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It’s probably time to make a career change

Now is a great time to make a career change. Our personalities can shed some light on why it might be hard to do.
8 min read

Why you should change jobs

Research suggests that people change their roles every two to four years and most are moving between organizations. To keep advancing in our careers, to keep work interesting, or even to remain with our current employer, many of us move to new roles, perform new tasks, and learn new skills. This makes us more valuable.

Almost half of a worker’s lifetime earnings are attributable to the skills that they acquire through work experience.

Anu Madgavkar

If gaining work experience is the best way to increase our skills, then our mobility is vital to gaining that work experience. We often won’t have the opportunity of moving into roles requiring skills adjacent to our own unless we change organizations or divisions. Even if you move to a new job with the same title, new roles almost always demand that we develop new skills, learn new tools and techniques, and stretch our softer skills. All this makes us more valuable to our next employer and provides us with more flexibility in what job to take.

Even a lateral move, or one without a salary increase, can be beneficial in the long run. A bold move can set the momentum for your future. As of this writing (October 2022), pay raises for job hoppers are the biggest they’ve been in more than two decades. Even if this doesn’t remain true, a job change today could be rewarding in other ways.

Success does not lie in sticking to things. It lies in picking the right thing to stick to and quitting the rest.

Annie Duke, Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away

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

stepping stonesMany of us have a hard time with change, even if we already know what our first steps should be. Taking those first bold actions can be hard. You have to consider your personal finances, job availability, household implications, etc. The real first step, however, might be making up your mind.

Some time ago a friend asked for advice about whether I thought she should quit her job. At that time, Freakonomics was running an experiment around the upside of quitting, so I encouraged her to take part in it. I told her to let the Freakonomics 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 of months, she was approached by another division to apply for a higher position, which she eventually took.

Like most of the people in the Freakonomics 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. This is what the data tells us: if you can’t decide, it means you should have quit already and you should 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, or land a plum assignment, we’ll love our jobs again.

In economics, this spent 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 seem to be 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 expand your research to include 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

Your personality doesn’t predict your success at a job. However, 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 in taking your current job or in managing your professional life. 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
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 others to advocate for you or simply give you examples of your skills and talents. Ask for recommendations on LinkedIn, and for introductions to people in the career fields or companies 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 type, maybe you 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 a new opportunity—just the kind of experiences you enjoy. You’re likely to consider what role your prospective employer can play for you and take a longer-term view. Your confidence means you’re also more likely to apply for positions where you don’t exactly match the job description.

Whatever your DiSC® style, you are not limited by either your personality or your past choices. You can stretch yourself and move toward your career goals, even as they shift and change. Don’t let a current employer limit your learning and advancement.

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 signpost 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 Facing your fears: The reasons you’re scared to start, Scotty Russell

Read Entrepreneurship: What To Do When You’re Scared Sh*tless, 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.

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 have someone not 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


Kristeen Bullwinkle

Steeped in Everything DiSC since 2010. Strongly inclined CD style. Leadership style and EQ mindset: resolute. Believes strongly in the serial comma.

Certifications from Wiley:
Everything DiSC, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team

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