Starting a New Job

How Often Do People Change Careers?

February 26, 2021

Some people stay in the same job or field of work for their entire lives. Many people, however, try different types of work, such as food service, hospitality, retail or business, before finding a career that fits. Even then, years later, for a variety of reasons, they may decide to change careers and do something different. In this article, we examine how often people change careers and why.

What is a career change exactly?

There are a couple of different ways people commonly define a career change. To some, a career change is a change from working for one employer to working for another. This may be especially true if you have been working for a particular company for several years. Switching to a different company, even within the same type of business, can be thought of as a career change.

Another definition of career change is to move to a different or more advanced position within the same line of work. For example, if you are promoted from your business analyst role to a managerial position in the same company, you might consider that a career change.

Others define a career change as a move from one type of work to another. For example, you may have worked as an accountant for a few years, but now you're in med school training to be a doctor. This definition of career change is possibly more common since it involves moving from one career path to a totally different, distinct career path.

Related: How To Change Your Career Path in 12 Steps

What is the difference between changing jobs and changing careers?

A job change is when you stay within the same type of work, but change who you work for. An example of this would be a lawyer who changes jobs to become a lawyer at a different law firm. A career change is when you take a job within a different type of work. For example, a lawyer who becomes a musician would be changing careers.

For some people, there is no difference between the terms "changing jobs" and "changing careers." Any time you move from one work situation to another, whether it is within the same company, with a different company or in a completely different industry, it can be either a job change or a career change.

Related: 9 Best Careers To Start at 40

Why do people decide to change careers?

There are several reasons why you might decide to change careers. These could include:

Wanting a new challenge

You may have no complaints about your current work situation, but you feel you have gone as far as you can in your career there. It may be that you've lost interest in that field of work and want to explore something new. The prospect of starting fresh with a new company doing something that requires different skills might excite you.

Needing a bigger paycheck

Perhaps you're starting a family or you are looking to move. Whatever your reasons may be, if your current career has limited opportunities to provide sufficiently for your financial needs, you might consider a new, more lucrative career.

Wanting recognition

You may have been in your current career for years and feel as if you no longer receive the recognition you deserve. A new job in a different career might give you more opportunities to excel and gain that recognition.

Looking for advancement opportunities

You might be in a career with diminishing prospects for advancement. Perhaps technological progress is reducing the need for people in your current line of work. This may be the time to switch careers to something with more advancement opportunities.

Desiring less stress

Your current career may be giving you more stress than you need. Some fields of work such as medicine or law can be very high stress. Changing to a more low-stress work environment may help.

Wanting flexibility

You need to be able to balance work and life for the good of your relationships as well as your mental health. If your current job makes too many demands on your time such that you don't get to spend quality time with your family or you don't get enough rest, it may be time for a change. You might consider a career change if the type of work you are doing doesn't offer much opportunity for having time away from work.

Experiencing burnout

More than simply feeling tired or overworked, burnout is when you are despondent and dissatisfied with work. You know you are experiencing burnout when you have no enthusiasm for your job and find it hard to motivate yourself to go to work. One way to combat burnout is to get out of your current line of work and try something completely different.

Related: 5 Steps for Updating Your Resume in a Career Change

How many times do people change careers in their lifetime?

Due to the difference of opinion in what a career change means, it's difficult to come up with precise numbers indicating how often people change careers. However, it is possible to suggest typical averages for each age group.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey of people born between 1957 and 1964 that traced their work history through to age 52 shows that people tend to change jobs fewer times as they grow older. From ages 18 to 24, they change jobs an average of 5.7 times. Between 25 and 34 years old, they change jobs an average of 2.4 times. The average goes down again to 2.9 jobs between ages 35 and 44, and then to 1.9 jobs between ages 45 and 52.

Again, these are job changes that may not correspond exactly to career changes. However, it appears true to say that you are less likely to change careers the older you are.

Related: FAQ: Changing Careers at 50

Factors to consider when changing careers

If you are thinking about a career change, there are some factors you ought to consider. These include:

Starting over

The idea of starting over can sound exciting, especially if your current work situation has lost its appeal. However, if this move is to a totally new type of work, you may be starting at or close to an entry-level position. For someone who has already worked for many years and progressed within their job, this can be difficult to adjust to.

Training

There is almost always some kind of training you need to do when you start a new job. When you change to a new job type, however, you may need to acquire a skill set that's very different to the one you have been using for years at your old job. If you already have skills in this area, you can save yourself a lot of training time and begin making progress in your new career.

Location

With any new job, you should consider the length of your commute. You may need to increase your gas budget or invest in some kind of transit pass. The new career may require moving, perhaps to a different part of the country. That could incur a new set of expenses unless your new employer is willing to assist with relocation costs. If you can telecommute, that could help solve many of these issues.

Financial impacts

Changing careers could affect your finances. Not only could your starting salary be a lot less than what you currently make, but you may have relocation costs and training costs. Starting over might also affect when you can retire. Additionally, if you relocate, you may be moving to a place with a higher cost of living. Your finances might be healthy enough to manage all of these expenses, but they are worth considering.

Family repercussions

If you have a family, you should consider how this career change could affect them. The potential loss of income might add stress to the household budget. Where relocation is involved, your partner may need to look for a job, and your children could have to transfer to a new school.

Reasons for the career change

Consider the reasons you are planning to change careers. You might be overreacting to a temporary problem that could be resolved by other means. For example, if you are feeling bored with your current work, you could talk to your manager and find out if you can work on something different. Rather than a career change, you may just need a change of team or management. Perhaps you could apply for a different job within the company. Before you commit to a career change, it is worth making sure that's the appropriate solution.

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