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A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common-Sense Questions to Find Your Career: What Can You Afford to Do? (Economic Reality! Ugh!)

In this fourth question in his Career Changers’ Checklist, Warren Wyrostek examines the economic realities of changing careers. He analyzes the top 10 cost-related questions associated with changing careers, the top 10 cost-related questions associated with starting your own business, and the top 5 strategies to address the costs associated with changing careers. The bottom line question: can you afford to make a career change?
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Over the course of the last three articles in this series, the Career Changer's Checklist, you looked at your career by asking these diagnostic questions:

Now that you have explored these key questions and formulated some ideas on the direction your career should take, you have to realistically look at what you can afford to do. To quote the theme song from the TV show The Apprentice: "Money, money, money, money!!!" It is a topic none of us wants to discuss, but it is a real issue that must be tackled.

By way of introduction to this discussion, I want to refer to what I wrote in the last article when I discussed limitations, restrictions, and obstacles to finding the ideal career/job. The reference was to money as a restriction.

To recap what I wrote in the last article:

Money (or lack thereof) is a big obstacle to overcome. Whether it's the economic condition of the society, the economic demands of your family, the economic requirements to make a change, or simply what you need to earn to satisfy your own economic needs, money is a tough obstacle.

Think of why you might not make a career change. You cannot afford to go back to school. You can't afford to take all these certification tests. You can't afford to buy a bunch of $100 books that will be worth $.25 in less than a year. You can't afford the courses you need to do the job you want. This is reality. Don't fool yourself.

In this article I want to present you with the top 10 cost-related questions associated with changing careers, the top 10 cost-related questions associated with starting your own business, and the top 5 strategies to address the costs associated with changing careers.

I am speaking from my own experiences and those of my students and clients. I am not an economic expert. I am just a working stiff who is trying to share what I have learned from years of dealing with the economic realities of searching for the perfect career.

As we go through the questions associated with money, write down your thoughts and reflect on how money will affect your earlier picks for the best career or job, and how money has affected your current job situation. And that is a key. How has money affected your current situation?

Was money an issue that helped you make the decision to take your current position and is it the issue that is motivating you to make a career change or stay put in your current job? It is often the catalyst for making a career change. But you have to do it wisely.

Will money change your plans or hypothesis that you have developed based on the earlier articles?

Remember, money not only affects your decision if you are considering the IT sector but also affects every sector. Whether it is the financial sector, the medical sector, the service or manufacturing sectors—it doesn't matter. Money affects them all.

So write down your thoughts in your Word doc. Now let's put our nickels on the table and see what job/career wins!

Top 10 Cost-Related Questions Associated with Changing Careers

When you start planning to change careers, as a wise former boss told me, you have to address a lot of unknowns. Ideally, when it comes to the money side of changing careers it is ideal if you have a boatload of money saved up to keep you afloat for a year or two. But that generally is not the case for most of us.

Whether the change is self-imposed or not freely chosen, if you are lucky you should at least have two or three months of reserve cash to help you through the transition. But that is not always possible.

If you are one of the majority of us who have financial concerns about changing careers, the following questions will help you flesh out some of the issues you have to deal with before you jump ship.

Remember your hypothesis: You want to find the ideal job/career. Here are some of the key money-related questions you have to consider.

  1. What will it cost to find a job?

    Job searches can either be free, if you are using one of the many available Internet job sites, or can cost a lot of money if you are using a for-profit recruiter.

    If you are lucky enough to network with the right people, you might be able to avoid job search costs. It is essential to have a good network of people you can get the word out to, who might be able to help you land a good job.

    Job search costs also are dependent on the sector you are researching and the geographic market where you want to work. In the northeast United States, there are certain protocols that you have to follow when looking for a job.

    As I have learned being in the southeast for the last 20 years, there are a whole different set of rules to follow when job hunting here.

    Some of the search-related costs to consider include the following:

    • Costs of newspapers, sector-related magazines, and so on where print ads are posted
    • Costs of clothing—business attire for your region
    • Costs of joining sector-related associations and groups in which social networking can be done—a great way to advertise yourself and your skills
    • Costs associated with attending sector-related conferences to promote yourself and your skills
    • Costs of resume preparation using good paper and presentable digital format and an extra set of eyes to evaluate your presentation
    • Costs associated with posting and distributing your resume to job search sites
    • If client-initiated, costs associated with working with a recruiter or headhunter
    • Transportation costs to find a good job if you have to self-pay to travel to an onsite interview—airlines, auto travel, and so on
    • Costs of web site creation to post your credentials or use of one of the popular social networking sites for business such as LinkedIN.com
  2. What are the costs and associated costs of changing careers and what are the hidden costs?

    This is a tough question to respond to and it requires a lot of research to find the pitfalls and gotchas that can pop up.

    You can believe that Murphy's Law comes into play here. If you think you know what all the costs are, you will definitely be surprised when an unknown pops up. And one always does.

  3. What will it cost to break in to the new job/career?

    Unless you have a boatload of experience and know your new company inside and out, it will take some time to break in. That alone can cost you money. Some companies start you off at a lower wage until you have established yourself. You have to take startup/break-in costs into account.

    For example, when I moved to Florida, I took a job as a high school chemistry teacher. I knew chemistry and I was certified in New York. But I had to get certified in Florida in order to keep my job and had to do it in a certain period of time.

    Well, I had to take classes and absorb all the costs associated with taking those classes at night in order to keep the job. Those are startup costs or break-in costs.

    What are your startup or break-in costs?

  4. What will it cost to maintain your new career?

    Most professional positions today have continuing education requirements that have to be accounted for. Will you have to take classes, or take an upgrade exam, or pass any new certification tests?

