How to Navigate a Career Change

The answer to what you want to be when you grow up usually changes several times as a child. Interests evolve, and you learn more about yourself as you grow up. You may realize that being a ballerina or fireman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or maybe it’s just not something you’d want to spend your entire life doing. These realizations don’t stop once you reach adulthood, either.

The average person changes jobs twelve times in their lives. That number is likely to be higher for Millennials, as they are twice as likely to resign from a job than older generations. These leaps aren’t always small, either. It’s estimated that professionals will go through around five to seven career changes in these transitions.

However, with any change comes challenges. Starting fresh in a new industry often means taking a significant pay cut, working longer hours and maybe going back to school. When you’re fresh out of college, it’s easier to cut back, but as you get older, you’ll likely have more people depending on you, regular monthly payments like a mortgage and less time to learn new things.

Though making a career change can be difficult, it’s not impossible with some smart financial planning and your passions for motivation. Keep reading to learn how to make your career change as smooth as possible.

1. Build an Emergency Fund

man counting money

This is essential even if you don’t plan to make a career change, though it becomes even more important if you do. An emergency fund is a pool of money set aside to help you pay for emergencies and large unexpected expenses. Having one means that you won’t have to go into debt in order to pay for a sudden flat tire or hospital visit. It’s generally recommended that you have three to six months of living expenses set aside, though for those anticipating a longer term reduction of income that comes with switching careers, saving more doesn’t hurt.

For those planning a career change, this emergency fund can help cover anything that comes up outside of necessities. It may take some time to adjust to a lower income, so the emergency fund can also serve as a safety net for incidentals in the transition.

2. Create a Comprehensive Budget

While you may already have a general budget in place to make sure your retirement is on track and you don’t overspend, now’s the time to refine your budget even further. Start by accounting all of your necessary expenses like rent, debt and car payments. Then factor in more variable expenses like groceries and gas.

With all your basics accounted for, you should have a number that is the minimum amount you should make each month to stay on track. From here, you can begin accounting for less necessary expenses like dinners out and entertainment. By accounting for everything, you’ll be able to quickly identify places where you can cut back.

3. Take Your Retirement With You

Like 60 percent of professionals, it may be tempting to make an early withdrawal from your retirement account to cover expenses. However, this should only be done as a last resort or for a qualifying expense, depending on the retirement account. For a 401(K), you’ll be responsible for paying a 10% penalty in addition to the income tax on the amount you receive. On top of the losing decades of earned interest, you could lose tens of thousands of dollars for your retirement.

Instead, you can either keep your retirement account with your previous company, or roll it over to your new employer’s plan. You can also roll your 401(K) into an individual retirement account (IRA).

4. Consider Debt

couple looks at bill

While you may have no problem leveraging your current level of debt, you may want to prioritize paying down your highest-interest debt before you switch careers. Your debt-to-income ratio may change if you switch to a lower paying job. Having debt doesn’t mean that you can’t make the leap and change careers, but it does mean you may have to be more financially strategic.

Before making the change, make extra payments to reduce your debt so that it’s around 25% of your anticipated income.

5. Time Your Leap

It may be wise to put off your change if you’re planning on buying a new house, anticipate needing a new car soon or planning on starting a family. These all introduce additional financial strain, and can take up a lot of your time. You’ll have to decide what’s best for you, but in order to set yourself up for success, it may be better to take on one major life change at a time.

6. Do Your Industry Research

Before you commit your future to one pursuit, it’s a good idea to make sure your chosen industry has a future. For most, this won’t be an issue, but it’s always a good idea to know where a field is heading. For starters, understand that if a market is shrinking, it can make entering a field very hard.

Seeing where the industry is headed will also help you pursue the right education. For example, if you want to go into computer programming, it’s important to understand that Java will likely be around for a while, but learning an out-moded language like Pascal will get you nowhere.

7. Learn How to Sell Yourself

smiling lady shaking hand

It may have been a while since you last spruced up your resume, but there are likely some skills that you have that are universal. Have you managed another employee? Have you been in charge of managing a large-scale project? Do you have experience communicating with clients, or solving a problem in a new way?

Go back through your current career and find examples of instances where you demonstrated leadership, initiative or organization. If you can lead with what you have done well, rather than your inexperience, you’ll have a better chance of landing a well-paying job.

Once you start applying in your new field, you’ll probably need to explain the reason for your career change. Start working on a winning cover letter that sells your career change well. For instance, you have all the passion of a new employee, but the years of professional experience you can’t get as a young employee.

8. Pick Up a Side Hustle

Starting a job on the side can help you bring in a little extra income, and if you’re smart, refine your interests even further. While it does require a bit of extra work, you have the opportunity to explore the intersection between your abilities and interests further. Picking up a few freelance jobs is a great way to test the waters on a career change, while improving your financial standing.

Take a look at this visual guide below to see how you can financially prepare for a career change.

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