Don't rush to switch professions

Changing careers Photo: Thinkstock

Why most career changes fail, and what professions are most in demand.

Unless you don't want to make a living, don't rush to switch professions. Despite the success stories appearing in the media, the move is almost impossible, even for very talented and well-connected people.

Take a 38 year-old successful accountant who worked at a leading firm, for example. He has been trying for two years to switch to business development management, but with no success. He has a highly regarded MBA and an enviable network of connections. He employed all of the heavy weapons, held dozens of meetings, and wrote innumerable CVs. A career agent promised links to employers (in return for several thousand shekels), but nothing happened. He managed to embellish his CV with some experience in the field (a friend allowed him to try business development in a company that he owned), but even that did not help.

The three most popular professions

The accountant is not the only one interested in business development. Over the years, I have met dozens of people - accountants, lawyers, architects, chemists, psychologists, pharmacists, and many others - who wanted to enter this profession, which is one of the top three occupations among people wanting to undergo professional retraining. It turns out, however, that most of them have no idea what business development really is. They chose it by a process of elimination in looking for something that does not require going back to university to acquire a new profession. They mistakenly assumed that no preliminary training was needed in order to work in business development, a field that to some degree replaced the former retraining favorite - marketing. The choice of these two professions is in absolute and admitted contrast to sales, which is at the bottom of the preferred list, although it is the easiest profession to switch to. Marketing is also popular because of ignorance, although with time, people have begun to realize that the entry barriers are high (especially in B2C companies - those selling to the end consumer), and it has therefore fallen to second place.

The gender difference with respect to these two occupations is fairly significant; men prefer business development and women are more inclined towards marketing, as is also true of the third occupation on the list - human resources, which is universally preferred by women. Here, too, its popularity is not supported by valuable knowledge of the field; the most common reasons for selecting it are "I like working with people" and "I want to help people" (human resources has been oriented towards business, not employees, for years, but who checks?).

The market and the branding

Why does most retraining fail? Because of the market and the branding. The labor market does not give people with professional branding and no experience an opportunity to engage in the new profession unless they are willing to start at the bottom, and even that frequently does not help. Those embarking on this adventure are not aware of the need to start further back in a career. They mistakenly believe that they will be able to find a job at the same organizational level that they left. The market does not cooperate with this plan, especially in the three above-mentioned occupations, for which demand in the market is relatively low, while the supply of experienced employees is enormous.

On the other hand, most people cannot afford to accept a much lower salary, while in most cases, they do not have enough years to regain the rank they left and its accompanying salary, because most people change occupation when they are in their late thirties or older. Furthermore, few people are willing to do the tedious work necessary to acquire a new profession in a company with junior employees a decade or more younger than they are.

Almost all career changes fail, except for changes within the same enterprise and switches to "old" public service professionals (e.g. teaching, social work, and nursing). Changes of occupation within an enterprise are the most successful and the cut in pay is negligible, if any. They succeed because the enterprise knows the employee well and vice versa, so the risk is perceived as fairly low.

How do we know that switching professions involves accepting a lower rank and salary? Because switching in the other direction is impossible, such as the example of engineers successfully switching from development jobs to project management or customer interface jobs (product management, sales, customer support, etc.).

Losing on both ends

In addition to changing professions as employees, many people try to switch to running their own business. The range of possibilities here is almost infinite, but 70% of these businesses do not survive for five years and the owners of many of those that do survive barely earn the minimum wage. For people finally leaving the labor market, opening a business with no investment (consultants and the like) is a very good idea even if they only earn the minimum wage, but it is almost always not worthwhile for anyone else (and incurs a substantial economic risk). Most of them have trouble getting back to where they started from and remain losers on both accounts.

In short, before starting this move, make sure that you are changing occupations for the right reasons. Then look for at least five people your age who have successfully done what you are planning as employees. If you find them, duplicate what they have done; otherwise, give up the idea.

The author is a labor market specialist

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 9, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Changing careers Photo: Thinkstock
Changing careers Photo: Thinkstock
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