The 5 Biggest Mistakes Career Changers Make

Here at PayScale, we’ve highlighted the success stories of many career changers from all walks of life, age groups, and backgrounds. However, what we haven’t discussed in great detail are some of the potential pitfalls of switching careers. Any career change has a 50/50 chance of going either good or bad. For the brave at heart, a career change can be the best thing to happen to an individual seeking a new and better opportunity.

(Image Credit: Stuart Miles/

Let’s look at some factors surrounding career changers, the mistakes people make, and how to avoid these if you are in the process of changing occupations.

How Many People Have the Potential for Switching Careers in America?

For the 11.5 million people displaced by the Great Recession (August 2013, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ), there have been some tough career decisions made in terms of where the next paycheck would be coming from. Nearly half of those who have been unemployed or underemployed have been so for 27 weeks or more, despite the current reduction in the total US unemployment rate (down to 7.4 percent). This means many people have had to take on second, even third jobs to put bread on the table while they plan the next course of action in terms of their careers.

Are We a Nation of Career Changers?

It’s been estimated by career experts that in the course of one adult working lifetime, a person can change careers as many as seven times. In 2010, at the height of the Recession, Wall Street Journal reported that BLS researchers had shown that, “job changes are common early in a person’s working years: Three in four workers age 16 to 19, and half between 20 and 24, have been with their current employers for under a year.” However, they were quick to point out that these figures do not take into consideration the mature workforce that is forced to leave jobs because of layoffs and company shut-downs, and that many younger workers switch jobs due to temporary or seasonal summer assignments and college demands.

What are Some Mistakes that Career Changers Make?

The truth about changing careers at any stage of life or career growth is that mistakes can and do happen sometimes. Whether a job change is planned out or spur of the moment, these are some of the most common mistakes with switching jobs.

  1. 1. Not putting away enough in savings. We all live in uncertain times, therefore it’s important to develop a savings mindset. Career changers are advised to sock away at least two to three months’ salary, but realistically it should be closer to six months’ worth if you want to maintain a stable lifestyle. Forgetting this basic fact can put you in the poorhouse in a short period of time, and cause you to focus on survival vs. career growth.
  2. 2. Forgetting to draw on previous career strengths. Just because you are changing careers doesn’t mean you should throw all caution to the wind and leave your old work experiences behind. Too many people fall into the trap of forgetting the accomplishments they’ve had and instead try to take on something that falls way outside of their expertise. Instead, draw from the past and create a better future by looking for solutions.
  3. 3. Neglecting the educational element. To successfully switch careers, you may need some new training and education. This is for two reasons: 1. you lack the credentials to compete with subject matter experts, and 2. you need to brush up on your skills and make sure you bring yourself up to speed on changes in the new industry. Failure to do this will eventually backfire and prevent you from true career growth.
  4. 4. Fear of honoring your skills. You are a unique person, capable of so many new things. However, you may have settled into a career rut because it feels “safe” in some way. This is a mistake! Stop second-guessing yourself. Take a careful inventory of all your skills, your personality, and your interests and then seek out a career path that honors your total abilities.
  5. 5. Not finding a mentor or support network. As a career changer, you are apt to make mistakes, have questions, and run into obstacles. To get around this problem you need someone more experienced than you to guide you. Seek out a mentor and a career support network early on in your career change and you will be that much more successful in the long run.

Want some inspiration to change careers? Here is an encouraging article featured on Huffington Post that highlights the success stories of late in life career changers – proving it’s never too late to transform your career into something better. We hope you are successful and if you need ideas about careers to try, be sure to check out the PayScale Career Goals tool.

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We want to hear about your experience of changing careers!  What have been the biggest mistakes or hurdles you’ve overcome? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below!

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