A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common Sense Questions to Find Your Career: What Is the Expected Life Cycle for What You Want to Do? (Time is Everything!)
- Top 10 Questions Dealing with Timing and Life Cycle Issues When Changing a Career
- Top 5 Strategies for Dealing with Timing and Life Cycle Issues
Okay. Here we are at Question 8 in this series of career-oriented diagnostic questions titled the Career Changer's Checklist.
Timing is everything. We are inundated with timing issues.
If you deal with any kind of directory issues in IT, you know that one of the first things you have to establish is time synchronization. The same is true when you are changing careers, and when you are looking for a job.
Your time has to be in synch with the time of the folks you want to work with. There is a life cycle for everything, from products to decisions. How long something lasts, or how long we have to do X, Y, and Z is something we often overlook when making a decision about plotting out a career path.
Everything has an optimum time, and the key is being there at the right place at the right time. You might well know what you need to know, you might be in the right place, but you might be there at the wrong time.
For example, I have been trying to sell my home in north Florida. Four years ago, I could have sold it in a matter of days for more money. Now, because of the housing crisis in the United States, I have to wait and I have had to lower my price. Why? Timing. The optimum time is not now as I write this.
Key issues to consider include the following: when you want to do something, when you can do something, and when the market is right.
This is not only the case in IT but it is also the case in every sector. The financial sector is a major victim of optimum timing. So are the real estate, healthcare, business sectors, and so on. When you do something in each of these sectors is critical.
This all speaks to the title of this article: What is the expected life cycle? How long do you have to act on a product, a certification, a career, a degree, a job, an advertisement, an investment, a lead?
When looking at changing careers, making a move, the key word is when. The key noun is timing—optimum timing. The key question is how long.
The interesting side of this is that most of us can't do a thing about timing, about a product's life cycle, a certification's life cycle, or a market's cycles when something happens for the good or bad. All we can do is to be ready to act when the moment is right.
This article focuses on the top 10 questions that address the issues of when, timing, and how long when changing a career.
There will be a number of ancillary questions. But if you answer them honestly and record your answers in your Word doc, you might find the key to changing your career is not if, but when.
Then you'll take a look at the top 5 strategies for dealing with timing and life cycle issues.
Are you ready? That is a timing question. The clock is ticking. It is time to get on board.
Top 10 Questions Dealing with Timing and Life Cycle Issues When Changing a Career
Think about the important moments in your life that revolve around time. For those of you of a "certain age," do you remember where you were when President Kennedy was killed? I do. Do you remember when you got engaged? When you got married? What about when you started school or when you graduated?
These are all important times in your life. And these times occurred after some time in your life had come and gone. You don't get married when you are 10 years old. Most do not go to college when they are 10 years old.
In the words of the acclaimed writer, "There is a time for everything." Being able to identify the right time and being ready for the right time is a key to having a good life and finding a good job.
One of the reasons I am not a doctor today is timing. One of the reasons I am not a member of the clergy today is timing. There is a life cycle for careers like these in everyone's life.
We cannot change history or the social circumstances of the past, but we can be ready to identify the trends and tendencies and be open to change with the times.
Here is a great example that I cited in previous articles. When I was in college the PC (for the most part) did not exist. I am not as old as dirt, just older than 40.
Select colleges and other institutions had some enormous mainframes that had the processing power of an earthworm. Some 20–30 years later I am teaching computers and integrated networks that did not exist when I was in college.
"If I had only known" could be said, but instead I adapted to the change; when the time was right, I was ready. How long will it last? Who knows? That is a timing question.
I have to be ready for the changes that will occur. And so do you if you want to land the ideal career.
So what are the questions that can help you make those decisions and adapt to the times? Here are some worth considering.
- When do you want to do this?
Based on the earlier questions in this series, you know what you want to do and what you like to do. But when do you want to do this?
Is this a career choice or job wish that you have in mind for the immediate future?
