Discovering pride and fulfillment in a career is one of the most challenging undertakings in life, even more so when deciding to explore a new direction mid-career.
In the current market, as individuals decide to make an occupational shift, they are now more open to nontraditional pathways.
Career-changers are seeking both lateral moves and totally new careers. Those with a college degree are sometimes leaving the office to become repair technicians or community education teachers, and a phlebotomist whom I met is studying for his real estate license.
The colors are blurring between white-collar and blue-collar, to create an adaptable multi-collar workplace.
More are unsatisfied and willing to switch directions
LinkedIn participants who are completely satisfied with their position and don’t want to change jobs declined from 29 percent in 2011 to 13 percent in 2015, according to the “Why & How People Change Jobs” report by LinkedIn Talent Solutions.
This study of seven million worldwide LinkedIn members and survey of more than 10,500 job changers revealed some of the reasons individuals switch positions, companies, or occupations. About 51 percent of professionals who completed the survey moved into a different industry.
“One in three who changed jobs, changed careers entirely,” according to the report.
About 34 percent of survey respondents said they took a different job function with a new company because they wanted more challenge, that their prior job was an insufficient fit for their skills, or they were curious to try a new industry. The other 66 percent were lateral movers — taking the same function with a new company — because they were not satisfied with senior leadership, wanted better pay, or were drawn to the direction of the new company.
The LinkedIn report cited the top reasons for leaving a position:
- Concern about lack of advancement opportunities
- Unsatisfied with leadership of senior management
- Unhappy with work environment and company culture
- Desire for more challenging work
- Unsatisfied with pay and benefits
- Concern about lack of recognition for an employee’s contributions
In a January article on TheBalanceCareers.com, “How Often Do People Change Jobs,” job search expert Alison Doyle wrote that most will likely switch jobs 10–15 times during their careers, with an average of a dozen changes.
“The job sectors most frequently ‘changed’ include media and entertainment, government, nonprofits, law, and marketing,” she wrote.
Career change-ups becoming commonplace
“If you’re thinking of changing occupations, you aren’t alone,” wrote Elka Torpey on Career Outlook, BLS.gov. “According to 2015 and 2016 data from the Current Population Survey, about 6.2 million workers (four percent of the total workforce) transferred from one occupational group to another.”
J.T. O’Donnell left the field of human resources (HR) to start her business in 2001 as a career coach.
“After a career in corporate recruiting and HR, I couldn’t watch people suffer at work anymore,” she wrote on Inc.com. “Years of dealing with disgruntled, disengaged people had me wondering, ‘What is wrong with our society and its approach to work?’ I became a career coach so I could help people understand how to find career success and satisfaction on their own terms. I wanted to stop the insanity.”
At that time, the occupation of career coaching was relatively new.
“However, back then, working with a career coach was taboo,” O’Donnell wrote. “You didn’t tell anyone about it. People thought it was a sign of failure.”
She sought to destigmatize using a career coach, and went on to found Work It Daily, an online learning platform featuring career resources and information.
NPR published an article in 2016, “Care for A Career Change-Up? These Stories Are Proof It’s Never Too Late.” It also posted a question about midlife career changes on Facebook and quickly received more than 1,000 responses.
Changing careers for non-market reasons
The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) released the “New Careers for Older Workers” research study in 2015. In the report, an occupational switch is defined as a job change that includes new skills and tasks with the same or a new employer, in the same or to a new industry.
AIER found that individuals shift careers due to market-driven conditions, such as lay-offs, corporate restructuring, or job skills becoming obsolete — or for non-market conditions, such as personal or social factors. Personal reasons include how individuals express their identity, a desire to reduce stress, a change in health, or to move closer to family and friends.
Reasons to change their occupation were affected by whether the decision was made in response to market or non-market conditions. AIER cited a study of 1,705 workers by AARP in 2009.
“Those who faced such market-driven conditions tended to find a new career in a similar field,” wrote senior research analyst Nicole Kreisberg in the AIER report. “Conversely, the study found that those individuals motivated by non-market conditions tended to make more drastic career changes — for example, by going into a different field entirely.”
An abrasive colleague or bullying may prompt a job change-up
Brigette Hyacinth, bestselling author of “The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence,” posted an August article on LinkedIn Pulse contrasting positive leadership with “command and control” management.
“Micromanaging is oppressive, fosters anxiety and creates a high-stress work environment,” Hyacinth wrote. “Eventually, employees will become disenchanted and quit to work for another company. A bad boss can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.”
Incivility and bullying also lead to people leaving organizations.
The Gazette — Cedar Rapids and Iowa City — called workplace bullying a “silent epidemic” in a 2014 article, “When it comes to workplace bullying, employees have limited options.”
