According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person will have at least 11.7 jobs during their entire work life.
Um, wait. How many?!
Yes, nearly 12 jobs in a lifetime of work. Personally, I think that number is quite low. Many people are pushing 20+ jobs if you count babysitting as a teen through contract/volunteer work in later years.
They all usually add up to a substantial number. The days of retiring from a company with a gold watch are long, long over.
Plus, skill-hungry Millennials are reshaping the world of work to the point that their job changes have also resounded with some employers, who now may perceive long-term employees as stagnant and oftentimes redundant/outdated.
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But how does that translate to a career, which is distinctly different yet entirely related to jobs?
Jobs are what you hold at the present moment (i.e. your name, rank and company). Your career is the larger picture. Think of your job as the raft you are floating on, and the career as the river that is carrying you along.
So, what happens when you want to make a change mid-career?
It’s possible, but you need to be mindful before taking that leap mid-stream to jump onto another raft heading to a different destination.
Some things to consider include skill acquisition.
Do an inventory of what skills you currently have and review them against your intended career shift. Do you have enough to make the change now? Or do you need to spend a little time beefing them up to broaden your bench strengths.
Remember, it is one thing to think that you can make a change mid-career; it is another to actually try to make that leap. What you believe you are qualified to do (or really want to do) may vary quite widely from the actual skills you possess when you go head-to-head with people who have been doing this all along and come across as very qualified.
Right now, I am working with an attorney who is tired of the rat rate that is the legal field, and she is seeking to transition to operations, which is a very big career departure.
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In her case, we evaluated everything she has been doing and determined that she has had a big impact on back-office operations by helping train staff, establishing policies and procedures, removing obstacles, improving efficiencies and cutting vendor costs.
This is a start, but she does have some work to do to build out her career skills in operations.
Professional development is a good path to pursue. Don’t know how to do a skill? Go take a class and learn it. Presto! Mission accomplished.
But there’s more to making a change mid-career than just adding skills.
Contacts and mentors
You have to build up a whole new universe of contacts.
When I chose to switch careers from being a meeting planner to a résumé writer, I had to completely reinvent myself.
But it actually wasn’t as daunting as one might think.
If you are contemplating a complete career pivot, it’s important to add skills, but you should also join relevant industry organizations. Those entities are the ones who will provide education/training, but also (and more importantly) networking contacts.
When I made my change, it was hard to start from ground zero as I had no credentials other than I had helped students write their résumés.
But the contacts that I made at the National Résumé Writers’ Association were invaluable. Quickly, I learned who the big players and influencers were, as well as the creative types, and began keeping up with their LinkedIn and Facebook posts, as well as tweets to learn more about the business.
Several even took me under their wing and became mentors. That alone is worth its weight in gold when making a change mid-career.
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Mentors can answer questions, provide guidance, assess your work and provide constructive criticism, and also be your cheerleaders. Believe me, there will be times during a career pivot that you feel like you’ve made a terrible mistake. Mentors will help you from second-guessing yourself and provide a much-needed shot in the arm as you make your way through unfamiliar landscapes.
Making changes mid-career can be very scary, but with the right tools, knowledge, connections and resources, you can definitely be successful in switching things up.
And as more Millennials and Gen Z workers move through the workforce, I am confident that not only will they have more than 12 jobs in their lifetime, but probably nearly as many different career incarnations.
If there is any one piece of advice that I can share about considering a career transition, it’s this: If you have to work, then you might as well spend that time at work doing something that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the purpose of the work, it’s time to find a new career. But before you make the leap, make sure you roll your skills into the next career, and make sure that you continuously grow so you are ready for the next career transition if and when it comes.