4 Reasons for a career change - A Checklist (Cover all your bases)

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Career Change

In 2014, a staggering 70% of Americans say that they're bored in their jobs, and things haven’t improved much since. Most people are going through the motions and are looking for something better. Changing careers can be a tough crossroad to face in your life. In this article, I will propose four questions to ask yourself, to help you reach clarity on whether a career change is right for you.

 

Question #1: Does your job fit your personality?

When we examine personality, we evaluate against the ‘Big Five’ personality traits, as it is the most psychometrically valid approach today. If you would like to learn more about psychometrics, you can check out the video where I talk about personality traits, and why the big five personality traits are the gold standard of measuring personality. Let’s follow the acronym OCEAN below.

When we evaluate an employee’s personality at work, the first trait we look at is openness. Openness is a measure of the tendency to pursue novel ideas, or conversely, stick with the tried and true.

One of the things we observe when people are in a job where they don't feel stimulated or challenged is that they are continuously undertaking repetitive work. Doing the same thing repeatedly does not satiate the natural exploration systems in our brains. For example, if you are extroverted, you tend to be driven by the dopaminergic system, the area of the brain which releases dopamine when we receive a reward.  For instance, when you play a video game and you hear that “cha-ching” sound that signals you have won points; you are incentivized to keep playing more to score another reward. This reward system is very natural to humans. When you are in a job that does not put you in an optimal state of openness, it drags you down and makes you feel unmotivated.

Conscientiousness is how much a person prefers order and acts responsibly. One way of understanding this is whether someone is a serial processor (i.e., one thing at a time) or a parallel processor (i.e., multiple things at a time). While "multitasking" as a skill has largely been debunked, there’s no denying that some of us have more tabs open on our browsers than others. There are also different levels of comfort towards the messiness of a workplace situation. For example, startups are notorious for being “all hands on deck” at all times and workplace boundaries and responsibilities aren’t always clear. On the other, more traditional sectors are much more structured and methodical. Your level of conscientiousness affects your degree of comfort in different workplace environments.

Extraversion is the third of the big five personality traits. During this pandemic, introverts are thriving working from home where they can complete their work without distraction from others. Meanwhile, extraverts who find energy through connection and social interaction, are suffering. In an office environment, introverts can be found sitting at their cubicle working on things that are important to them. Extraverts, however, are talking at the water cooler or knocking on people’s doors to float ideas. Certain jobs call for differing levels of social interaction, and so understanding whether you draw energy intrinsically or extrinsically can have a positive impact on career satisfaction.

Another personality trait is agreeableness; your ability to put the team first or prioritize your own agenda. Now, I'm not saying that disagreeable people are selfish; they are more able to fight for what they believe is best. Having to say no to put your priorities forward at the negotiation table can be very difficult for some people. Traditionally, we find salespeople tend to be disagreeable, although that is evolving. Having the ability to challenge customers productively is a trait associated with high sales performance.

The last aspect of personality is stress tolerance. This is measured under trait neuroticism, a measure of how stress-tolerant you are, and your ability to cope with volatility. If you find yourself in a fast-paced job that where you find it hard to catch a breath, hard to recover, or the ups are too high and the downs are too low, then perhaps it is time to consider a career change. Especially if you know this isn't just a busy period, it is an environment that consistently causes you stress. Some people thrive on adrenaline and volatility, while others suffer from it. You must put yourself in an optimal position to ensure your long-term physical, emotional, and mental health.

 

Question #2: Does your current career fit your values?

In a recent 2019 study by Deloitte, it was found that 37% of Millennials believe that their business is good for the world. That same study found that 49% of Millennials would leave their job for another job if they had the opportunity in the next two years. What that shows is that the current work environment sometimes does not align with those of Millennials.

A very important social characteristic of Millennials is that they are the generation that went through the 2008 financial crisis and saw the government bailouts. I’m not judging whether the bailouts were right or wrong; the fact of the matter is, they’ve seen how big corporations can fall short. On the other hand, Gen Z, the generation after Millennials, are more trusting of big businesses in the traditional sense.

To determine your important values, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Does your current job make you feel valued?
  2. Is your job maximizing your potential?
  3. Is your job maximizing your current skillset, so you feel your work is purposeful?
  4. Are you learning new things consistently and growing as an individual?

The future world of work is one where a career will be a portfolio of jobs. If you feel your workplace’s social, cultural, or environmental values do not align with yours, you are not alone. It may well be time for a change.

 

Question #3: Does your job align with your life goals?

The third question is a compilation of mini questions to understand if your job aligns with your goals. For example, does the commute work for you? How much time are you spending commuting versus how much time would you like to spend with your loved ones?

Another question to ask is, does your job align with your career goals in terms of opportunities for advancement? Sometimes it is not the career that needs to change; instead, it could be a structural issue. I’ve worked with clients who have advanced in the corporations to a certain level, and they want to advance further in specializing in what they do. However, the only jobs available are management positions, and they don’t want to manage people. That’s not where they feel they’re satisfied. In that case, there's no other choice other than to switch internally, or another job, or another industry.

How much do you want to make financially? Is this job helping you achieve your financial goals? A useful activity is to map out your career and your current salary trajectory for the next 10 years. What would it look like if you have a career change? The typical result is that you are going to take a hit in salary in the early years. For example, if you are in HR and you want to switch to marketing, what would be your starting salary? If you measure the two different 10-year trajectories side by side, you’ll get a good sense of what your financial situation is going to look like.

And the last question to ask is, is your job secure from disruption? Right now, we’re in the age of disruption. The pandemic has disrupted everything. The Internet is good at creating new opportunities for people to work at home. You have other forms of disruption in terms of AI, automation, blockchain, medtech, fintech, etc. Even industries like management consulting, which was regarded to be quite safe from disruption, now have to rethink their value proposition.

At the end of the day, you need to evaluate whether your current work is supporting your life goals? Is it going to be stable? Is it time to jump ship before it gets disrupted? And if so, is now the best time to make a move? One excellent example is people who worked in marketing during the dot-com boom. They rode that wave for Yahoo. But the problem is, who uses Yahoo nowadays for digital marketing? Google or Facebook Analytics is now where people want to be playing. If you are on a sinking ship, it might be a good idea to jump.

 

Question #4: Are you burnt out?

We can measure burnout in several ways. One way of measuring it is through examining physical signs. There was a time in my life where I was so stressed that my body broke down. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle it mentally or emotionally. As a result of that, I had to recalibrate and reconsider everything that I was doing in my work.

Burnout often shows physical signs. Some of my clients have broken out in hives, or their stomach turns when they are in a situation that makes them stressed. You need to read these physical signals, as they are often the first signs that you are in bad straits. Your body is linked to your mind, which is linked to the gut, which is linked to your emotions, everything works together (i.e., there are literally neurons in your guts). If your body is showing signs of burnout, it is an important red flag.

Another sign of burnout is emotional wear and tear. Are you joyful? Are you feeling inspired? How are you doing emotionally? Do you have a sense of flow – which is when you can work for five hours, but it feels like only one hour has gone by? Satisfaction comes from harnessing that sense of flow. Anxiety or boredom impedes this flow.

The third sign is mental fatigue. If you are mentally fatigued, you will have no headroom. Even when you go home and are to friends and family, you may find it hard to process what they are saying. You may exhibit symptoms like a headache or an urge to just be alone.

The last and final sign of burnout is other people noticing it. Unless you have high self-awareness, and are really in tune with your body, you might not notice it, but others might. These are the co-workers who work with you day in and day out, and they may pick up subtle signs, and start asking questions. If other people are noticing, this is also an indication of burnout. However, remember short-term pain and volatility is never a good reason to make a career change. It might be just your boss or company going through a rough time. However, if these events happen consistently and you are always feeling burnt out, then it is a good time to consider a career change.

 

Conclusion

This checklist gives you a good breakdown of different signs to notice and decide whether it is time to move on to another career. If you are ready to move on to another career, check out this free PDF where I outline the four steps on how to find your ideal career and make that career change. You can also take the personality test, which highlights the Big Five personality traits that I mentioned earlier in this article. The test will give you a good diagnostic picture of whether your current job is a good fit for you or not.

 

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