As multiple companies (IWarner Bros. Discovery, Robinhood) announce layoffs, aspiring career changers like Kera might decide to pause their efforts. If you’re already anxious about the economy, you may not want to add on the anxiety of a job search. Even if you’re lucky enough to land a new job, job security is more tenuous for the new hire — you might be first-in, first-out in a market downturn. If your emotional and mental health is tenuous, the stress of a new job might be too much.
However, you don’t have to quit your job right away. You can still move towards your dream career without jeopardizing your income. Even in a down market, you can minimize career risk while maximizing your chances at landing a job you love.
1 – Learn to be happy in an unhappy job
Jay worked in a niche area of tax where the typical career path stayed at one level for years. He was feeling stagnant, but generally liked his work and colleagues. Rather than quit a mostly good situation, he tackled the specific area of concern – his lack of growth and challenge – by pursuing professional development outside his job. He took on an adjunct role and became active in his trade association. While he eventually left his job, it was years later, and his outside-of-work efforts were significant in helping him land his next bigger role.
As Jay did, pinpoint the specific reason for your dissatisfaction with your current job, and work on that specifically. You might be able to find enough fulfillment outside of work that your unhappy job counts for less of your overall well-being. Or you might be able to work with your manager on restructuring the scope of your job, changing up your schedule or improving your work environment. Figuring out how to be happy in an unhappy situation helps minimize career risk for several reasons: 1) you’re not in a rush to leave and won’t settle for a suboptimal move; 2) you increase your resilience which is a helpful trait for managing the invariable ups and downs of a job search and overall career; and 3) you maintain an upbeat demeanor which makes you more attractive to employers, including your current one.
2 – Start your career change quietly
Maybe you have already tried talking to your manager, or changing other areas of your life instead of your job. But you know for sure that it’s your job at the root of your unhappiness, and it has got to go. You can look for a new job or work on a career change confidentially, without jeopardizing your current job security.
Never use your work computer, email address or other work-provided resources for your search. Schedule your research, networking and other activities for lunchtime, breaks and after work. If you’re working from home, make sure you’re available when you’re expected, and don’t get sloppy about taking off so much time that you can’t get your work accomplished.
3 – Target a career change that doesn’t require a pay cut
It’s a myth that changing careers means making less money. One policy analyst moved from non-profit to technology, so he actually made more money after switching industries. You can help your chances by targeting high-paying industries. Then, save your raise as a buffer in case of a market downturn!
Even if you’re already in a high-paying industry, a career change may still be feasible. An investment banker moving to education did give up the big banking bonuses, but she actually made the same base salary when making the switch. She was able to land a senior enough role in her new industry by focusing on transferrable skills and expertise to the new industry – something all aspiring career changers should do.
4 – Negotiate your next job offer with job security in mind
There’s a real risk of moving to a new job, and being the first-in, first-out in a downturn. Before accepting a new job, negotiate a severance package if your job is eliminated or restructured into something materially different. It doesn’t cost the company anything to guarantee your severance because they only pay for something they do (like job elimination or restructuring). Guaranteed severance clauses are typically structured so they don’t get paid out if you quit or get fired for cause.
In addition to aiming for guaranteed severance, you can improve your job security by thoroughly researching a company before you join. Is their industry growing? Is their market share within the industry growing? How strong is their financial position? How strong is the specific department you are joining?
Career risk exists whether you stay where you are or make a move
Sure, career change entails risk and discomfort. However, staying where you are still carries risk, and if you’re unhappy where you are, you’re already uncomfortable. The risk in staying put is that you still might be laid off, even if you are long tenured. Furthermore, your inertia might cause your skills to atrophy, your expertise to get outdated and your motivation to disappear – making you less competitive, once the market does improve. The best way to minimize career risk is to continually grow and challenge yourself – including stretching past your fear towards your dream career.