your career based on the amount another person earns in their field: “So and so became a professional XYZ and now they make a ton of money! I’m going to do that, too!”  This is a recipe for disaster.

How to avoid this mistake: Switching careers–without failing–is all about self-discovery. With so much on the line, your decision must be rooted in an honest and open look inside yourself. Never base your decision on someone else’s experience alone. You can seek input from others, but don’t pursue a career, “because they did it.”

3. Not properly considering money

When you’re talking about careers and education, money is a big factor. Most people know this.

But, are you giving it proper consideration? Don’t just think about the return (future salary) versus investment (any potential training/education costs). Also, consider how much it will cost during your transition.

Will you need to hire outside childcare? Will you need to leave your current job before you’ve secured one in your new field? Will you need to cut back your hours to make time for an internship or apprenticeship? There are a lot of indirect costs associated with changing careers, so be sure to consider them all carefully.

How to avoid this mistake: Take your time when calculating and estimating costs. Don’t assume that you know what costs exist–or how much they will be–without researching the topic first.

4. Underestimating the work it will take

Making a career switch is a lot of work–period.

Whether you’re going back to school or just researching, identifying, and applying for a job in a different field, it takes time, it takes persistence, and it takes discipline. No matter what, you should not expect this to be a simple–or, in most cases, quick–endeavor.

How to avoid this mistake: Over-estimate the amount of work it will take. Give yourself plenty of buffer with your time–can you really make it all fit? What if you need to spend 2 nights a week working on a group project? Be sure to consider all of the time, energy, and resources that will be necessary. Realistically, can you take it all on? What changes will you need to make in order for it to work?

Above all else, be honest with yourself. You’re not a robot. You need time to relax and have fun, too.

5. “I’ve got a degree, now what?”

If there was one mistake that is probably most important to avoid, it’s this one.

There is nothing worse than setting a goal and achieving it only to realize after the fact that you’re not sure why you pursued it in the first place. Unfortunately, too many people pursue a degree because “that’s what they’re supposed to do” and don’t properly plan for how–and why–they will use that degree to improve their career.

How to avoid this mistake: Before you take a single step to switch careers, first work out a plan. Talk to enough people to know if the plan is realistic and feasible (will X degree help you get Y job?)

6. Throwing out all of your previous skills and experience

One of the scariest things about switching careers is the idea of starting fresh–no experience, no skills, no knowledge, etc.

Luckily, this is rarely the case. In almost all career changes, there are ways to transfer your existing skills and knowledge to the new field that you’re pursuing. It may mean thinking about your skills and experience a bit differently, but skills like problem solving, persistence, patience, and empathy are universal. So, if your previous career helped you to develop these skills, you should realize how they will transfer to your new one.

How to avoid this mistake: Think creatively about what skills and experience you’ve gained in your previous career. Consider not just how it’s directly applicable, but also how it can be seen as an advantage in your new career. Also, consider if your prior skills/experience might give you an extra boost on job applications–the company may value a well-rounded applicant with varied experience, even if it’s not quite what you’ll be doing in your new role.

7. Burning bridges

This one should be obvious. But, too often, people looking to switch careers will feel a surge of confidence in their new direction and have an impulse to storm out of their current job–to tell off their boss or quit on the spot.

If you’re unhappy, this may feel like an especially gratifying option. But, don’t do it!

Not only is it rude and unprofessional, but it can haunt you forever–even if you change careers. You may need that employer as a reference in your new career, or, worse yet, word may spread about your behavior and impact your current or future job prospects. No one likes to hire jerks.

How to avoid this mistake: No matter what, don’t give in to any impulse to act hostilely or aggressively toward your current/former employer. Consider the possibility that you may need to rely on that person or return to that job someday.

While these mistakes may seem a bit scary–no one wants to mess up such an important life move–the fact that you’re reading this article (and hopefully doing more research and homework on the topic) means that you’re taking an important first step in considering your options. Don’t let fear stop you. Just be sure to research and plan ahead.