10 Ways to Start Over in a Career You’ll Love

By Emily Elmore | 4 May 2020

It’s no secret that the economy is hurting. While many millions of Americans anxiously wait for business to return to normal, many more already know that they can’t go back to the job they had prior to the emergence of the novel coronavirus.

For some, this reality is forced upon them due to furloughs and lost business. For others, it’s a realization that there’s a different, maybe better, way to work with plenty of opportunity to earn a living while striking better balance elsewhere.

Interestingly, I learned this latter fact one year ago after a major personal health crisis grounded me for good. I was formerly an active duty Air Force pilot, and I lost functional use of my right arm. While it’s improved some, I’m still incapable of manning aircraft controls. Unable to use a skill I had in a job I loved, I had to nav.igate my own new normal. I needed to figure out how to balance my new health and personal goals with my professional goals and expectations. Many of you may need to make a pivot to something new, and these tips will get you headed in the right direction as you consider your next career move.

Our identity is not defined by what we do, rather, why we do it. Funding the change can give you freedom to pursue the things that motivate you most and bring you joy. 

First we’ll look at figuring out what your next big thing could be. Then we’ll nav.igate funding the change.

1. Determine your why.

Even if you worked in a job you hated, there’s a good reason you had a reason for working and not hanging out on your buddy’s couch. Are you paying off debt so you have more freedom to travel? Supporting your family? Funding a hobby you’re passionate about?

If you did love what you were doing, why did you love it? I loved flying, and had a hard time defining what it was about flying that fed my soul. Ultimately, it was the challenge and adventure, the camaraderie and the opportunity to lead. 

Once you understand why you do a thing, you can determine 1000 other ways to feed that why.

2. Determine your capabilities.

Make a list of the things you enjoy doing and the things you do well, personally or professionally. Also consider your weaknesses. If you love graphic design but can’t work under deadline, or don’t like to be confined by strict client requirements, graphic design may be more fulfilling as a hobby than a profession. Be sure to include all skills that are useful in a work environment that you may not have an official certification for, like working with word processing and data management tools like Excel or Sheets. If you’re an exceptional communicator, love working with people, or have a unique ability to recognize and capitalize on emerging trends, add these to the list.

3. List your experience, training and certifications.

If you’re an expert in something, great. If you love doing it and there’s a market for that skill congratulations: you know what your next move is. Often this is where folks get hung up because they don’t realize how many skills can be applied in new ways, and even if they think it can they don’t know how to sell those skills when they sit down to interview. If this list is a little light, consider how you can maximize the intrinsic skills and capabilities you listed in step two to augment what you have listed here.

4. Find the sweet spot.

Once everything is listed out, you want to find where there’s overlap between earning and a living and feeding your why. If this is an opportunity for something new, let’s make it something wonderful.  Does that mean starting out entry level in a new career? Starting your own business? Finding the right job at the right compensation level, but far away from where you’re living currently? Maybe. The transition will be more comfortable if comfortably funded, so how can you be set up for success?

5. Make a budget.

It’s  the starting point for any decision that requires monetary resources. Determine how much income you need to sustain your current expenditures. Do you have the ability to take on less income during the transition? If not, could you if some of those expenses were reduced or removed from your budget? It doesn’t need to be complicated; even a basic budget will get you started. 

6. Build an emergency fund before you switch.

If you’re in a position to do so, contribute to your emergency fund before starting a new career. As a new hire you’re in a precarious position to be laid off (especially if COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the economy). If your car breaks down while commuting to your new job, you’ll want to have the money to get it fixed quickly and reliably. 

7. Pay down debt.

This applies before, during, and after you start a new career. A high income-to-debt ratio can hurt your credit, and that can make it hard to get an auto or house loan. Many rental applications also take a look at credit to determine an applicant’s reliability for prompt monthly payments. If you get a new job but have no access to housing or transportation, you’ll be in a rough spot.

8. Be prepared to negotiate.

Before you accept that job offer, review the salary and determine if the benefits package is any good. Use our salary negotiation tool and be sure to advocate for yourself to get the best possible deal. Know your worth and then add tax.

Not only that, you may want to consider negotiating a severance agreement. Many employers are willing to make severance payments to released employees based on unused vacation or sick days, continuance for medical, dental, or life insurance. Even in cases where an employee terminates employment voluntarily, part-time work may be available which can supplement income during training for a new job. According to a recent court ruling, some payments may not even be subject to FICA payroll taxation.

9. Get liquid.

While your income is reduced through the transition, cash is king. Defer funding retirement accounts until you are sure you have adequate funds or the income necessary to make a minimum of 3-6 months of your revised budget expenses from step five. If you own your home, investigate refinancing it to cut monthly payments and free up equity which can go into savings. 

10. Pursue financial assistance.

If you are pursuing a new career due to a termination or layoff, apply for unemployment insurance and benefits, and seek financial assistance with training through federal and state sources. You can also apply for grants or scholarships to access the education and job training you need. There are hundreds of unemployment benefits available from public and private organizations. But to receive them, you must take an active role in finding and applying for them. Don’t hesitate to seek and ask for help from these organizations as well.

A career change can be daunting for even the most confident nav.igator. You want to strike the balance between earning a living and fulfilling your professional and personal goals. You too can have a dream job if you investigate the alternatives, select the position most likely to meet your goals, develop a plan, and work persistently to reach your goal. You’ve got this, and we can’t wait to see what you can do!

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