Need a Change? Lessons on Switching Career Fields - America's Future

September 3, 2021

Career AdviceProfessional Development

Need a Change? Lessons on Switching Career Fields

By: Matt Hampton

Just as it requires energy to knock an object off of its trajectory, the same holds true when it comes to your career.  Changing fields requires work and will come with some level of uncertainty. So, how can you effectively switch to a different career field?  The COVID-19 pandemic has led many people to change careers, some out of necessity, and others to pursue different priorities. According to a Prudential survey from April 2021, about 80% of employees who plan to switch jobs state career advancement as one of their reasons. Forty-two percent of remote workers say they plan to change jobs if continuing to work remotely is no longer an option.

Keith Montgomery, a branch manager at a bank in Little Rock, Arkansas, has worked in the nursing, airline, auto repair, and banking fields over the course of his career.  After thirty years working up the ladder of the airline industry, advancing from entry-level work to a machinist to management, he took a buyout offer when his company was sold. His next move was attending nursing school.  This shift, he said, allowed him to leave a struggling industry for one in which work was almost always in demand. 

Build and Maintain Connections in Different Industries

After working in nursing for a while, Montgomery decided to leave the field’s long overnight shifts to become more available for his daughters.

“I was working these 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts, which made me something of a zombie, so even though I might have been available during the day […] to go practice and play golf and do things, man, I was dead,” he said. 

But what allowed him to switch to working for a bank was one of his personal connections. 

“If we personally didn’t know the market president […] that job for me would have never materialized,” he said. “Somebody with zero experience going right to managing a branch? It would have been a very small chance that that would have happened”

When you don’t have experience in a particular industry, referrals can be critical.  So, it’s important to maintain professional connections and network with employees in a field you may wish to transition to. 

Leverage your Previous Success and Transferable Skills

When the 2008 financial crisis hit, Montgomery felt uneasy about turning away loyal clients as a commercial loan officer.

“Walking a good guy out of your company who has been with your company for 15 or 20 years and hasn’t missed a payment in that 15 or 20 years, and all of a sudden the whole world’s economy collapses, and your bank isn’t willing to reach out and help these individuals, I didn’t agree with that,” he said.

He had a passion for working on cars and left his bank to work as an auto mechanic for a car dealership. But even though he had machinist experience in the airline industry, he said they were skeptical about hiring someone new to the field. 

Montgomery said the key was being honest and transparent about his shortcomings while also confidently demonstrating how he would be able to adapt and excel in a new role.  

When applying for jobs in a new field, emphasize skills from your previous experience that also allow you to provide value in a different field. Montgomery transferred sales skills from banking to the automotive field. 

Don’t be Complacent or Keep Yourself in a Rut

If your current career isn’t going to work long-term, know when to quit.

“If you don’t want to get out of your car in the morning, it’s a tough slog for you,” Montgomery said. “It doesn’t matter how many times you try to find the industry that’s going to work out, eventually you need to find it.”

He added that embracing flexibility is necessary to find what works best.  

“Change and what you do with it will make more of a difference than almost all of the applications.”

After the pandemic added stress to her work, Tracy Cross quit her job as a middle school science teacher in Missouri to pursue a less demanding work-life balance.  She said that as a motivated, task-oriented person, it wasn’t natural for her to take a break. The sunk cost of her education degree also made her hesitate, but she decided that it was the decision she needed to make.

“I refuse to force myself into a situation that keeps me miserable – even at my own expense,” she said.

Technology has Increased Flexibility

After leaving her teaching position, Cross has been exploring opportunities in instructional design, a field that designs courses and training for businesses and educators. She started freelancing on sites such as Outschool that allow her to sell lesson plans for homeschoolers and other students. 

Besides creating more options for freelance and non-traditional revenue streams, the Internet has also lowered barriers to switching careers by making it easier for people to learn skills and gain certifications.  Cross earned instructional design certifications through Google for a fraction of the cost of her education degree.