Is it time to make a major career change?

Is it time to make a major career change?

Worker holding a box with desk supplies and personal items, saying "Bye."So, you might want to quit your job

Thinking about making a career change? Maybe you’re unhappy with the culture where you work, maybe you want more of a challenge or more responsibilities—or fewer. Many of us have a hard time even if we already know what our first steps should be. Taking those first actions can be hard.

Are you ready to make a commitment to walking a new path?

The real first step is making up your mind.

Some time ago a friend asked for advice about whether I thought she should quit her job. At that time Freakanomics was running an experiment around the upside of quitting, so I encouraged her to take part in it. I told her to let the Freakanomics folks flip a virtual coin for her answer. She went to the site and got her answer: Quit. She didn’t give notice right away, but she did start moving things out of her office and wrapping up projects. In her mind she had quit; she just hadn’t given notice. Within a couple months she was approached by another division to apply for a higher position, which she eventually took.

Like most of the people in the Freakanomics experiment, when she was asked how she felt six months later, she reported being happier. As her partner in this, I was also asked, and agreed that she was better off. One of the experiment designers, Steven Levitt, stated in an interview: “We just came up with a basic truth, which is: When you’re not sure what to do, you should quit. I think this is what the data tells us; they say is that you should just — If you can’t decide, it means you shoulda quit already, and you should just quit right away.”

Why is quitting so hard?

Human psychology makes quitting hard. We hate to suffer a loss. When we’ve put great effort into our current job or career, we don’t want to look back on that time as being a loss or a waste. To minimize loss, we try to find a way to turn the loss into a future win. Maybe if we just make a few simple changes, get the attention of the right person, land a plum assignment, we’ll love our jobs again.

In economics this past time and energy is called a sunk cost. We’ve already made an investment and we want to see it pay off. In psychology it is referred to as loss aversion. We hate to lose or let go of what we have. Both disciplines recognize that we all have a preference for the status quo. We tend to try to adapt rather than make a big change.

Try limiting your choices

It’s hard to make decisions and even harder when there are unlimited choices. When I hear someone talk about making a job change, I usually hear the question: What do I want to be when I grow up? The possibilities are endless and we have a hard time with that. We’re more likely to make a choice when there are fewer options. If you’ve been offered two jobs, then it’s not hard to choose between them. But if you’re thinking about continuing your education or changing careers, then the choices seem limitless.

How can you get to the core of what you want?

A first step is to catalog projects and experiences that have been meaningful and enjoyable for you. Then work at framing these in terms of job skills, interests, titles, and organizational culture. For example, if you felt energized educating a group of people about a new product, you might want to list education or public speaking as skills or interests. You might want a job that allows you to temporarily take a leadership role with a team. You could list product representative as a possible job title.

If you have trouble creating a list of what you’re looking for, create one of what you want to avoid. Be specific. If you hated introducing and explaining a new product, did you hate the preparation, the speaking, not knowing the people, or something else? Let others see your lists and talk about what skills, titles, and cultures they see reflected in your lists. The goal is to limit where you look for your next career move and to home in on a few possibilities.

Review and collect job descriptions and postings. Highlight what interests you. Take a look at O*NET OnLine and scan through career clusters or industries that you think might be a good fit for you. Don’t limit yourself to jobs like ones you’ve already done. Use or industry associations to research salaries.

Informational interviews can help you verify your assumptions. I often hear blanket statements like all large companies treat you like a number or all family-owned companies are a hotbed of dysfunction. It’s probably not all large companies or family-owned businesses you want to avoid, but dysfunctional, highly emotional cultures.

Look to your DiSC profile for a little help.

Everything DiSC mapWe’ve seen DiSC misused in hiring and career guidance in this way. You may have heard that every successful person in sales has a strong DiSC i style. But your personality doesn’t predict your success at a job. You can be an S style and find a sales position that allows you to sell something you personally value and use your quiet style to reach customers another style might distrust.

Our personalities can shed some light on why it might be hard to make a career change or why we feel stuck. Since we’re all a combination of these four styles, you’re likely to find statements that resonate for you under more than one style.