Are you trying to find a job because you have been laid off, fired, or just starting out?
Are you looking at a long-term or short-term option?
The key is to know when you want to do this. Maybe you want to do this in 3–5 years, in 5–10 years, or when you retire.
The other key is to understand that history and social circumstances continually change. You might now have all the skills, knowledge, degrees, internships, and so on. You might have met all the current requirements.
But what happens if the hiring body, the governing agency, or the credentialing institution goes through a metamorphosis and changes the requirements? And you no longer meet those requirements?
It has happened to me. More than once in my life. One such instance occurred sometime ago. Some 25 years later I am still bugged because the rules changed and I could not do a thing about it. I could write a book about this chapter of my life. (In fact, I have a table of contents for this book that concerns my life and my experience with a major institution that I have titled "Chasing a Moving Target").
Because this article doesn't deal with this institution, I won't go into the details, but I did not strike when the iron was hot—when the folks I knew who made the rules were in power. When the ruling body changed, so did the requirements, and so did the opportunity for me to be admitted to pursue a career I felt called to.
If you are ready, and the market is ready, and you know when you want to pursue your new career, go for it. Don't let time pass you by.
So the question of when you want to do this applies not only to IT folks but also to folks in every different sector.
If you're not ready, when will you be ready? How long will it take for you to get up to speed and be ready to go to work?
- How long are you marketable?
In my mind, this is the key question in this article. How long are you marketable?
Every career has a limited life span. We as people have a finite life span and we have a finite amount of time where we can be productive workers. And what we do, just like any skill or product, has an optimum marketing season.
When will others be interested in what you offer? Will others be more interested in you when you are young and fresh out of school, or when you are older with years of experience?
In that same light, you have to recognize and accept that some folks prefer working with someone older, whereas others prefer someone younger.
Is that age bias? Absolutely. Some call it preference, but anyone in this market who does not recognize age bias is not in the market. There are some sectors who prefer a younger workforce; others prefer a workforce that is older, more experienced, and maybe less ambitious.
Whether you call it bias or preference doesn't matter; it exists in IT and in all sectors of the market. Some would say that older workers are more marketable, although others feel that younger workers are more marketable.
In your ideal career, are you in the age bracket that is marketable? Be honest and write it down in your Word doc.
Another way to look at this is with this question: How long is your selling season? I found out recently that Home Depot has a selling season for its products, as does Walmart and Sams.
One of the things that drives me nuts is that Christmas trees are on sale in mid-August in my area of the southeast, and you cannot get a Christmas tree three weeks before Christmas—but you can get an Easter outfit. The selling season is over for Christmas goods three weeks before Christmas. This makes me shake my head.
The same is true when you evaluate your skills and knowledge to determine your selling season. Has your prime marketing season passed you by? Or are you ahead of the curve? Be honest! To figure out how long you are marketable, ask how long your selling season is.
If you are supporting a product or vendor in IT for example, you also have to ask what is the marketable life span of the product. For every product and service there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Then what? If you are in IT you know the life span of most products and versions of those products is short, less than a blink of an eye. When supporting IT software and hardware, it is virtually impossible to keep up with the changes—making it very difficult to stay up with the market. So if you are supporting hardware or software, you have to be realistic when you ask how long you and your skills will be marketable, and what you will do to either stay current on the IT treadmill or move on to a less-volatile sector.
For example, if you are a Windows 2003 MCSE and you have supported Server 2003 since it was in Beta, how long do you have before the Server 2003 life span, marketability, selling season will be over? And consequently, how long before the skills you have developed will no longer be profitable?
Questions like these must be considered when you are changing careers. In short, how long is this product (with its associated skills) marketable? Does it have enough time, before being retired, to make it worth the effort?
In the same way that you have to ask about your marketability, the marketability of a product, you also have to ask about the marketability of the company you want to work for. In this day and age, when major companies are folding, financial firms are closing their doors without notice, and mills and plants are shutting down, there are no more absolutes. You cannot say with certainty (in most cases) that you will be able to work for employer X for 30–40 years and retire.
