Ever hear the term “job-hopper?” It used to refer to an individual who roamed from job to job to job, seemingly for no reason but wanderlust or a higher paycheck. It implies a fickleness, disloyalty, and lack of direction/long-term commitment. Now it's the norm. And it's okay … good, even. How?
Well, for one, changing careers is expected, especially in today's economy. Even if you stay in the same field, the chances of you getting brand-new responsibilities relatively quickly are reasonable, considering how many job titles and roles are being created every year that didn't exist the year before. Physician assistant. Chief content officer. Medical biller and coder. Data scientist. Independently contracted (Uber) driver. Zumba instructor. Inside sales representative. App developer. Home health aide. Brand evangelist.
Indeed, it may be a myth that job-hopping was ever outside the norm. Even in the old days, late-period baby boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs from age 18 to 48, according to BLS data. We may be changing jobs less frequently as we get older, but if we're anything like the boomers (who still averaged 2.4 jobs from age 40 to 48), we'll always have our eyes on the horizon. These days, people change not only jobs multiple times by the time they hit their thirties, but careers.
Not your grandfather's workforce
To begin to understand how to change careers successfully and why career changes are now fashionable, we should look to U.S. labor-market history. Stable manufacturing jobs once awaited high-school graduates with competitive middle-income pay, handsome benefits and a guaranteed pension. College degrees (in lower supply) automatically conferred white-collar status on graduates and went a lot further than today as a ticket to a high-paying, highly skilled job.
Times have changed.
Now, pensions are gone, all but the most skilled manual labor is outsourced, and you can't rely on loyalty from employers in the knowledge economy, though you can count on competition from a glut of young college degree-holders. At the same time, getting an online education or starting your own business is easier and cheaper than ever. Access to education, entrepreneurial tools and the Internet-enabled “gig economy” make the self-employed world much more realistic. Even if you still primarily work for somebody else, second incomes come in many varieties, and you can shape opportunities to your demand and lifestyle. Don't want to work today? A driver in the sharing economy makes her own schedule. Can't find the right job in the current market? Relax. Maybe your perfect job just doesn't exist yet, but will surface in a few years.
So, now that you've gotten over the stigma associated with changing careers, let's discuss the importance of keeping good relationships. If you're going to learn how to successfully change careers, you don't want to alienate people along the way. As bad as things might be with your current employer, put on a happy face and make nice with everybody. Think like a diplomat: You never know when you might need a personal recommendation for future work or to facilitate an introduction between your new employer and your old for mutual benefit. A burned bridge is even more wasteful in a professional world where LinkedIn keeps everybody at virtual arm's length.
Speaking of building bridges, maintaining your personal brand independent of a single company is essential to creating a self-directed career. Why do you want a self-directed career? Because if you don't direct yourself, who will? Your circumstances. Or people that don't have your best interests at heart will try to exploit you for their gain. You don't want to be a victim of fate, pulled by puppet strings with no agency. In order to avoid living a lie in your work life, you need to actively work to match your talents and personality to your occupation before navigating how to change careers.
Your personal brand should represent these skills and project your attitude to the world. Whether you build popularity/influence on social media, through blogging-content creation-publishing, participating in a professional association, attending a recurring conference, or presenting on the lecture circuit, do whatever you can to cultivate and perpetuate a distinct identity. Articulate a summary of this identity and put it front and center on your resume or personal website. Make it part of your LinkedIn profile's headline, corporate bio, blog author profile or job title.
As one of my smart college classmates told me when I later interviewed him professionally for his take on marketing, you want your byline to convey more than just the current company you work for. His reasoning was your time at any given employer may be limited, while the gifts you offer the world endure from job to job and therefore, deserve their own billing independent of your employer. (This was the theory behind the practical matter of referring to me on his blog as Paul Richlovsky, [job title] at Employer X vs. Paul Richlovsky, Employer X's [job title]. This grammatical difference is subtle, but important: You're putting the person first.)
Loving what you do, doing what you love
Doing what you love is paramount, so you should be changing careers if your current employer is not fulfilling your will and drive for purposeful work. Contrary to the notion of being a quitter or paycheck-seeker, changing jobs to put yourself in the best possible environment to thrive is not only desirable, it is noble.
From teacher to marketer/writer (and back)
For inspiration, take my own story. An English major one year out of college, I packed up and moved across the world to teach English in China. Teaching was a blast, though some of the required curricula of one my programs I was not best qualified to teach, such as English for business. In fact, teaching a business English class or two on marketing vs. selling and “AIDA” was the extent of my marketing background until …
5 years later, I'm back in my hometown and find a new full-time job at a fast-growing 20-person digital marketing agency. 10 years later, here I am still serving the same company (now 150+ people) as a content strategist and editor. Though I no longer stand in front of a classroom of Chinese college students, I am still teaching … and surrounded by college students (I mean, recent graduates) that continue to make me feel young.
I am thrilled to have regular opportunities to learn and teach on the job. I educate clients, help my colleagues and try to keep myself informed in a rapidly changing marketing industry with monumental technological innovation and philosophical discussion on how to be excellent. Immersed daily in an atmosphere of growth, I couldn't imagine doing anything better. I wish the same for you.
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