In a world that moves a mile a minute, it seems like everyone is changing or reinventing themselves. Recently, while chatting with friends at a wedding, I learned that my closest friends are already working on their third or fourth careers. They all seem to be job hopping or, at the very least, looking for opportunities different from their current employment. 

One friend switched from being a singer-songwriter to being a personal trainer with a stint as a software developer in the middle. Another friend started giving guided hikes in national parks, then worked in banking to pay off her debt, and now spends her workdays composing tweets as a social media marketer.

I was curious about the versatility in their work and considered how a variety of jobs has the potential to increase both career and life fulfillment. On the flip side, there must be a certain level of risk involved in frequently job hopping. 

Although there are potential complications with too many transitions, is job hopping throughout one’s career becoming the norm? How does one weigh the pros and cons?

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How Common Are Career Transitions?

On average, Americans hold 12 jobs in their lifetime, according to a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey. The most common reason for job change is a sense of dissatisfaction in one’s current job or industry — 81 percent in fact, per Indeed’s Career Change Report. 

Traditionally, people prioritize their career over their well-being. But with the increased focus on mental health awareness, our career paths and priorities are evolving. 

We understand that our happiness does not have to be sacrificed in order for us to succeed in life, and the conversation about our time in the office has shifted away from dollars and cents toward personal satisfaction and quality of life. 

Simultaneously, many workers (myself included) are quick to recognize that job security depends on our ability to grow and change. We don’t count on company loyalty, so we dedicate ourselves to professional and personal growth instead. But interestingly enough, according to Indeed, only 37 percent of career changers report taking educational or training programs.

What might this say about those transitioning between jobs? Perhaps, people are ill-prepared for a job transition, or they are utilizing their current skill set to help them pivot from one job to the next.

 Planning for the Future: A Guide to Transitioning Careers

Unfortunately, professional growth is anything but easy. The highest paying, most interesting jobs 10 years from now don’t even exist yet, and individuals just entering the job market must navigate choppy career waters while attempting to manage adulthood (or binge-watch a Netflix series).

There are few roadmaps to help guide today’s workforce through the career world. 

And even if we did, many of us would still struggle to choose a final destination.

I have no idea what I want to be later in life, but I also don’t want to suffer from analysis paralysis or excessive job hopping. Instead, I subscribe to a refined process that keeps me growing and learning as a professional: I guess where I want to be in 10 years.

My Educated Guessing Game

A guess isn’t a contract. It’s not a commitment. A guess is a direction, and a choice to take actions that will propel me in that direction. My guess doesn’t have to be correct in order to be valuable.

Over the course of my career, I’ve made a few guesses about what I want to do next. First, I guessed that I should run a nonexistent grocery delivery service for an existing retailer. I put hundreds of hours of research into this, only to conclude that the hours required to bring the idea to life would have sucked the life out of me.

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Then I thought I would become the next vegan food blogging sensation. But as I made my roadmap, I realized that I would need to work 90 hours per week to make it happen. Not to mention, being a celebrity isn’t my thing.

These days, I aspire to continue working in quantitative marketing outside of the corporate path. Ideally, I would start a consulting firm, but that will wait.

In 10 years, I’ll still want the flexibility to spend time with my kids, so my aspirations in business building remain modest. Instead of starting an empire, I aspire to be a self-employed marketing consultant with enough flexibility to attend my kid’s soccer games (or other extracurricular activities).

Expert Advice for Your Career Change

We asked some career changers for advice on how they made the switch — and what they learned about the importance of career satisfaction in the process:

  • Rachel Coleman, legislative correspondent in the U.S. Senate to independent education consultant: “My main advice to those considering a career change would be to get the education you need, learn from your peers, and position yourself as an expert. What I love about my new career is the freedom and autonomy I have to direct my life and my business.”
  • Mark Balliett, CPA to SEO agency owner: “It’s never too late to change and be objective with your situation. Seek happiness over anything else. I decided to focus my efforts on helping others and adding value to other people’s lives, and happiness followed. There were roadblocks along the way, but it was the best decision of my life.”
  • Peter Laughter, VP of sales to career coach: “Having a clear picture of the career you want is critical. Look for companies that are aligned with your purpose and roles that require skills that come easy to you. Being clear on the specific role that you want leads to an easier job search and more satisfying work experience.”
  • Maria Reitan, marketing director to communications and media coach: “Take a hard look at your résumé. Don’t just ‘brush it up’ — consider a total reinvention. Consider not only what jobs you’ve had, but what you did in those jobs and what value you drove for your organization. Focus on the skills that you bring to the new career that are articulated in ways hiring managers value. Use their lingo.”

Actionable Steps and Career Coach Guidance

Making a career transition has the power to expand a person’s knowledge and perspective, and evolve their life path in many encouraging ways. It truly can be a freeing experience.

However, a successful transition doesn’t happen overnight. There are actionable steps one can take in order to find success in change. One of the first is to ask yourself why you feel the urge to start a new career journey.

“Do you have a strong desire to learn everything about your new career path; are you willing to be a beginner or student again; are you willing to dedicate time to learning your new career; does this career path feel like a calling?” asks Sunni Lampasso, a psychologist and executive coach.

“If you answered yes to these questions, then you should talk to people who work in the field and find out how they became successful,” Lampasso adds.

Although this process should considerably revolve around your willpower and passions, finding a palatable fit means you must also be pragmatic during the transition period.

“Before making the switch, consider the required qualifications to fit the new career,” says William Taylor, career development manager at VelvetJobs. “Seek advice from current professionals on which classes, training, certifications, and/or licenses you need to obtain.”

“You should also ask yourself how long would it take to complete these steps, and evaluate if it is feasible with your current circumstances,” Taylor continues. “Aside from this, assess your experiences and skills, as it’s preferable to switch into careers in which you have similar experiences and possess skills that are transferable to the new career.” 

“This will provide an advantage and you might secure a position on the same level or higher than your current one,” he advises.

Every individual job changer has a different set of circumstances to consider and will face personal challenges along the way. Those whose retirement time horizon is closer toward its end should be especially careful to ensure they have enough years to save for life after work.

It’s easy to get carried away with a dream that seems feasible, but be sure to evaluate your situation and options before attempting to enter a new career at full throttle.

The Bottom Line

Today’s employees are increasingly aware of and believe in their value in the workforce. And career transitions are more common because we understand that looking out for our personal interests is critical to a prosperous career and life.

At the end of the day, the decision is in our hands whether to keep going in one particular industry or to hit the refresh button and begin a career transition. 

By committing to the process of guessing and goal crafting, I make certain that I will continue to grow and learn as a professional without constantly job hopping. My skills will stay relevant, and by actively pursuing professional growth, I will have a more stable and fulfilling career.  

Additional reporting by Ellie Schmitt

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