4 Things To Consider When Contemplating A Major Career Change

Bringing some certainty to an incredibly uncertain job market.

Are you contemplating a big career change? Tell us how you're prepping in the comments below.

Kelly Lynch spent 15 years of her career in equity trading and then private wealth management. When the economy tanked in 2008, Lynch was one of the few in the banking industry who still had a job. That didn’t stop her from worrying. “I started to lose interest [in finance] years ago and had always dreamed of working in sports,” she tells Fast Company. While she grappled with leaving when so many others were unemployed, Lynch admits, “I worried I was letting a more fulfilling career pass me by.”

For a while she tried to break into the business while still holding down her day job. “Working full time left little energy toward making a real change,” she explains. So early last year she gave her boss 3 months' notice, then left to focus on getting a job in sports; today, she is assistant athletics business manager at University of California, Berkeley.

Lynch is one of thousands of U.S. workers who’s contemplated a career shift, even in the wake of a wobbly economy. A study conducted during the depths of the recession found that 43 percent of workers said they’d take less pay for more meaningful work according to The Kelly Global Workforce Index. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds people taking the plunge in droves. The median number of years a person is with an employer is just over four.

This trend towards shorter job tenures goes hand-in-hand with volatile times that demand regular adaptation to risk to succeed at reinvention. While some members of Generation Flux make it seem easy to be fearless (hello danah boyd), the more cautious-minded find change a scary prospect. Especially with bills to pay, mouths to feed (your own counts!) and finite funds.

So Fast Company talked to the folks who navigated the turbulent waters (or helped others do it) and emerged on the shores of fulfillment. Here is their best advice.

Risk and Reward: Shift to a Startup
Joanne Wilson, the angel investor known to many as simply Gotham Gal, has mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years. Her best advice before making the leap: “Park your tush at General Assembly (or an incubator/co-working space close to you) and start meeting other entrepreneurs.” Wilson maintains that those smitten by the idea of starting a business can get a better read of the landscape and the marketability of their idea by attending pitch events and making connections with other entrepreneurs.

Those conversations could lead to collaborative efforts with founders of other startups, which Wilson says is key to understanding whether you are really cut out for helming an early stage venture. Building a company is “a drudge,” she reminds entrepreneurial hopefuls. “If something sparks then you can jump ship and eat ramen until you’re profitable.”

Nothing But Net(working): Shifting to a Dream Job
Lynch found both professional and collegiate sports to be a very small, competitive industry filled with folks who had advanced sports management degrees, strong alumni networks and years of experience. So Lynch sat herself down and made lists of her transferrable skills and noted what she could add by taking classes. Her financial services background could potentially land her in an operational role but she took accounting at a local community college just to refresh her resume.

Meanwhile, she networked through “a handful of friends who knew somebody somewhere." Informational interviews and meetings followed and eventually landed her the Berkeley position. “I couldn't have done this without taking a different perspective on the power of networking, and doing networking the right way,” she says. “Don't be afraid to ask your work contacts or friends to put you touch with someone who's in a field that interests you.”  

Social Responsibility: Shift to the Nonprofit Sector
Not long ago, Nancy Lublin of DoSomething.org wrote a manifesto for people using the recession as an excuse to break into the business of changing the world. “News flash: We're not a bunch of dummies in Birkenstocks,” wrote Lublin, who proceeded to give readers a dressing down about every misconception from corporate experience (“When was the last time you built a brand with a budget of zero?”) to perks (“Not-for-profit people work crazy hours too--without the promise of overtime pay or the possibility of a car service to take us home at 10 p.m. when we finally turn the lights off. FYI: We turn those lights off by ourselves.")

Alice Korngold, who’s been consulting, training, and placing executives on nonprofit boards for decades offers a few words of wisdom. “Consider skills-based volunteering, and nonprofit board service,” as well as reading relevant books that connect corporate and nonprofit organizations.

Sharpen Your Pencil: Shift to Graduate School
Andria Krewson left the Charlotte Observer in 2009 after a 24-year tenure. At the time, Krewson observed journalism going through a “sea change” so she signed up for
a certificate through the University of North Carolina's journalism school. After trying her hand at freelancing and landing a gig as a political correspondent for the Columbia Journalism Review, Krewson still felt she wanted to earn her graduate degree--online.

“As rigorous as an on-campus program but designed for working professionals, [UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication] launched in August 2011 and I leaped at a program that offered the ability to keep working while getting a master's,” she says.

While the media industry continued to shrink, Krewson kept building freelance work in line with her studies. “I had two good clients and increasing confidence because of classwork and supportive fellow students reinventing for the digital world,” she says.

Krewson cautions, “Lots of online programs exist now, and not all programs match the rigor of ‘real’ school.” As for making the investment, Krewson adds, “In the worst case scenario, I'll aim to put off grad-school loans until I retire,” which she admits may be a long time coming. “Knowing that also made the investment in more education important,” she adds.

Are you contemplating a big career change? Tell us how you're prepping in the comments below.

[Image: Flickr user Lisa Bokt]