    And if you answer yes to any of these questions, what are all the costs associated with those requirements? (Books, test fees, transportation, tuition, and so on.) And how often will you have to go through this process?

    An example comes from the world of IT. I got Cisco certified in 2001 and held three Cisco certs. What I did not realize is that every four years I had to recert by taking one or more exams to prove I still knew the technology.

    In 2004 when my certs expired, I opted to let all three certs drop, including the CCNP, because the benefits of keeping the certs were not sufficient to justify the costs associated with maintaining them.

    What are the maintenance costs?

  5. What will your ROI be?

    You have to consider ROI (return on investment) when viewing the costs of maintaining a career and when looking at changing careers.

    What will your return be after you have laid out X number of dollars to make the change?

    Several years ago, when I was offered an associate professor position at a major university, I was told that if I would earn the PhD, I could earn $28K. At that time, the PhD would have cost me $40K. That is a poor ROI. So I passed up this career move. And I don't regret it because of its poor ROI.

  6. What relocation costs are associated with changing careers?

    Are you looking to relocate to another region to change careers? Are you looking to relocate to another neighborhood or another city? Relocation is not cheap.

    But to find the right job, you might have to move. Do not ignore all the costs associated with making this transition.

    Will the company pay for relocation, or is it all on you? It used to be that IT companies would pay relocation without a thought.

    That is not the case these days. Most relocation is paid for by the employee, with the thought being if you want the job, you will pay to get here.

    Some of the costs you have to consider are the following:

    • Moving costs.
    • Housing costs—not just buying a house, but setting one up and selling one.
    • Commuting costs—with the increasing costs of gas, and public transportation, this is a major factor now.

      How far do you want to live from work? How much travel is involved? Can you telecommute?

      If not, here are some of the costs to consider:

      • Gas/mileage costs.
      • Costs of car rentals.
      • Costs of airlines, railroads, buses, taxi cabs, and baggage fees.
      • Buy or lease? Costs of a new car versus a used car versus a leased car.
    • Cost of living —they vary in different geographic areas. Watch this if you are looking at changing careers and relocating to a major metropolitan area. You may have sticker shock.

      A $75K salary in one region of the United States is NOT the same as a $75K salary in another. In some parts of the United States, $75K is a great salary. But if you move to NYC, my old home, you may have trouble surviving on a $75K salary.

      Check the cost of living calculators that are on the Internet when researching your career move.

  7. What education costs are associated with your new career?

    Do you have to go back to school to get the job or keep the job? Do you have to earn another degree or upgrade your current credentials? Do you have to earn a new certification or two? What are the costs of doing any or all of these?

    Earlier I mentioned that you might have to incur education costs to maintain a position. Well, you may have education costs to even get the position.

    These costs may include the following:

    • Online class costs
    • Instructor-led class costs to get started and to upgrade skills
    • Costs of books and supplies
    • Costs of travel to and from classes and/or room and board
    • Costs of certification tests and travel to take these exams
    • Costs associated with lost revenue as you get trained
  8. What are the emotional costs, not dollars, associated with changing careers?

    Dollars are only one gauge in which you should view costs. Money does not guarantee emotional contentment. You have to look at all kinds of costs.

    For example, I was offered $250K to stay on the road 50 weeks a year, back in 1996. That was great money but I turned it down. Why? I would have a lot of money, but I would destroy my family. That was too high of a cost.

    Look at all costs!

  9. What are the costs associated with getting good advice and counsel?

    When you are working through this checklist and moving toward your new career, get some face-to-face advice from folks you respect in and out of the field of interest.

    This advice might come from career counselors, employment experts, or attorneys. You might want to take a series of "interest tests" such as the MMPI to see what career would be a good fit for you.

    All these cost money, and those costs have to be calculated into the cost of changing careers. In my opinion, this is some of the best money spent if you are unsure of what direction you want to take.

  10. What are the salary needs?

    Finally, here is the question everyone thinks of when they think of changing a career. It is the question every employer wants to avoid in an interview, and the one every candidate wants to ask first when an interview begins.

    Be honest and be realistic. When you are preparing your answer, think about the following questions:

    • What is the market paying for your skills?
    • What is the market paying for your experience level?
    • What are you willing to accept and be content with?
    • What do you need to live?
    • Is there a geographic difference between what is paid for your skills in one region versus another region?
    • What base salary are you looking for if you are in sales?
    • What commissions are you open to accepting?
    • What bonuses are you looking for?
    • What financial incentives are you looking for to sign with a company?

      One example is stock options. When considering stock options you have to ask what they are really worth in a volatile market.

      Do some research. How long do you have to stay with a company for the stock options to have the value you are looking for?
    • What hourly rate are you willing to accept?
    • What yearly rate are you willing to accept?
    • What about benefits? What benefits do you need to accept a position?

      Benefits cost a lot of money. Have you ever had to locate and pay for health insurance that is not group- or company-sponsored?

      How much time off are you looking for? What is the cost of all of those benefits, hidden and revealed? What retirement plan benefits are offered, and how stable is the portfolio being presented? Will the benefits follow you after retirement? If so, how long will you get benefits?

To summarize, here are the top 10 big questions you have to consider when changing careers:

  1. What will it cost to find a job?
  2. What are the costs and associated costs of changing careers, and what are the hidden costs?
  3. What will it cost to break in to the new job/career?
  4. What will it cost to maintain your new career?
  5. What will your ROI be?
  6. What relocation costs are associated with changing careers?
  7. What education costs are associated with your new career?
  8. What emotional costs, not dollar costs, are associated with changing careers?
  9. What costs are associated with getting good advice and counsel?
  10. What salary is needed?

When you answer all of these in your Word doc, you should have a good idea if you can afford to change careers. Can you?

Now let's look at the Top 10 questions that you have to face if you are opting to go it alone and start your own business.

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