Why not? Employer X might not be around for 30–40 years. So how marketable is your employer, how long a life span does your ideal employer have, and how long is the life span for this employers' products and services?
These are all tough questions for which you might not have firm answers, but write down what you think and feel when you consider how long you are marketable.
- When do you change?
If you know during what time of life you want to change careers, and you have an idea of how long you and your products/skills of choice are marketable, then you have to decide when you should change.
When do you quit your current job and move onto your new frontier? When do you change direction? When do you change your goals? And most importantly, when do you change your mind about your career?
Your toughest audience is you. You have to be convinced that the direction you want to go is the right one, and the goals you have are the right goals. That time is very personal and subjective. Some will say they just know it. Others, like me, will say it is a gut feeling.
Most of the time, there is no objective crossroad that pushes you one way or the other, but sometimes there is. When you decide to make the change to a new career, you will experience a new chapter in your life that will call on all that you know and feel in order to succeed.
About 12 years ago, I was in a good job that included some issues that annoyed me. I was a school teacher and Technology Manager. I was not looking to start a new career, but I was looking to expand my knowledge and skills. Because of a number of circumstances, I experienced a crossroad where I decided to make the change and become a contract trainer/instructor and network engineer. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that was monumental because it was unplanned.
Twelve years later, I am still working as a contract trainer/instructor and network engineer, and I love every minute of it. It has been a great professional chapter in my life, and I will always be thankful for it. But I would encourage folks to, as my mom would say, "don't do as I do, do as I say." This chapter was unplanned and could have been disastrous. It was not. So give careful thought to when you want to make your change.
Write down your thoughts in your Word doc.
- When should you start looking for a job?
As a follow-up to when do you want to change, you also have to figure out when should you start looking for the new job, the new career.
Additionally you have to ask the following questions:
- Do you start looking while you are working at your current job?
- Do you start looking after you quit?
- Do you start looking while you are in school?
- Do you start looking before you relocate or after you relocate?
Do you start looking when you lose interest in your current skill set, your current environment?
If you know when you should start looking, you also have to ask how long you are willing to look before you resign yourself to accepting the imperfect offer. You might not land the ideal position in the timeframe you hoped, so it is wise to know how long you are willing to hold out. This is a tough job market and companies are playing hardball when hiring employees.
So you have to know how flexible you will be in terms of how long you will hold out for your ideal position. You also have to be realistic and ask how long before you will go broke or lose your mind (and maybe your home) by holding out for the ideal. Idealism is great, but reality is real. And sometimes you might have to accept second best as a stop gap measure.
In line with these questions you also have to determine how long you are willing to stay in this new position before you will want to advance and move up the ladder. Some positions that I have worked in require that you remain in the current position, which the ruling body says is the required base, for three years before you can move to another site or move up into your position of choice.
Is that fair or right? I did not think so at the time and still do not, but that is the reality and I could not change the rules.
So when do you want to start, how long are you willing to hold out, and how long before you will want to move up? What do you think? Write down your answers in your Word doc.
- When is it time to go?
For everything there is a season—a time for coming and a time for going, the prophet wrote. Those same sentiments are true in the job/career market.
We just looked at when you want to start. The reality is that for every start there is a finish. When is it time to leave your current job? When is it time to leave your new job?
As mentioned earlier in this article, some folks take new jobs and enter careers for the short term. That's okay as long as it is fine with you. What is short term to you? How long should you stay in a job?
Many folks opt to take a job for a short period of time and the next thing they know it is 10 years later. Somehow they fell in love with the job and got tired of looking. Others, like a friend of mine, will take a job with long-term expectations, relocate to another coast, and find after a very short time that the money to pay him has dried up. His time to go was based on financial restrictions. So he had to move back to the original location to find a more stable employment opportunity.
