Changing Careers in a Recession


By Kevin M

When ever the economy turns sour, there?s a general tendency to stay on current jobs as long as possible, under the belief that it?s better to stay where we?re established than to go to another company where we?ll be the new/low man on the totem pole. In addition, an often reflexive response to the news of a job loss, or an impending one, is to immediately seek new employment at competing firms within the same industry.

On the surface, these strategies have merit. In the former, we hold on as long as possible, hoping that either we?ll keep our current situation as long as possible, or maybe we?ll even out last the downturn. It seems to make sense to stay in the same career and in the same industry?after all, that?s where our skills are concentrated, and where we have the greatest income potential. But do these represent the best strategies?

In 10 Ways To Survive a Down Economy (published on June 1) we listed ten strategies to help you deal with the bad economy. Our topic for today, Strategy #4:

Consider a career change. This is especially true if you?re in a declining industry. If the end is certain, take action sooner rather than later. Don?t hang on trying to be the last man standing. It?ll be painful no matter when you do it, but always try to operate on your own terms and in your own time, not on someone else?s.

The stay-or-go decision

A career change isn?t an endeavor to be taken lightly, especially during a recession. But most people are aware of a job loss, often months before it actually happens; the question is, do you ignore it and hope for the best, or do you use the time you have to some advantage? Research the trends in your industry in general, and at your company in particular, and be realistic about the prospects. Ask the following questions:

What are the dominant recent trends at my company and in my industry? Pay particular attention to industry changes. Are there trends affecting your entire industry? How is your company handling those trends? Is off-shoring or outsourcing functions and departments critical to industry or company survival? What does that mean for you?

What are the likely future prospects in my current industry? Is the industry growing or declining? If it?s declining, is it primarily because of the current state of the economy, or?very important?was the decline evident even before the recession? If it was in decline prior to the recession, it may be a more significant longer term trend that was exaggerated (but not caused) by the general economic troubles. In that case, circumstances may not improve much when the economy does.

How does my skill set match up with those prospects? If your industry is changing, evolving, how well positioned are YOU in the midst of those changes? Can you upgrade your skills to match the trend, or do you mostly see yourself hanging on until retirement or a severance package? Does the survival of your company depend largely on its ability to function with fewer employees? What does that mean for you?

What other industries might be a good fit for a person with my skill set? This is a central question to ask while you?re still employed. List and evaluate the skills you have?what other industries or careers might be a natural move for you? How difficult would it be to supplement your existing skills with new ones that will make you more employable. Discuss it with trusted friends or with people employed in careers you?d consider. A large part of the stay-or-go question will be answered by the career alternatives afforded by the transferability of the skills you already have.

The opportunity cost of staying where you are

Not many people think in terms of opportunity cost in connection with staying on their present job, especially during recessions. But in point of fact, there are opportunity costs involved even if you don?t recognize them.

During recessions, some companies and industries don?t survive. Others survive, but only barely, often collapsing after expansion in the general economy takes hold. That?s the part we know and can see. But there?s a flip side to this dynamic.

Bad economies have a way of leveling the playing field, of bringing down the established companies. In the process, opportunity arises for new companies?businesses who will come in and do the work of the declining ones, but do it cheaper, faster, better and maybe with additional benefits. This transition is often happening just below human sight; while most people in the industry are focused on keeping their jobs with established companies, these upstarts are entering the market and quietly displacing older companies.

In some cases, entire industries are being replaced by new ones?consider how the print media is rapidly being replaced by the internet. While industry replacements may be easier to see, they aren?t always so easy to play from an employment standpoint.

By staying on at older companies in the hope of preserving some sense of security, a very real opportunity cost develops when we fail to see that long term, the real employment opportunities may be at some companies that haven?t been around all that long. And while older, less competitive businesses are declining, strong upstart companies are coming to the marketplace who will dominate the future and be the source of better jobs. And it?s often during recessions that such companies are gearing up, hiring and grooming future leaders. This is generally the best time to get into these companies, while they?re growing and hungry for new talent.

Testing the waters first

If you?re unsure of a move to a new career or to a job outside your current industry, the best way to test the waters may be through a part time job. Emerging companies and industries may be more open to part time arrangements than the established ones, since their employment patterns may also be in a state of flux. Many times, organizations that wouldn?t consider hiring you for full time work, will be less hesitant in hiring you for part time. Once inside, you?ll have a chance to prove your worth, even if you don?t have all of the preferred qualifications.

A part time job will provide an opportunity to try out a career situation without risking your current job?as well as providing a ready place to work if you lose your full time job. Getting into a new career or industry and actually doing the job is the best way possible to make a pending change real. In addition it?s way to gain valuable new skills, or?just as important?to find out which skills you need. It?s also a chance to gain some valuable new contacts; many people shy away from changing industries or careers because they don?t know anyone in the field?problem solved!

Though there is always risk involved when changing careers, those risks can often be managed. It?s usually better to start managing change early on, when the handwriting is on the wall but the ax has not yet fallen. And sometimes, the greatest risk of all is to stay where you?re at and do nothing.

4 Responses to Changing Careers in a Recession

  1. Hi. Some really good advice in here. Finding the right career path can be tough, especially in a down economy.
    I couldn’t help but think of a story Danny sent us, about being financially successful but no happy in his job. He made the tough decision to leave and follow his dream and become a full-time musician.
    A link to his video is below. I hope you like it. And if you do, give him a vote — winning videos will be featured in a Mutual of Omaha tv ad!
    Thanks and have a great day.

  2. Very helpful post in these times Kevin. Testing the waters as you right is key. Perhaps a little bit of moonlighting here and there as everybody always thinks the grass is greener elsewhere.

  3. Our home business was really affected by the Economic recession, we have to cut jobs just to cover up our losses. fortunately, we have already recovered. ‘

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