Before Changing Careers, Consider Your Motivation

If you can pinpoint why you want a career change, you might be able to make a smoother transition.

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Tim Tyrell-Smith
As the economy begins to (slowly) improve, many of us are thinking about the work we do, and why we do it. And some of us are thinking that it’s time for a change.

Changing careers is more common than it was a decade ago. Some companies offer less employment stability and provide fewer benefits to motivate long-term stays. At the same time, job seekers have the option to consider portfolio careers (working for multiple companies at the same time) or join the sizable temporary workforce as a contract worker.

If a career change is in your future, you probably know you need to figure out which career is right for you. But what you might forget is to consider why you want that change.

What’s driving you to switch careers? How can you use that knowledge to decide which career direction to take, how to make a smooth transition, and when to get started?

Here are five motivating forces for career change, as well as ideas on how to follow through if you fall into each category:

1. You’d like to earn more money.

There’s nothing wrong with money being your motivating force. We all want a little cushion for upcoming bumps in the road. But if your sole motivating factor is money, a career change might not be your best option.

A career change often includes a move down—not up—the ladder of responsibility and title. Instead, consider looking for ways to stand out in your current job. Begin networking internally, offer to be part of a new cross-functional project, or apply for better jobs within your company or industry.

If a larger change is your best option, look for ways to increase your value on a resume, so the change is likely to result in a raise. Develop new skills, education, or experience that will be relevant to a new employer, possibly through internships, contract projects, or pro bono work. That will help hiring managers perceive you as a stronger candidate, one that’s worth paying for.

[See 10 Jobs That Offer a Big Bang for Your Buck.]

2. Your industry or function is shrinking.

Is your industry or job function on its way out? If technology or overseas competition has made your original career choice less desirable, you’re smart to begin the transition process. Look for careers that are in demand, ones that are in adjacent industries or positions, where your skills and background add value. And begin now to re-educate yourself, gaining more modern skill sets.

3. You feel the need to follow a passion.

Did you follow the crowd out of college into your current profession? Did you let others influence your degree choice? Now is a great time to explore the ideas you are interested in by building a passion-based career.

Here’s one way to go about it: Create an idea book and start building a portfolio of options. These should be ideas that really get your engine running. Then build your skill sets and networks in those fields. You might write a blog that leads to a writing career or start a book club to begin collaborating with independent bookstores. Or maybe you’ll work on a small business part time until you can prove its value. By setting yourself up strategically, you’re more likely to make a smooth transition.

[See How to Make a Career Change That Seems Impossible.]

4. You’d like to play a more significant role in the world.

Motivation to give back or make a difference—or move your life’s focus from success to significance—can be powerful. But first, try to follow your passion within the context of your current position. If helping at-risk youth is important, suggest it as a focus for your company’s annual charity drive. You could even lead the initiative. Giving back is a great way to build a more stable career and life platform (http://timsstrategy.com/5-ways-to-build-a-stable-career-and-life-platform/), even if you decide to stick with your current career.

If you’re determined to focus a larger portion of your life on giving back, you can certainly create a plan to get there. But it will take time, sacrifice, and likely a reduction in pay, at least initially.

[See the social service jobs that made our Best Careers list this year.]

5. You want independence.

When it comes to your career, independence can be defined in many ways. Maybe you’d like to be your own boss, work with a more flexible schedule, or report to more of a mentor than a boss. Maybe you question authority, or no longer believe in the mission of your company or boss. Maybe you feel like you can do the job better on your own.

Again, look for flexibility and independence in your current job before jumping ship. Ask your boss if you can work one Friday a month from home or take on an independent project before you make the decision to leave for greener pastures.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

If a career change is bubbling up in you, consider what’s motivating you to change. That might help you become a better employee, whether or not you decide to switch jobs.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim's Strategy, a site that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter, @TimsStrategy, and share his 30 Ideas Book with job-seeking friends.