The pandemic and its fallout definitely impact career planning. Unemployment numbers are ticking upward, so job seekers overall are competing in a more crowded overall market. Certain industries such as travel are hit hard, so workers in contracting fields in particular face dwindling opportunity. Even if you’re currently employed, you should pay attention to how well your employer can hold up in these challenging times.
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If you find yourself in a troubled industry, should you change careers and target other areas? As with most career questions, there is no one-size-fits-all response to your individual career. Even though I just made some generalizations about the negative impact of the pandemic on career planning, the optimal next step for your career depends, not just on the market, but also on you.
Here are some arguments for and against changing careers because of the pandemic to help you choose the best course of action for you:
Yes, change careers because your industry may take longer to recover than you are willing or able to wait
I coached a client who loved her travel job but lost it along with 90% of her colleagues. Projected recovery for the travel industry could be next year or several years. Sure, jobs don’t totally disappear even from hard-hit industries. However, if you need to land quickly, you may want to change careers into a growing market.
No, don’t change careers because you love your field and want to stick it out
That said, if you have a passion for the industry you are in, you may want to stick it out. There are ways you can help your job search in a down market, such as revisiting old employers or targeting project work over permanent, full-time. Maximizing your career isn’t just about getting any job, but about landing a job you love.
Yes, change careers because you have severance that can fund your job search
But do you love your job? The industry or role you start with isn’t something you have to do forever. Some professionals get so caught up in the day-to-day busyness of their immediate job that they don’t take a long-term, more proactive view of their whole career. If you had been getting complacent in your current career, this pandemic may be just the jolt you need to reconsider and redesign your career. If you have been laid off, you could invest the severance or unemployment benefits you receive into yourself and a career pivot.
No, don’t change careers now because a changing careers takes longer than landing a similar job, and your severance may run out
That said, timing a career change during a down market is like swimming upstream. You already have a shrinking pool of jobs and employers who are feeling cost pressures. Add in the fact that as a career changer you are an unproven and therefore riskier choice. Are you prepared for a much more difficult job search? Do you have the time and financial means to stick it out?
Yes, change careers because you were thinking about making a change anyway
There is never a perfect time for a big life decision, like changing careers. If you had already been thinking about a career change and then the pandemic hit, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should abort your earlier plans. I have coached several professionals who make a change even at a peak in their careers – another time when arguably you shouldn’t make a change. Just because it doesn’t seem like the right time in general doesn’t make it the wrong time for you.
No, don’t change careers because getting experience in a down market is good experience
If you feel like you’re coasting on the job and you’re looking for a challenge, navigating a down market can be that challenge. If you have never experienced a down market in your current industry and/or role, this is good experience to have, especially if you aspire to the executive ranks one day. As a recruiter, I have seen many employers prioritize candidates who had a good track record, not just in growth times, but also in hard times. If you get tapped for a big cost-reduction effort, restructuring or turnaround initiative, you have the opportunity to get tangible, measurable results that can put you in a better position for bigger roles in the future.
Yes, change careers because you have an idea or inspiration prompted by the current market
If you change careers just to get away from your old career, that’s like a bad approach to dating. Instead, you want to be genuinely attracted to the new career. If the pandemic and its fallout have revealed a new interest for you – e.g., you love virtual meetings and decide to focus on remote learning – then that is an excellent sign to pursue that option. The best part is that you don’t have to quit your job right away, as the first step in career change is about making life changes, not launching a job search.
No, don’t change careers because you have other constraints vying for your time
Speaking of life changes, the pandemic has upended much more than just your career. If you’re in a dual-career household, if you have children, if you have elder care responsibilities, if you have a side passion that has been put on hold, then there are other areas of your life that may need more urgent tending than your career. The right time to make a career move needs to account for everything else going on in your life too.
Internal readiness trumps market conditions always
As you can see, there is no one answer to whether you should change careers because of the pandemic or not. Instead, I would divide the question into two parts: 1) should you change careers; and 2) because of the pandemic. Then, I would focus on the first part – whether or not you should change careers. The second part is just about how the market may impact you — and it may not. Your internal readiness to make a change — your willingness to do the work, your fortitude to stay the course — is more important than market conditions. If you want to make a change that badly, you will find a way.
This post is inspired by a question I received from Echo Me Forward, a career platform for diverse professionals. I love answering reader questions, and they run the gamut – like whether to target a familiar job or stretch role, how to market yourself to a new industry or whether to quit a job to care for elderly parents. What is your most pressing career question?
Ready When You Are
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