An Exit Strategy for Changing Careers

When I was in college, I was naÃ?¯ve enough to still think that I would find a good employer with whom I would spend the majority of my career, working up the corporate ladder, and eventually retiring comfortably. I had no idea at the time that not only would I leave my chosen profession within a decade but that I would undertake a new one that I’d never considered and with which I had little experience.

With the future largely unknown, and not really knowing what I was doing, I did my best to exit my old career gracefully, in the process developing an exit strategy that I hoped would allow me to keep bridges to my old career intact and traversable if necessary.

Start early

Jumping the gun and leaving a career before you’re fully prepared for the ramifications that come with it can leave you scrambling to get things in order. It can take time to prepare for the shift to a new role or even a new industry altogether.

For example, when I left the hospitality business to work as a freelance writer, there were all kinds of new things I needed to learn. From industry standards and new software necessary to do my work, to learning about available resources and websites available to help me learn, network, or pick up work, learning an entirely new type of work took time. Taking that time when a current job is providing things like benefits and a steady paycheck can help make the transition smoother and quicker when the time to move on eventually comes.

Give plenty of notice

It’s important to bear in mind that while you might need a lot of time to get things in order for your transition, an employer might as well. Having come from a management background, I know just how difficult it can sometimes be to find the right person to fill a position. There is time involved in posting the job opening, interviewing candidates, making a hiring selection, bringing the person on board, and training him or her for the new position in hopes that they’ll be a match. If they aren’t, the process can start all over.

Therefore, I like to give multiple months notice before leaving an employer if at all possible rather than just the standard two weeks, and in the past have trained my replacement if the employer wanted me to do so.

Prepare financially

There is often no guarantee of things working out with a new job, let alone a new career. This is why having an emergency fund on hand can be of critical importance when venturing out on a career adventure. Especially if that career involves self-employment or small business ownership, where there may be little guarantee of initial income or costs might be more than you expected, having a financial plan in place can help ease you through those first crucial months or even years.

When I left the hospitality business, I ensured I had reserve funding in place to get me through at least the first year, and possible multiple years depending upon income — or lack thereof — in my new career. This was essential to my success, since it took me longer (about two years longer) than expected to build my income to a level of self-sufficiency.

Maintain a network

Maintaining a network of industry co-workers and contacts — at least initially — from a previous role just in case can serve as a valuable hedge against the unknown when changing careers. Not only can such contacts come in handy for future networking and possible assistance in a new role, but if things don’t work out, they may serve as valuable resources for moving back into that prior industry work.

Even after six years on my own, I still maintain contact with certain former co-workers. And maintaining these good relationships is another reason why I planned my exit strategy so well and so far in advance so that I wouldn’t be burning bridges that I might one day need.

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The author is not a licensed financial or career professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice of any kind. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.

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