Bullying includes humiliation, intimidation, not being able to do one’s job without interference, lack of training or time to learn new skills, and other situations that cause anxiety or dread. The bully may be a supervisor or co-worker.
Unless the bullied employee is a member of a protected class — categories covered by discrimination laws — there haven’t been many successful suits initiated by bullied workers. About 17 percent quit due to bullying, according to The Gazette article.
“Anrew Hosmanek, managing attorney at Hawkeye Law PLC in Iowa City, said he has often advised clients to find a new job to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible to minimize the amount of psychological and emotional damage,” The Gazette wrote.
When being laid off or fired led to a positive career direction
Tristan Layfield worked as a university research technician right after finishing college.
He was fired mainly due to a technological glitch in the digital system recording hours worked and time off, wrote Abby Wolfe on TheMuse.com.
Layfield needed to pay the bills and took a job in retail at a department store. During the next few months he worked his way up into leadership positions, becoming the head of two different departments — men’s and kids’ shoes, and cosmetics. After 18 months, he decided to look for a job that involved a combination of talking to people, sales, and science.
He found a position with a biotechnology company that supplies lab equipment, working with the company for close to five years, and managed more than 20 people in three states. The retail skills he gained helped his career expand. His options may not have opened up in this way had he not lost that first job as a technician.
“If it hadn’t happened, I’d probably still be doing research,” Layfield said in Wolfe’s article. “But my career would be pretty stagnant — there isn’t much room for growth in that field unless you go back to school.”
He now works as a project manager at IBM Watson Health, Wolfe added.
One of the responses to the NPR Facebook question about mid-life career shifts was from Paul Pakusch who lost his TV station control room job after working there for 32 years.
“I took a job as a school bus driver so I could have summers off with my teacher/wife,” he wrote. “I found out I love the job. Who would have thought I’d love driving a big ol’ bus with a bunch of screaming kids?”
This job also allowed Pakusch to develop his side dream gig of becoming a wedding officiant. He uses his existing script-writing skills and has turned it into a small business where he is an important part of a major event in people’s lives.
“I love doing it,” he wrote. “It turns out there’s a lot of demand for what I am able to offer couples who are getting married outside of a traditional church. …Between these two jobs, I hardly feel like I am working and I look forward to what I am doing every day.”
More demand for non-office jobs
Since the first years of the 2000s, students were told to go to college and study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. While there is a growing need for those trained in cyber security and technology, the U.S. workforce is at the same time demanding many willing to work outside of an office.
In an August LinkedIn article by Capucine Yeomans, “The jobs no one wants,” a list of industries with increased needs for new workers include construction, farming, trucking, and 911 call centers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the five fastest growing occupations — from 2016 projected to 2026 — as solar photovoltaic installers, wind turbine service technicians, home health aides, personal care aides, and physician assistants.
White-collar to blue- or multi-collar career changers
Steve Berry wrote on Quora.com that he changed careers from Information Technology (IT) to become an HVAC technician and is excited about his new direction.
“My background is office work, IT neck from bad posture from computer use for so long sitting in a busted chair and eating garbage fried foods all the time,” he wrote. “Sore and computers, I sat at a desk and solved problems, it sucked. I had no name tag, and this sounds off, but no one cared who I was, or my abilities.”
He likes that every HVAC project is a kind of mystery and using specialized tools to solve technical puzzles is fulfilling.
“But the true point of this is, people respect you, and you feel intensely cared about — which is not going to happen in office/IT work,” he wrote.
Office jobs sometimes become routine and comfortable.
“The thing is, few white-collar roles are insufferable — and that makes it all too easy to suffer through a job simply because nothing’s wrong,” wrote Caribou Honig on TheMuse.com. “However, as my senses sharpened in my first few days off the job, I realized ‘nothing wrong’ should not be confused with ‘something right.’”
Certain occupations are societally viewed more highly than others. This causes hesitation for a number of career-movers.
“When I meet people outside of Stanford, they often look up to me simply because I’m a Stanford professor,” education professor John Krumboltz said in a 1991 Stanford University press release. “They don’t know how well I do my job. People are judged on their membership in an occupation — not on how well the job is done. I took my car to a mechanic yesterday — gosh, he’s a talented guy. He gets my highest prestige rating because of the quality of his work. Prestige accrues to those with fancy job titles — not necessarily to those who do good work.”
Krumboltz said that “occupationism” is a type of discrimination just like racism or sexism.
“What’s the harm of occupationism?” Krumboltz asks in the Stanford release. “The harm is that people are often dissuaded from going into occupations in which they would be quite successful and happy because these occupations are not ranked high enough in the prestige hierarchy.”
Conversely, some throw off occupationism.
Another of the responses to the NPR Facebook post was by Phyllis Rittner.
