Making a Career Change…Gracefully

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The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Kevin Mercadante, who is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry.

Many people would like nothing better than to quit their current job – and leave their career entirely – in favor of one that they’re sure they would like better. If you are unemployed, or certain that you will be in the coming weeks, that might be a winning strategy. But if you’re career is fairly stable, and your main reason for wanting to go into a new one is because you are not happy doing what you’re doing, then your best bet is to make the change gradually and gracefully.

Taking a career plunge comes with enormous risks, especially if you have a family to support. By making the move gradually, you can reduce or even remove those risks entirely. It will take some patience, but will be worth the effort.

If you want to make a career change with less risk, try some of the following…

Taking full advantage of your “highest and best use”

This is actually a term used in real estate appraising. An appraiser is assigned the task of providing a value for a property based on its “highest and best use”. People are just like property – we have multiple abilities, or “uses” – but there is usually one that represents our highest and best. That is the career in which you have the highest earning capability.

Chances are, your highest and best use as a career is the one you have right now. This is because your current career is almost certainly where you have the greatest earning potential. That’s why you’re still in that field. But rather than run away from this, you should plan to use it to your advantage.

If you’re earning a comfortable income, you can use that to bridge your self into the new career, and there several ways that you can and should do this.

Get your finances ready

We don’t often think about personal finances in connection with a career change, but it’s actually more important than it seems at first glance. More often than not, a career change involves a reduction in income. You’ll need to be prepared for this every bit as much as you will need to master the skills of your new career.

Making your career change gracefully will give you a huge advantage here. It will give you the time that you need to payoff any lingering debts, and to build up your savings. The elimination of debts will enable you to live on less money, while additional savings will provide a cushion that will help you to survive on the new, lower income.

If you decide to make a career change, one of your first steps should be moving as much money as you can into both debt reduction and savings. Success on both fronts will not only make the financial transition easier, but it will also give you confidence that your finances can withstand the move.

Make constructive use of your spare time

The best way to make a career change is to start right from where you’re at right now. That will mean making constructive use of your spare time.

It’s not uncommon to sense being out of control when it comes to time, and this is particularly true if you have a fairly demanding career. But, perhaps the first step toward making a career change will be precisely to get control of your time.

There are certain steps you will have to take in order to make a career change, and you will have to make sure that you have the time to take those steps. Take a close look at your schedule and see where you can free up as much time as possible to do what you need to do to make a career change. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish in just two or three hours a day, or just 10 to 15 hours per week.

What do you need to spare time for?

Get any training you can before making the jump

If you are changing careers, you’ll probably need to get additional training that will at least get you up to the minimum qualifications required for the field. Use your spare time – while you’re still in your current career – to both investigate and to pursue any training and/or qualification requirements that you will need for the new field.

This may mean taking courses, doing home study, or even working out some sort of apprenticeship. Whatever it is that you will need, take advantage of the time you have now – as well as your current employer’s paycheck – to acquire it. As a rule, it will be easier and less expensive to obtain training and qualifications before entering the new field than it will be once you’re in.

Online courses are a great way to achieve this additional training because they allow you to complete a university degree in your spare time. For example, if you feel trapped within your current career and want to begin applying for management positions, an advanced degree like the Master of Public Administration and Policy, might be a great option. This particular degree provides you with skills in administration, economics, budgeting, organizational analysis, managing assets, project management, and leadership. If you are looking to break into management, a program like this might be the best way to go.

Take advantage of the time that you have right now.

Get to know people in your new career ahead of time

In order to enter any new career field it will be essential that you have viable contacts within the new field. That’s another task that you can accomplish before leaving your current job.

The Internet makes that easier than ever. Surf the web and look for networks centered around the new career field. Get to know as many people as you can, as they can not only be potential leads for jobs, but they might also point you in the right direction as far as your career development is concerned. The more people you know in the field you’re going into the easier the transition will be.

There is one caveat here however. You have to find a way to network outside your career field without making it obvious to your current employer. Any indication that you may be looking to jump ship could cause you lose your job ahead of schedule. For this reason, you may want to start the networking venture until you are closer to the time you actually want to make the change.

Start with a part-time arrangement

Still another potential spare time application will be getting into a part-time arrangement in the new career field. This is not possible in all jobs, or in all career fields, but where it is possible to arrange, it will prove the be a huge advantage.

In many career fields, having at least some experience will open doors that will otherwise be closed. A part-time arrangement will not only give you hands-on experience, but it will also teach you the “language” of the new field (every field has one), as well as giving you some valuable contacts within the industry. If a part-time option is open take full advantage of it.

Making the leap of faith

If you’ve done at least most of the steps above, when the time comes to make a break from your current career, you should be able do so with a lot more confidence. You’ll have the training and qualifications that you need, your finances will be prepared, you’ll have networking contacts and hopefully, at least some light experience.

All of that will come about because you will have taken advantage of the time while you’re still in your current career. Does that sound like a plan?

How about you all? Have you had to make a career change in the past? If so, how did you make the transition so that you didn’t upset anyone?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

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  1. Hi John, it really helps to have your spouse on the same page and working in the same direction. In your case, your wife started running the business. But just having a spouse holding a steady job with benefits can ease the transition, especially into self employment.__It doesn’t have to be a spouse either. If you’re starting a business you can also bring in a trusted partner who can either go in ahead of you, or share the load as you both ease in gradually. __I’m glad to hear that it worked for you!__

  2. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    I made the jump last year to running my own business and many of these apply. Thankfully my wife had been running it for several years and was already somewhat established, so we knew it was viable before I jumped.
    My recent post Finding Qualified Help for Eliminating Debt: 5 Steps

  3. myfijourney says:

    I would say to make sure that your new career is actually going to be better than your old one. I've known a few people who jump from job to job because they hate their job. And then they hate the next job. And the next one. One guy I know has covered almost every possible career within his field. He still hates his job.
    My recent post Dividend Growth Investing vs the S&P500

  4. I'll be honest… I hit a breaking point. I feel bad for hte peoploe mentioned in @myfitjourney comment, but sometimes, you just gotta go. I quit, and I'm moving to Hawaii on Tuesday. I've got no plan, and maybe it could have been done better, but what's done is done and now I have to make the best of it!
    My recent post Canada 2012

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