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5 Practical Steps to Consider When Making a Career Change

We’d all like to make more money, right? Sometimes that can happen by taking on a basic part-time job or coming up with our own personal side hustle. More than likely though, over the long-term, we would want to make more money from our main career so those part-time jobs and side hustles could be eliminated from our daily schedule. Nobody wants to carry multiple jobs indefinitely. That would prove very stressful over time.

If there is little possibility of making more money from your current full-time job then a career change might be in order. It’s a scary proposition to launch out into a new career, unsure of how it’s going to work out. It’s that fear that keeps people from even considering it. We’d rather face being short on money than deal with change and battle the unknown.

My wife and I have learned first hand what it takes to change careers. Several years ago we embarked on a journey where my wife changed careers from high school math teacher to Certified Public Accountant (CPA). A big shift to be sure, one that required a great deal of effort.

The journey was not without it’s ups and downs. We’d both say it was the toughest three years of our marriage. Not relationally because we got along fine but in the shear amount of effort and sacrifice required to accomplish the task.

In the end, the career change has been completely worth it. It has boosted our family income and allowed me to quit my job to be a stay at home dad and personal finance writer. It’s reduced stress, provided for more family time and opened other opportunities we could not have engaged in before.

I believe we had success because of all the preparation we did ahead of time before we committed to pursuing the change. So I’d like to share the practical steps we took that helped us identify the career she chose to pursue.

Practical Steps to Career Change

When my wife decided to change careers we spent a great deal of time identifying some key issues. This was not a quick process to say the least. The time spent on answering some basic questions was well worth it and raised our level of confidence that we were doing the right thing.

When contemplating a career change you need to identify:

1. The depth of the financial need. How bad off are you? What are your ultimate goals? Do you need a career that would net you an extra $500 dollars a month or $3,000? Those would be vastly different career tracks, the latter most likely requiring a great deal more effort to achieve.

Our ultimate goal was to become a one-income family. We wanted to lessen the stress that comes with handling two careers and raising four kids with all their activities. In order to do that, we needed the income from one career to be equal to that of two. That prerequisite greatly eliminated many of the careers my wife looked at.

2. Your current set of skills. What is it that you are already good at? Do you have a skill or are you already working on something that you might be able to turn into a full-time career?

In our case, my wife had been working on the side as a bookkeeper for our church for five years. By doing this she had become efficient in using Quickbooks and was familiar with the basics of accounting. Pursuing a full-time career in accounting seemed like a natural extension of work she had already begun to do.

Really take time to analyze your current skill set and what careers might align with those skills. You may be surprised at what’s out there that matches with what you are already capable of doing.

3. The long-term prospects for that career. How does the demand for the career project over the long-term? What’s the potential for job security? Is there a chance for significant upside in earnings potential within the career or will your salary stagnate at some point?

My wife’s career as an educator had stalled. There would be no significant upside for her salary (or mine for that matter) even if she taught another 20 years. While “money isn’t everything” our stagnation of income would not allow us to reach our goal of being a one-parent-stay-at-home family.

Being a CPA presents quite a different scenario. Depending on the way her career could unfold the earnings potential is essentially limitless. After spending a decade working as an understudy it’s possible to work yourself into a partnership position at a firm, be hired as a CFO of a major company or branch out and start your own business.

Look for careers that present big, future opportunities. Perhaps you’ll never get to or desire those as your career progresses but at least it’s nice to have options.

4. The cost and time involved in making the transition. In relation to both cost and time the big question to ask will be “Is it worth it?” For many wanting to change careers there will be extensive training involved or a return to school to receive the necessary education for the new career. The latter is what faced my wife as a degree in accounting is a must for the profession.

When looking at time realize there is a big difference between a total transition time of 2 years versus 5 years. How long are you willing to commit to this endeavor?

When looking at cost realize there is a big difference between a $5,000 expense and a $40,000 expense. How much can you afford and will the new career be worth the expense?

Would you return to school for three years at a total cost of 40K for a new career that only netted you a $3,000 per year increase in salary? Probably not. It would take you 10+ years to break even on that deal. But you most definitely would – all other things being equal – for one that upped your annual salary by 20K per year.

5. Determine who’s available to help and how the transition might impact them. Do you have a support system? Who will step in to cover areas of life you may have to sacrifice to work towards this goal? How will life change for those close to you once the new career begins? Will that change be worth the effort?

I could write an entire post about #5. Honestly, it’s on this last point that we spent most of our deep discussion time. Changing careers can bring huge changes and it’s imperative – especially for those who are married with children – to analyze how the change will impact the family at large.

When my wife decided the course she wanted to take, I had two choices as a husband. I could either continue with my own goals or put some of those goals aside and go all in on her goal. I chose to go all in on her goal.

Practically this is what that looked like:

1. I chose to give up my career in education as a principal and go back into the classroom as a teacher while my wife went back to school. Being principal required too much of a time commitment.

2. I chose to give up being a varsity boy’s basketball coach. That was really hard after 12 years of coaching. My kids needed me at home though not at practice or traveling to games.

3. I chose to take on all house responsibilities. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping all became mine to do.

4. I chose to become the first source of contact for all kid issues at home or school.

5. And I chose to spend less time with my wife. That sounds odd but was necessary for her to complete her degree and CPA requirements in the time we allocated for this transition to happen. At times that was painful, like when I hardly saw her on the weekend when she was studying non-stop. But we both knew it was a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. And we did our best to keep each other strong through the entire endeavor.

Is a Career Change Right For You?

You may find the steps required for a career change will be too drastic and bring more harm than good. Examining these five areas will help you draw that conclusion. Of course you can’t look into the future and know exactly how things will turn out but you have to give it your best projection nonetheless.

I will say this, no promotion or increase in monthly salary is worth destroying a family unit. I’d rather be living paycheck to paycheck and still be connected to a loving family than increase my salary but split my family apart in the process.

Questions for Discussion: What other areas should a person consider when changing a career? How has a career change impacted your life? How much more money would it take for you to consider changing your career? What’s the biggest thing holding you back from considering a career change?

Next Post: 6 Emotional and Financial Reasons to Reconsider Early Retirement

Prior Post: No One Can Serve Two Masters

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