When you’re first entering the workforce, it’s easy to test out different industries and job functions to see which roles are best suited to your skills and interests. When you’re mid-career, however, making a career change can be more difficult. It’s natural to feel like the “path not taken” means other options are now forever closed. That doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re dissatisfied with your current job or feeling “stuck”, it’s never too late to make a change. Here’s how.
Assess the Situation: What Needs to Change?
Start by setting aside some time to candidly reflect on your current situation and understand what needs to change. After all, you don’t want to go through the work of finding a new position only to feel just as dissatisfied in your new role. What is missing in your current job? What are the pain points in your day-to-day work life? In IT, for example, a common complaint is that institutional barriers can constrain innovation. It’s not unusual to feel like you’re stuck working on a product or service that’s going nowhere– and want to transition to more meaningful or interesting work. Or, perhaps you enjoy the project, but feel undervalued and are ready for a compensation or responsibility bump.
Now, think about your ultimate career goals. When you retire, what do you want to be able to say that you have accomplished? Are you on track to achieve those things? If not, what do you need to do to get on right path?
When you’ve figure out what’s missing from your current role, chances are it falls into one of three categories: you need a new challenge, you need better compensation, or you need more responsibility. Let’s take a closer look at each scenario:
Problem: You Need a New Challenge
Solution: Transition to a Different Project or Department
Maybe what’s eating at you is that you no longer feel challenged by your job function. My recommendation in these situations is to start looking internally at other departments where some of your skills might be useful. If you’re a network engineer, you might be able to move into information security, for example. I find that it’s always easier to change job functions internally than externally. Your current employer knows and trusts you, and you understand how things work at your company, which gives you an edge over an outsider.
Get to know the people on the teams you’re interested in. Invite them out for coffee to learn more about what they do. Ask to be put on projects that give you exposure to other teams. The more people who know your work throughout the company, the easier it will be to make a move.
Problem: You’re Feeling Undervalued
Solution: Make the Case for Better Compensation
If the core of your dissatisfaction is that you are feeling undervalued, then it’s time to make the case for better pay. You can either do this internally, by pushing for a raise, or externally by looking for a new job with a higher salary. Your preparation for either scenario should be similar.
First, do your research. Use sites like glassdoor.com or the Department of Labor to find data on how roles at your level and in your geographic area are compensated. When you come armed with this kind of data, it’s easier to make the case that you’re just looking to be compensated in line with the fair market value for your role. If you’re asking for a raise internally, bring examples of performance successes and make sure to highlight that you are committed to the company over the long-term. If you are looking to move to a new company, don’t be afraid to tell the hiring manager that your current salary is one of the main reasons you’re thinking about moving.
Problem: You’re Ready to Be a Manager
Solution: Demonstrate Your Leadership Potential
You might love your role and be happy with your compensation, but really want to take a step up in terms of responsibility and leadership. Whether you do this internally through a promotion or externally through a new job, you’ll need to prove that you can handle the additional responsibility. This can be tough, particularly when you are moving from an individual contributor role to a management role for the first time.
In your conversations with your boss or with a hiring manager, bring examples of times when you have shown leadership in your current role. Even if you don’t have direct reports, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to influence people in your organization somehow. Maybe you coordinate projects across different groups, or maybe you were able to push for a process change by making the case to your boss. You can show leadership from any role, and that’s the kind of behavior that can get you promoted.
Have you successfully navigated a mid-career change? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.