Roadblocks for the C-style
If you’re a C, you probably hate to admit that you made a mistake taking your current job or in managing your professional life. Or you’re searching for the new system you can introduce to fix most of the problems you see. Or you feel the need to understand fully why your current position isn’t satisfying before you can move on. You might believe that if you keep doing a great job, someone will recognize it and offer you more opportunities. Maybe you’re a little scared of being a beginner again in a new field. You might recognize that networking or getting a coach or mentor would really be a good move, but you hate to ask for help or reach out.

Strengths of the C-style
You’re probably a good planner and can outline the steps you need to take to move on in your career. You’re willing to do your research. Now you simply need to involve others if you want to make a change most successfully. Schedule that informational interview. Join that professional organization. Take the risk that you might have a failure or two along this new path. Be accountable to yourself for your own development.

Roadblocks for the S-style
I bet you hate to make waves. If you leave now, you will cause someone hardship. Maybe you should wait until this one project is completed, until someone is back from family leave, or until your child is in school. Perhaps you know that you’re capable of more responsibility, or a higher role, but you just don’t like to promote yourself. You prefer not to take action until all the information is available and it’s just so hard to look into the future with certainty. The value you place on loyalty and commitments can make it hard to act in your own interests.

Strengths of the S-style
You’ve probably built support systems around you that you can call upon. You can ask for others to advocate for you or to simply give you examples of your skills and talents. Ask for recommendations on LinkedIn, and for introductions to people in the career fields that interest you. Create and lead your own networking group if you can’t find one. Consider asking trusted colleagues or friends to be an advisory board for the next two years of your career. Act in accordance with your values, just be sure to include yourself in what you value. When you feel like you’re bragging, you’re probably just stating the truth.

Roadblocks for the i-style
If you’re an i maybe you just don’t want to lose connections to your coworkers who are also your friends. Maybe you feel a strong affiliation with your organization or field and you don’t want to lose that. If you make a change, you might have to start over again to gain influence. Maybe you’re worried that you’re making a decision that is too emotional and you should just give things more time.

Strengths of the i-style
You can take some time away from your current situation and get the emotional distance you need. Your circle of friends and colleagues can give you helpful feedback about your talents, about following your passions, and what details you might be neglecting about a new career path. You’re the personality most likely excited about new experiences and to seek out a coach. Give yourself the pep talk you’d give to a friend.

Roadblocks for the D-style
You might have made your way up a ladder only to find that you picked the wrong ladder. It can be hard for the D to give up status. It’s also hard to give up personal control. Putting yourself in the job market again gives more power to others than you like. It’s also possible that overconfidence got you into the situation you now want to leave. Both you and the c style need to give some thought to how you leave so you don’t neglect relationships you’ll want to call upon later.

Strengths of the D-style
You like to take action. Changing your career is a challenge and new opportunity–just the kind of experiences you enjoy. Remember to have patience with this new road–it’s not all laid out yet.

A few resources

Be prepared for your own personal struggles with change or with the entire job seeking process. Identify where you might struggle and prepare for that.

Act with confidence
You don’t have to be an extrovert to show confidence. You don’t have to be the most experienced or most intelligent person to be the right fit for a new position.

Watch the video “Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

Read “Executive Presence” for Introverts by Susan Cain

Act even if you’re scared
Fear is not a sign post you need to follow; it’s just a reading like the air temperature. It might feel scary to head north and ford that stream, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go that direction, while watching your footing.

Read “How To Stop Being So Goddamn Scared All The Time,” by Naomi Dunford

Promote yourself without arrogance
Two people can look at a scene and see something different. Sometimes it’s hard to notice what’s there in front of you. Have you heard of the Harvard University experiment showing people a video of a basketball game where a man in a gorilla suit walks across the court, but no one notices it? You don’t want to be that gorilla.

For women: Read “5 Ways to Promote Yourself at Work Without Bragging,” Entrepreneur
For everyone: Read “10 Ways To Brag About Yourself Without Sounding Like A Jerk,” Business Insider and “The Right Way to Brag About Yourself,” Harvard Business Review

Handle upset and disappointment
You can make a mistake, slip-up, or someone didn’t come through for you. It happens. Your challenge now is not to let that paralyze you. There’s probably something to be learned from your error that will contribute to your next success. Sometimes just taking a step, even if it fails, is a success.

Read “A Second Chance to Make the Right Impression,” Harvard Business Review

If you have any advice for those preparing for a job change, please let us know in the comments. What’s worked for you?

by Kristeen Bullwinkle
This article originally appeared on


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