My New Year’s Resolution Is to Switch Careers. Now What?

An HR expert takes us through all the questions you need to answer before taking the plunge.

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Like everyone else hitting the New Year, you might be thinking about making some serious life changes, and that could mean switching careers. In which case, you might be wondering, “Am I too late? Or what about too old? Do I have to start over?” These are all important questions, so to assist you in this crucial transition, we enlisted HR expert Terry Petracca for advice.

“The holiday season is when we spend the most amount of time on self-reflection, culminating in New Year’s resolutions that most of us make, but few of us keep,” Petracca explains. “Jobs and careers are some of the top issues people commit to act upon, so you’re not alone. But changing careers requires more deliberation than those usually found after a few glasses of wine or spiked eggnog.”

Therefore, before making any rash decisions, Petracca suggests reconsidering your job before uprooting your whole career. “Many times, people change careers because they’re fed up with working for company X, or they’re fed up with occupation Y — maybe, for instance, your parents pushed you into a career you weren’t really interested in,” she says. “But you’re always in a better position if you’ve been thoughtful as to why you want something different — namely, you’re looking toward another career, rather than running away from your current one.”

With that in mind, Petracca recommends thinking seriously about the following questions before diving into something new:

  • Introspection: Why this career? Why now? What’s attractive about this new career? What will you be giving up? What will you be gaining?
  • Research: How much do you know about the new career? Do you understand the difference between, say, a dietician and a nutritionist? Have you researched the different types of specialties? Have you investigated licensure requirements? Do you need a degree, or certification only?
  • Accessibility: Are there programs near you and/or online that you can attend? When, where and how long are the programs offered?
  • Affordability: Can you afford to quit your current job and plunge full-time into the course of study needed for the new profession? What alternatives are there (part-time work, part-time school, financial aid)?
  • Support: What do you need and from whom? We’re not talking financial here, but the emotional support from family, friends and colleagues to help you reorient your life and priorities to make this dream happen.

At the end of the day, though, while thoughtfulness is important, taking the plunge requires a dose of fearlessness, too. “Courage is the most important attribute you’ll need to be successful,” Petracca says. “Changing jobs is relatively easy: The largest study reports that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 48. But true career changes are much more difficult because they’re usually not linear. Not to mention, our current era of specialization makes such a switch all the more challenging.”

“While that will definitely require some degree of training,” Petracca continues, “there are creative ways of gaining experience in a new field without completely giving up on your day job or racking up a ton of student loans. For example, one of the most available and underutilized learning experiences is volunteering. Not only can you try your hand at new skills while you help worthwhile causes, but there are two other significant advantages: 1) you usually get to create your own hyper-inflated job title (director of social media, anyone?); and 2) you can make use of the board, donors and other volunteers to network.”

As for any concerns about your age, Petracca emphasizes, “Remember that 40 is the new 30 and ‘encore’ careers don’t begin until 60.” In other words, go for it, buddy.