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Pros and cons of switching careers

Many people venture off their job path to do something completely different. It’s common to hear stories about someone who quit a long-term career to become a painter, a writer or a medical practitioner.

Famous real-life career switchers include Martha Stewart, a former model who became a stockbroker, caterer, lifestyle guru and now a media magnate. Ken Jeong, another American who is known for his role as Mr. Chow in the movie The Hangover, used to be a physician.

People change careers for various reasons. Some feel they’re stuck in a rut or they have lost passion for what they’re doing. Others realise they’re in a wrong profession and making a major switch seems like a logical thing to do.

For Samia Hafidi, the turning point was when she no longer felt happy. After working for eight years in the banking sector, Hafidi quit her job as a financial planning manager at a bank in the UK to join an entirely new field — recruitment.

“I decided [the banking sector] was too aggressive and male-dominated for my liking. I no longer wanted to be in the office even though I was as productive in my day to day work practices. I was unhappy,” Hafidi recalls.

Now, nine years later, Hafidi doesn’t have any regrets about making a clean break. She’s currently based in Dubai and works as a manager for banking financial services at Talent2, a recruitment specialist. “I can honestly say it was a scary move but I have no regrets and truly love my job now. Looking back, I certainly made the right decision,” she says.

With the positive outcome, Hafidi will be quick to advice anyone to consider doing the same thing, especially if they have grown to hate their job or feel like they have reached the end of the rope. “If you are truly unhappy in your current job or feel that you could be more successful doing something else, then a change is worth considering,” she says.

“We spend half of our lives at work, so happiness and success in our chose career path is essential for our well-being. After all, we work to live rather than live to work.”

There is no statistical data as to what percentage of the workforce switch careers, but studies indicate that some people seek out new employment opportunities quite often. In the United States, the average American switches jobs more than 10 times over a period of 28 years.

According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average baby boomer, or person born between 1957 and 1964, held 11.3 jobs from the time they were 18 until they were 46.

In yet another survey, this time by the London Business School, it was found that women in particular are likely to make more than four career switches in a working lifetime. Among the 2,000 respondents questioned, nearly six in 10 (59 per cent) said they would have four or more careers, while two-fifths expect to shift at least seven times.

Experts in organisational behaviour and executive education at the school suggest a range of reasons, from later retirement to dwindling benefits for loyalty to one employer. “We are looking at a future where top talent fully expects the number of employers they will have to enter double figures,” says Adam Kingl, London Business School’s director of learning solutions.

Making a career change, however, is a very risky move. Not having a sound plan and conviction to start anew, failing to prepare for what could go wrong or not doing a self-assessment could lead only to disappointments.

“A career change is a great way to start over and realign perspectives, although it would require a lot of thought and logical reasoning,” says Mahesh Shadadpuri, CEO and managing director of TASC.

Shadadpuri is a career switcher himself. After finishing an engineering degree, he took up Master of Business Administration (MBA) to pursue his passion in entrepreneurship and leading people. He had worked at a semiconductor facility in the US, but left shortly to pursue his dream. In 2007, he founded TASC, which provides contract staff to companies in the UAE.

“My decision was of course based on due diligence, on the consequences of redirecting my career path and weighing the advantages against what can go wrong,” he says. He points out that a new career is not developed overnight, and it takes a lot of hard work to ensure a successful switch.

“Careers are made by conviction, determination and discipline. The element of fear arises only when the person is not ready to explore the possibilities in the workplace, and the chosen career.”

Sometimes people just want to do something different, but they can’t pinpoint what it is they want exactly.

Before quitting the current job and embarking on something new, it is therefore important to do a “self-assessment” and consult friends, family or colleagues. The process will help the individual decide what type of jobs they can transition into or whether they are making the right decision.

“It would help to leverage your contacts and relationships, to be able to understand what lies out there,” says Shadadpuri.

Hafidi says it is essential that career switchers ask themselves the following questions before making a big move: “Am I happy? What are my main motivators in life? What do I want to achieve from my work? What do I enjoy doing? What am I passionate about? What will challenge me over the medium to longer term? Am I valued in my current workplace? What does being successful look like to me?”

“Be honest with yourself and this will prompt whether a career change is right for you,” says Hafidi.

Having a mentor at work or outside the company, and speaking to well-wishers before making the decision can help avert failures. It is also wise to explore the possibility of changing roles within the current organisation.

“Many times, internal transfers between departments can help you test a new career without costing yourself and the company lengthy administration processes, and valuable time,” says Shadadpuri.