Why Making a Career Change Might Make Sense Today

A business professional looks at two diverging career paths

As U.S. employers continue to hire, some professionals may be considering a career change in order to take advantage of solid job growth in certain sectors. Here’s what you need to know about current employment trends and how they can influence your decision to change careers.

Employers added 151,000 jobs in January, according to the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While these gains are more modest than the impressive numbers we saw in December, it’s clear that many U.S. businesses have an eye toward growth as they look to the year ahead, despite recent uncertainty about the strength of the global economy. 

Job growth for the past three months has been strong, with employers adding 231,000 jobs per month, on average. 

As is its annual practice, the BLS reviewed the reported job gains for the prior year and made revisions. Job growth in 2015 was revised upward, from 2,650,000 to 2,735,000 jobs, a gain of 85,000 jobs against what had been previously reported.

January 2016 jobs reportUnemployment rate dips to eight-year low

The unemployment rate for January edged down to 4.9 percent, after holding steady at 5.0 percent since October 2015. The January unemployment rate is the lowest in eight years.

The unemployment rate for the most in-demand segment of workers — those who are 25 or older and have a college degree — was 2.5 percent in January. The rate has been unchanged since August 2015.

Hottest industries include healthcare and financial activities

Several industries saw above-average hiring activity in January. The strongest of these were the following:

  • Healthcare added 37,000 jobs in January. Over the past 12 months, the sector has added 470,000 jobs, with about two-fifths of the growth occurring in hospitals.
  • Employment in financial activities rose by 18,000. A significant portion of those job gains (7,000) occurred in credit intermediation and related activities, according to the BLS.
  • The professional and business services sector added just 9,000 jobs in January, after gaining 60,000 jobs in December. However, within the industry, professional and technical services added 25,000 jobs, in line with average monthly gains over the past 12 months.

Knowing which industries are generating the largest amount of job growth can be one of the most valuable takeaways job seekers can glean from the monthly jobs report. Broadly speaking, companies in those sectors have the greatest need for skilled professionals like yourself. 

But what if you don’t work in one of those industries? How can you take advantage of these trends?

How to make a career change

A career change can be a smart move, especially if you feel you’ve missed out on the benefits of an expanding economy. But you need to think carefully before making such a switch. These four tips can help you determine if it’s right to make a career change and how to go about doing it:

1. Choose wisely 

A career change shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision; you must think long term given the time and effort involved. When choosing a target job or industry, think about where there is consistent and sustained job growth.
Paying attention to the monthly BLS jobs report is one way to make this determination. Job growth within a particular industry can fluctuate from month to month based on seasonal trends and other factors. So an industry that’s hot one month may be lukewarm the next. Read past reports and view future ones to get a better sense of the overall trends. (My monthly blog posts on the BLS jobs report can be a handy starting point.) If you’ve tracked the jobs report recently, you know that employers in healthcare, IT, and professional and business services have been in hiring mode for months

Also review the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the BLS. The government provides data showing which occupations are projected to grow most quickly and add the most positions over the coming years.

And, of course, keep an eye on the business press. What trends are you hearing about again and again? What economic developments could impact job creation in certain sectors?

2. Assess the gaps you’ll need to fill

As you determine where you’d like to focus your job search, keep in mind the abilities and experience that are in demand by employers in your target industry. Resources such as Robert Half’s annual Salary Guides, as well as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, can provide insight on technical and nontechnical skills for a range of positions. Relevant job descriptions can also yield a wealth of information about in-demand skills.

Think carefully about what you can offer employers in your target field. And, just as important, consider what skills and experience you are lacking.

Depending on the career change you have in mind, you might need to pursue additional education or earn a professional certification before you qualify for certain positions. Obviously, the farther from your current line or work that you plan to stray, the more training you’ll likely need.

Some employers are willing to invest in on-the-job training for promising applicants. This is especially true if you have a strong set of transferable skills, such as leadership abilities. 

Other companies may compromise when it comes to certain attributes in order to bring the best applicant onboard. Hiring managers often prefer job candidates with industry experience, for instance, but they may be willing to overlook this requirement if they are struggling to locate skilled candidates.

Above all, you must be realistic about the steps you likely need to take to land a job in your field of interest. In some cases, the career change you’d like to make may be very difficult, if not impossible, to complete. 

3. Consult the experts

You can only get so far doing your own research. To really understand your target industry, you need to tap the knowledge of professionals who work in the field. Here are three sources to consider:

  1. Your professional network — You may already know people who work in your field of interest and are able to provide candid insight on what it’s like. If not, your contacts may be able to connect you to members of their own networks who do. (Don’t forget to tap contacts who have made a successful career change of their own. What advice can they share?)
  2. Career coaches and counselors — These professionals can offer an unbiased assessment of your planned career change and help you determine how easy or difficult it might be. A career coach might even recommend career options you’d be well-suited for but had not previously considered. 
  3. Recruiters — Staffing specialists can be especially valuable when making a career change because they can provide expert career advice and resources for building necessary skills or experience. When you’re ready to make a move, a recruiter can present you with potential job opportunities that meet your qualifications.

Also, don’t forget the value in attending business conferences and events; they’re a great place to network with practitioners in your target field. You’re also likely to learn from expert speakers and panelists about industry trends that can be useful to you in making a career change.

4. Consider alternative routes

No matter how much you prepare, making a career change can take time, and it can be a bumpy road. One way some professionals improve their odds of making a successful transition is by dipping a toe in the water, so to speak, before diving in. 

Part-time roles, temporary work, and project and consulting opportunities are all options you might want to consider, depending on your experience. These arrangements can serve as on-ramps to the main career path you seek. They can also help you gain the industry-specific experience that employers covet.

Career changes are not unusual

In today’s employment market, it’s becoming more common for people to explore new careers at different stages of their working life. In fact, I expect hiring managers will soon see much more of this trend, and not just from Millennials and Gen Zers, who may switch roles as their interests and needs change, but also from talented boomers looking to pursue a second career.

Employers will want to know why you’re making a career change, of course. And you should be able to provide a clear and compelling answer. But they’ll be even more interested to know what you can contribute to the organization today and what, with a little investment in training and development, you might be able to do for the business in the future.

January 2016 jobs report

Tags: Jobs Report