Switching careers? 5 things you need to know

Asking for a raise: Women vs. men
Asking for a raise: Women vs. men

No matter how you spend your workdays, you may reach a point where you just plain need a change. Maybe you're ready for something more creative, or you want to start helping people rather than continuing to grow your company's bottom line. The good news is that it's really never too late to switch careers -- as long as you get a handle on these consequences that might ensue.

1. You may have to start back at the bottom

Perhaps you were a senior manager at your last company or held a highly coveted VP position. That's all fine and good, but if you're moving to a completely new career, you may come to find that you're eligible for nothing more than an entry-level position. Even though certain job skills might translate from one industry to another, if you have zero experience in your new field, the fact that you've spent the past decade working elsewhere may not do you much good -- and you'll need to accept that before you give up your current role and start pursuing brand-new opportunities.

2. Your income might drop

Switching to a new career often means accepting a lower salary than what you're used to -- even if your new field is generally more lucrative than your old one. That's why it's important to make sure you have a healthy emergency fund before your income drops.

Say you're looking at a solid year of bringing home $500 less each month. Unless you have options for cutting your living costs, you'll need savings to tap while you work your way up to a higher pay scale.

Along these lines, even if you've mentally made your peace with that salary drop, before you start applying for lower-paying roles, take a look at your budget to see how little you can really afford to be making. If you need a minimum of $60,000 a year to cover your essentials, then you'll know not to bother pursuing opportunities that don't meet that requirement.

3. You may need to learn some new skills

Certain skills, like time management and organization, are just plain universal. But if your last job involved crunching numbers in the privacy of your office, and now you're applying for a sales position, you may need to study up on effective public speaking and presentations.

Before you apply for a completely new role, make sure you're actually qualified to take it on. You may need to attend some classes or even shadow a professional in your new field for a month or two before you're in a position to do that sort of work yourself. The sooner you figure out what it is you need to do -- and learn -- to get hired in your new field, the smoother the job search process will be.

4. Your lifestyle might change

Different careers have varying demands. IT professionals, for example, tend to get called after hours to deal with emergencies, while retail professionals typically get to pack up and call it a day when their shifts end. If you're used to a certain work schedule and make the decision to pursue a completely new career, you should know that it might alter your lifestyle -- for better or for worse.

For example, if you're used to a nine-to-five job and give it up to become a teacher, you'll need to get on board with the idea of bringing work home with you and fielding evening calls from parents. This isn't to say that you shouldn't make a switch if you think you'll find your new role more fulfilling; just be aware of the lifestyle changes that may come with it.

5. You might really need to defend your decision

It's one thing to start out as a graphic artist and apply for a job at an advertising firm, but it's another thing to forego a six-figure finance gig in favor of a junior designer position paying one-quarter as much.

Though you might be perfectly content with your decision, you can bet that as you embark on your job search, the folks interviewing you are going to have a lot of questions. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be prepared for. The sooner you perfect your explanation, the easier a time you'll have fielding these inquiries. (Incidentally, having a little speech ready will also come in handy if you have nosy friends or pushy parents who ask similar questions.)

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Switching to a new field could be just the thing to invigorate your career and save you from a lifetime of boredom, burnout, or both. The key is to know what you're getting into as you navigate what should be an exciting time in your professional life.

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