What to think about if you’re serious about switching careers

Written and accurate as at: 15 February 2023

At some point in life, it’s only natural to consider a career change. As humans, our priorities, expectations and desires can change over time, and the way we feel about work can too. Add in a global pandemic, and it’s no wonder that many Australians have been re-thinking the meaning of work in their lives1

While a change in career may be right for you, there are financial and lifestyle practicalities to consider and plan for, including whether your new career will pay your monthly bills and fit around your other responsibilities. Here are some things to think about if you’re serious about switching:

Road testing your idea

One thing you can do when weighing up a new career, is to make sure you understand what it entails day-to-day. Looking from the outside in, you may have only been exposed to the ‘glamour’ side of the role. But are there downsides to consider, for example, a heavy administrative burden, weekend work, or late nights?

One way to take a look behind the scenes is to road test your desired career by securing some work experience. Using your immediate network as a starting point, you may be able to find a connection to someone working in your field of interest. Casual coffee conversations with the right people may land you with some good advice, a mentor, or even an opportunity for some unpaid work experience. Even one week’s exposure to a new career might be enough to do further investigation and road test whether it may be the right path for you.

Stress testing the numbers

Often, a change in career means taking a step down in seniority while you learn the ropes in your new industry. Being realistic on what starting salary you can expect is crucial in order to assess the financial implications of a change, and properly plan for it if you decide to go ahead. A good starting point might be searching for industry salary benchmarking reports from recruiters who specialise in the industry, or taking a look on job websites such as Seek or LinkedIn to see what level of salary your desired job is offering.

With the cost of living on the rise, it may be more important than ever to crunch the numbers. How would your household cope with a 20% drop in your income, for example? How secure is your potential industry and how would you cope if you were to lose your job? Do your medium-long term goals or current financial strategy need adjusting to accommodate a change in your finances? These are important financial questions to ask right at the outset.

Just as important is to consider your chances of securing your first job. Researching job availability and potential is crucial to assessing how long you may be looking for work. Government websites such as Jobs and Skills Australia, Labour Market insights or Your Career can be useful resources. 

Looking at the practicalities from every angle

It may be that you’ve put in several years of study or gained significant experience to get to where you are today in your current career. What may be some of the requirements of your new career? Will you need to study, and if so, how will you manage this study (and the expense) around your existing work and family commitments?

And, when you’re in your new role, will the hours fit seamlessly into your family life, or will you need to make some adjustments. For example, if you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, you may need to be prepared to do some evening or weekend marking. If you’re considering a career in nursing, will you be prepared to work a changing roster that could involve night and weekend shifts? Could you handle a role where your physical presence was required, and flexible working was no longer an option? These are all important practicalities to weigh up as you explore a new career.

Planning your exit runway

If, after your research, you decide to go forward with a career switch, then you need to plan your exit runway. Your exit runway is your transition plan from your current career to your new one. It allows you the time (and money) to find your feet and get into full swing with your new career. 

For example, your exit runway may include a plan for scaling down hours in your current job while you study or find part time work in your new one. It may include having a lump sum amount of savings to support you during the transition, or while you look for a new job. How long your runway might be really depends on your financial resources, family circumstances and your tolerance for uncertainty. Ideally, you may transition seamlessly from one career into another, but you need to be prepared that it may not happen this way.

Having a plan B up your sleeve

Even with the best of intentions and groundwork, you may need to have a back up plan if your plan A doesn’t work. For example, you may decide that your new career isn’t what you thought it would be. Or, you may even miss your old one and realise that it wasn’t a career switch, but a new job, you needed.

Once you cut ties with your current employer, it’s important to think about your options if you decide to go back to your current career, or if you want to keep looking for a new one.

1 https://www.unsw.edu.au/study/your-future/great-reshuffle