Career change: A (relatively) low stress approach


Since you know you are going to have multiple careers in your life, changing is not high stakes. Don’t make a huge deal about it and don’t spend five years searching your soul. Just start testing the waters — put a toe in the current to see how it feels. Then take a leap, and if you don’t like where you land, reframe your landing pad as just a stepping-stone. And start putting your foot in the water again.

But first, before you do any of this, make sure it’s time for you to change what you’re doing.

Here are some bad reasons to switch careers:

1. You hate your boss. (Switch jobs, not careers.)
2. You want more prestige. (Get a therapist — you’re having a confidence crisis, not a career crisis.)
3. You want to meet new people. (Try going to a bar, or Club Med. What you really want is to get a life. Pick up a hobby.)

Here are some good reasons to switch careers:

1. You want a role that is more creative, more analytic or more management-oriented.
2. You want to live in a location that does not accommodate your current career.
3. You want more flexibility or fewer hours.

Once you decide it’s time to try something new, you should act fast. Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, in France conducted scores of interviews with career changers that lead to her book, Working Identity: Uncovering Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. She concludes that career change is not so much about time spent philosophizing as time spent actually trying something new — anything.

Step 1. Conduct a perfunctory soul search. When you know you want to change, you need to understand what you don’t like about your current situation so that you don’t duplicate it. But don’t assume your current job is not right for your personality. And don’t assume that if you zero-in on your personality you’ll know exactly what you should be doing.

Daniel Gilbert psychology professor at Harvard University, says that in pursuing happiness, “we should have more trust in our own resilience and less confidence in our predictions about how we’ll feel.” Like Ibarra, Gilbert is a fan of jumping into the mix and just trying something.

In fact, Ibarra finds that finding our true soul mate in a job is not so important. There are many. “People have multiple selves. So changing careers means changing our selves, but this is not a process of swapping one identity for another. Rather, it’s a mater of reconfiguring the full set of possibilities. In any of us there’s a part that’s very pragmatic and there’s a part that’s very creative, and there are times in life when we give more time and space and energy on one side than the other. But if it’s in you, eventually it kind of bubbles up, and it wants some airtime.”

You can take personality tests till you’re blue in the face, but Ibarra thinks they have limits. In many cases, you can’t know what you love to do if you haven’t done it. And “all the research says that adults learn by doing.” So less analysis and more action will help you find the best change for you faster.

Step 2. Try it out. You’ll never know if you fit into the career environment until you try it. A baby step, like volunteering, or taking a part-time job will allow you to go back to your original career if need be.

The most effective way make a serious move in your life is to do it in a not-so-serious way. “Play with new professional roles on a limited but tangible scale, without compromising your current job,” says Ibarra. “Try freelance assignments or pro bono work. Moonlight. Use sabbaticals or extended vacation to explore new

And by all means, do not enter a degree program for a career change until you are positive that you know what you’ll be doing with the degree. If you don’t know what you’ll be doing once you get the degree, then how do you know you need it?

Step 3: Take a leap. Getting your first job in a new career is hard, especially if you don’t want to work as the copy machine operator. So first try to make the change at the company you’re at, because they already know they like you; ask for a department switch.

If that doesn’t work, use your network, which you probably developed during step two. Headhunters and help wanted ads are geared toward people who have skills in a certain area. People who change jobs probably do not have a lot of skills in the new area, so networking is the best way to get someone to give you a chance.

Sometimes there is room to sell your skills, during a career change. And if you can, you should. For example if you’re a teacher and you want to go into technology, apply for jobs at software firms that sell to the education sector. You’ll be worth a lot more to an education company than a video game company even though both sell technology.

A career change is a chance to address a change of heart by building on proven skills. Done right, this is a chance to show another side of your successful self.


9 replies
  1. Julie Ferko
    Julie Ferko says:

    I had made a career change from sales to in home therapy. After receiving my Master’s Degree and additional certifications and licenses, I had no problem getting called the same day I submitted a resume. I can expect to get a job in 2 weeks max.

    For the last 7 years I’ve been in therapy, I’ve started my own business which has led to continuing education training. What I’d like to do now is get back into a more corporate setting to utilize and increase my management and anaylsis skills.

  2. Devon Shane
    Devon Shane says:

    I really appreciate that you said to try to shift within your own company first. I think people don’t appreciate how effective internal movement can be for switching careers. With the US spending over $340 billion on attrition, this is an important step to try before external networking begins, for the country’s sake and your own. Here at UpMo we are now designing SaaS solutions to help employees manage their careers internally. Our solutions are employee-centric and enable internal networking and flexible, non-linear movement across an organization. This can improve engagement, motivation, and productivity and reduce attrition from the company perspective! What do you think about our new approach? You can visit us at

  3. Greg
    Greg says:

    Jobs can be incredibly stressful, completely apart from the actual work required. But there are certainly ways to explore changing career paths.

    After being in a stressful work environment (micromanaging boss, etc.), I finally was dissatisfied to do something about it, and started my own consulting company, where I’ve been happily self-employed for over 4 years. But I didn’t just up and quit my day job; I started consulting slowly, getting more work and building up my client base to the point where the time I spent in my day job was getting in the way of how much I could earn with my “side” consulting. That’s when I made the transition to full-time consulting, and quit my day job.

    Starting my consulting business part-time and growing it was a very low-risk and low-stress way to change careers.

    One of the best–and unforseen–side effects of that career change is that by starting my own consulting business, I feel incredibly empowered and much more economically secure than I ever did as an employee.

    While consulting might not be for everyone, for those who are interested in starting their own consulting business, along with tips & tricks, you can read more at I’ll be releasing a free step-by-step guide to creating your business website soon, so be sure to sign up for blog updates so that you don’t miss out on it.

  4. Ranjeet Kapoor
    Ranjeet Kapoor says:

    Awesome practical guide.
    Each step you have mentioned is very minute and clear. Gave me insight and motive that I must start ‘DOING’…lot of thinking done already.
    Thanks :)

  5. Nobody X
    Nobody X says:

    2. You want more prestige. (Get a therapist — you’re having a confidence crisis, not a career crisis.) hahahaha

  6. Mayank
    Mayank says:

    The is always greener on thne other side…It goes true with the job seekers. Many people switch jobs just to get rid of their current job, without properly analyzing the pros and cons of the next job they are taking.
    A good eye opener to them

Comments are closed.