“After 28 years at a law firm where I felt alienated and invisible, I left to pursue the social service work I did shortly after college,” she wrote. “Now I work with seniors, teaching a seated dance program and tai chi. If you are miserable or even mildly unhappy in your job, start now to develop a plan to find what you’d like to do. …Don’t give up. Channel your transition fear into excitement. Yes, I make less money, but I’m finally free and that is worth everything.”
Johanna Wood left her graphic design job after 15 years to work in the culinary field.
“I’m working in a kitchen, and I love it,” she posted to NPR on Facebook. “It’s very physically active, fast-paced and challenging — but most importantly, when I leave for the day, my job is over. I don’t have to worry about clients or deadlines any more. I might wind up back behind a desk before it’s all over with, but I definitely recommend pursuing a passion. I’m making a little less money, but I’m happy.”
A fellow poster, Elizabeth Early — who gave up a sales position to work on earning her college degrees in English, and Adult Education specializing in English as a Second Language (ESL) — agrees.
“I also work as an English tutor, am doing independent research on ESL writers, and freelance as a proofreader/editor,” she wrote. “I will never make the kind of money I did in sales, but I’m so much happier.”
Individuals have a preferred work persona
J.T. O’Donnell wrote on Inc.com that each person has a work “persona” and knowing one’s dominant persona helps an individual express value to an employer. The company will better recognize how an employee’s contribution adds value. Co-workers’ and manager’s expectations will be met to a greater degree.
Personas include builder, educator, mentor, optimizer, researcher, super-connector, visionary, and warrior.
“When you get to provide value in the way you most enjoy, the satisfaction level on-the-job skyrockets,” O’Donnell wrote. “The way you provide this value is called your workplace ‘persona.’ It’s how you want to be known as an expert at work. It’s the foundation of your professional reputation.”
A quiz posted by WorkItDaily.com helps individuals determine dominant personas.
“When you’re on the same page, the relationship is strong and the satisfaction levels for both parties are high,” according to O’Donnell. “It also helps you build your reputation as the ‘go-to’ person for specific types of projects, knowledge, and tasks.”
Switching … to change it up once again
Nicki Payne, who answered the NPR Facebook question, changed careers and then journeyed back to her previous field.
“At age 38, I decided to pursue a nursing degree after working for 15 years as a professional orchestral violinist,” Payne wrote. “I had given birth to triplets three years before, and lost my house in Katrina when they were almost two. I had been thinking about going into health care for many years, and when we lost virtually everything, I felt I needed more security with my work. After completing nursing school in an intense one-year program, then working as a nurse for four years, I realized I desperately missed music and decided to go back to it. I managed to establish a freelance career but also began a teaching studio, which is something I had long dreamed of doing. It is now (touch wood) thriving and it has been tough, but very fulfilling. I adore all my students; I really appreciate being my own boss.”
Never too late
Facebook poster Susan Moon Rowell answered the NPR question with her message that it’s never too late.
“After graduating from college in 1982, I worked for two different companies and was part of their management development programs,” she posted. “I really wanted to be in HR, mostly in recruiting, but never got the opportunity. I stayed home to raise two daughters, working part-time off and on to put food on the table. At 49, I took a job in the front office at my youngest daughter’s high school. I did this for three years and was bored. When she went off to college, I wondered if, at 52, I could get back into my degree field. I was interested in working at a large non-profit in town and after many applications was hired as an ‘on-call.’ I wound up in HR where I was hired full time as the recruiting coordinator and, at age 55, promoted to recruiter. So here I am finally doing what I wanted to do 34 years ago.”
The career journey
A career can be viewed as a journey instead of a destination.
Answering the Facebook post — Leigh Pinner Feagans — ventured with success in a few occupational directions.
“After teaching high school biology for 18 years, and becoming increasingly disillusioned with my job, I retired from teaching,” Feagans wrote. “Most of those years were wonderful. But finally things began to change within my school system and the joy was minimal. Since most teachers need to have a second job to make ends meet, I had for several years volunteered and worked part time at a local pick-your-own farm. Working at the farm is now my only job and life is good. I consider this my fourth career, having worked in the biotech industry for 13 years, at a community college for five years, and high school teaching. Each job gave me the chance to use different skills and acquire more skills. Each change made different parts of my life more rewarding and more manageable. Every change was for the best and I’m glad I had the opportunity to make these changes.”
A few years ago, I spoke with a man who wanted to go to college for about 10 years before returning to school for his high school equivalency diploma. He went on to earn two associate degrees and launched his career as a training and learning coordinator at a large fulfillment center.
He said to me that his advice to others was, “Just don’t give up.”
Counseling Education Guides help job seekers, professionals, and students understand the changing landscapes of higher education and labor trends in the behavioral and mental health sciences sectors: