5 signs you're ready to change careers

Mar 25, 2024

5 mins

5 signs you're ready to change careers

What was your dream job growing up? Is that what you’re doing now? For most of us, probably not. As a child, career possibilities seem endless, but as we grow and gain experience, our skills and interests change. Contrary to the way our educational and professional institutions are designed, that growth doesn’t stop during adulthood. For most workers, our careers are a little different than our inner children may have imagined—which is probably for the best in most cases (even though superhero-nurse-ninja sounds very cool).

However, there is a chance that you’re second-guessing your career choice. Considering a career change at any time in your professional development can feel quite daunting. Perhaps you’re afraid of the feeling of “throwing away” the years and resources you spent on your education, or maybe the idea of learning a new skill set, building a new network, and starting from scratch just feels overwhelming.

Still, these feelings are natural and they shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your passions. The average person spends a total of 90,000 hours working, meaning roughly one-third of your lifetime is spent on your career. So, is the risk of making a change greater than dedicating such a large part of your life to something you don’t enjoy? It’s also important to note that making a career switch is not rare, in fact, it’s actually quite common. The turbulence in the workforce over the past few years has made many workers reconsider their profession, with 49% of employees in one study reporting making a “dramatic career change.” With all that in mind, let’s look at five key signs that it might be time to set out on a new career path.

1. You don’t enjoy your work

Making a career change isn’t a decision that should be made on a whim, in fact, the average time workers spend considering making a switch is 11 months before taking any action. So, even if you’re feeling the itch to make a change, there are a few things to consider before taking concrete steps. The first, and most important is to differentiate between your current job and your career and industry as a whole and identify which aspect actually needs to change.

You need to take a holistic approach to reflecting on your work and determine if you truly don’t enjoy your field anymore. If you’re struggling with burnout or dissatisfaction at work, it’s important to look at what factors are affecting your mental health. Are you feeling overwhelmed with your current workload, do you not like your boss or are you not a good fit with your current company culture? If these issues are making you reconsider your career, it may simply be time to find a new position, not a new career. However, if it’s the work itself that no longer fulfills you and you can’t see yourself thriving in any company or role in your industry, that’s a sure sign that it may be time to start planning a change.

2. Your skills aren’t being used

If you’re a skilled worker, you likely spent a lot of time and resources on your education, training, and professional development to gain the skills you now take pride in. Everyone has a unique skill set, interests, and ambitions that they want to apply to the work they do, so what should you do if your skills aren’t being used in your daily work? Some people might not mind doing work that they didn’t set out to, but for some, not being able to use your skills at work can make you feel stunted or undervalued.

Again, it’s important to identify if it’s just your current role that doesn’t allow you to thrive. Maybe your day-to-day doesn’t align with the job description and you should start looking for a new position, but maybe your industry has changed, and the parts of your work you once enjoyed just aren’t part of the field anymore. If you have your eye set on an industry that really requires a unique skill set that you possess, it may be worth it to change course for something where you can make a greater impact.

3. Your development has plateaued

Another sign that you may not be a good fit for your current career is if your level of ambition doesn’t align with the opportunities in your industry. Many people are content with a mid-level job with a steady routine that pays the bills and allows them to focus on their life outside of work. However, some people are very career-oriented, with big ambitions of rising to the top of their field, and on the other hand, some workers simply enjoy being challenged in their work, and constantly learning new skills. It’s all a matter of equally valid lifestyle preferences.

So, if you fall in the latter group, hitting a ceiling in your career can be quite disheartening. Perhaps you’ve made it to a senior level, but still feel you have more to learn and experience, or maybe you work in an industry where it’s extremely difficult to rise up in the ranks. If it seems like there are no more promotions on the horizon and no new challenges to tackle, you’re probably better suited to an industry with more growth potential and opportunities for professional development and upskilling.

4. Your salary isn’t cutting it

While it may seem superficial when it comes to factors that influence your personal fulfillment, it’s a sad fact that money does play a large part in our personal and professional lives. Money doesn’t always buy happiness, but it’s up to you to decide how you balance your passions with your salary requirements. While changing jobs does lead to a significant increase in salary, it’s possible that your field may simply not pay enough. You might be passionate about your career in the arts or public service, but sometimes those jobs just don’t cut it, especially if you’ve recently had or are planning a large lifestyle change. Perhaps you’re a new parent, or you’ve decided to start saving to buy a house and the industry standard just isn’t enough for your new lifestyle. It may not be as inspiring as other reasons to change careers, but it is still a valid influence.

5. You’re willing to go back to school

One of the biggest barriers workers face when thinking about a career change is education. Most jobs require a relevant bachelor’s degree or industry experience, and if you’re considering a specialized or highly skilled field, it could even require one or two advanced degrees. If you’re considering making a big shift, there’s a very real possibility that you could be looking at going back to school for several years. Of course, there are many different variables that will impact this, such as your current level of study and the overlap between your current field and the one you want to move into.

If your dream job is in a similar industry, it may only require some extra training or a certificate, but if you’re looking to move into a senior-level position or teach, it could require going back for a Master’s or even a Doctorate, meaning you could be looking at 2 to 7 years of full-time education. So, your willingness to return to school may be the biggest sign that you’re truly committed to changing career paths. If you have the time, resources, and willingness to begin new studies, it’s a sure sign that it’s time for a change. If this feels daunting, you won’t be alone and it is possible! Nearly 20% of adults are either considering returning to school or have already done so in order to pursue a new career.

Changing careers is a big decision, and these are just a few of the many reasons that you might be ready to pursue a new professional path. Whether all of these signs apply to you or none of them do, only you can know what’s right for your professional development, personal goals, and overall well-being. The most important thing is to know that it’s never too late to try something new, and fear of the unknown should never be what stands between you and your dream job.

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