Career Advice

Top Seven Reasons People Switch Careers

How do you know when it’s the “right” time to consider changing careers?

“Knowing when to switch careers is often like a toothache that starts small and, if ignored, can become a raging, throbbing, untenable feeling,” says Cheryl Heisler, president of Lawternatives, a consulting firm for lawyers who want to change careers. “You really want to consider career change before getting to the point of misery [so you can] maximize the amount of time you have to pursue new options; time to think, to strategize, to network, to re-credential yourself if need be and to market the new you.”

Here are some of the top reasons people change career fields:

  1. Mismatched expectations. For many professionals, the career they envisioned turns out to be a completely different reality. “I work a great deal with lawyers and, for many of them, the traditional practice of law was nothing like the fantasy legal field they envisioned,” Heisler says. “A great many would-be trial lawyers believed that as a lawyer they could make a difference, yet they are often stymied by an overcrowded, unpredictable legal system. Many transactional lawyers who wanted to function as part of a business team were shocked to learn that much of their job was to simply document the deal as negotiated by the business guys. In both cases, the law allows for less creativity and more controversy than expected, and that disconnect can often lead to major career disappointment.”
  2. Interest in evolving fields. Maybe an entire industry didn’t exist when you first started out in the world of work, now it interests you greatly. For instance, green jobs are now very hot, and 10 years ago, nobody knew what they were.
  3. Declining industry. For some workers, a career switch becomes mandatory when the jobs in their current fields dry up. For instance, American textile workers became almost extinct over the past few decades when most of their jobs moved overseas. And today’s real estate market has led to the evaporation of many jobs in real estate and construction.
  4. Changing needs. Often, people switch to new careers because their lives change and new circumstances demand it. “The field you were passionate about when you were 22 might not pay your mortgage when you hit 35,” Heisler says. “The fast paced-high pressure job you loved at 45 might be overwhelming a decade later. A strict 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. routine that was great when you were single may not work when you have little kids.”
  5. Chasing a dream. Career coach and consultant Ann Vanino says many of her clients switch careers because “they have a dream that never leaves them and it is time to act on it.”
  6. Overcoming stress. Some people leave careers behind because their work or the people they deal with at work create high levels of stress. When career stress has a negative impact on your personal life, it may be time to make a change, Vanino says.
  7. Looking for a challenge. For many professionals, switching to a new career is all about experiencing a change or meeting a new challenge. If you find yourself wishing for the chance to be more creative, more excited or more challenged at work, maybe it’s time to take a look around.