So how do you know when it is time to go? Do you lose interest? Are you only willing to stay X years? Do you leave when the job you wanted comes open again?
And if you decide to leave how much notice should you give your boss? How much notice would your boss give you if you are being laid off? How much notice does your boss expect?
Leaving a good job is tough, one of the toughest things I have ever had to do. Early in my career, after a year on the job at a major medical college in NYC, I was offered the opportunity to develop a new department, with all of the needed education, staff, offices, and so on. I gave it some thought and passed it up and decided to go to seminary. I was young enough to do it, and my parents were behind me.
I gave my bosses nine months' notice and I was asked to hire my replacement (who would become my new boss and the new head of the department). I would be the assistant manager. It was a terrible nine months. I loved the job and the people, and because of my decision had to watch someone else that I hired make a mockery of the work that I had accomplished.
But I had a dream to go to seminary. And I went, leaving behind a fantastic job and a career that would have carried me into retirement easily.
My bosses required only two weeks, but I gave them enough time to replace me and allow me to try to train my new boss. If I were in that position again, I would have given only two weeks notice and my life would been easier. The punch line is this: The boss I hired was fired shortly after I left.
When is it time to go? For me it was when I was young enough to follow a dream for my education. What about for you? Write it down in your Word doc.
- How long are your certifications marketable?
When I was originally thinking about the life cycle for what you want to do, the question of certifications was the first thing that came to mind. It is the one that has been the source of employment and annoyance for me for close to 15 years.
I wrote an article for InformIT.com earlier this year titled "The Top 10 Problems with IT Certification in 2008." The second problem I cited was that certifications have a short life cycle.
You no sooner get certified in skill X and you have to be recertified. And many vendors feel that it is their duty to expire your certification if you have not recertified in 2–4 years.
So the question must be asked, how long since you were certified? How long are your certifications marketable? Do your certifications cover an earlier version? And to be competitive do you need to upgrade? Is the selling season for your current certs over?
The certification industry is an animal unto itself. It can drive a sane man nuts. It has helped many, including me, validate our credentials and skills, but the treadmill to keep up with the certifications that reflect changes in the software and hardware is maddening.
Based on your certifications and their selling season, when will your skills be out of date? When are your certifications out of date?
There are some rabid certification advocates who insist that you have to have the latest and greatest. And for some things I agree. For others history speaks against it (for example, the folks who were trained as Fortran and Cobol programmers). According to many they were way past their selling season 15–20 years ago. No one would ever hire these people. Their education and certification was over. Until Y2K.
When Y2K hit everyone's consciousness, it became apparent that to avoid a lot of problems the only ones who could fix the programming limitations on many of the most critical systems were the Fortran and Cobol programmers. Their selling season was not over.
So don't give up on your certifications. What you know you know. Others might insist that you upgrade, and to survive you might well have to, but history and the wheel are round. And things that used to be popular will again be popular as time moves on. Certifications that were sought after will be again.
Those certifications that are out of date are considered by many to be legacy certifications. And that is okay. Those legacy certs validate skills and knowledge you have and had. They might not be current or the key to getting the new job, but they are not to be ignored, either.
The key to certification timing is competitiveness. The most recent certifications in many markets will make you more competitive as you push toward your goal of an ideal career. In other markets and sectors, certifications mean nothing.
Do your homework and examine whether you need to recertify to have the latest and greatest to be competitive or if what you have will help you land your job.
This whole topic is a thorn in my side. I have been annoyed beyond measure as companies such as Cisco insist that you recertify every three years to maintain very-difficult-to-achieve certifications. They do not use the term legacy cert; instead they say you have a retired, or expired, certification.
My solution, which addresses the competitiveness discussion, is the Master of Integrated Networking credential which I have developed and discuss on InformIT.com. This credential recognizes the value of legacy certifications.
The reality is that not everyone is installing the latest and greatest hardware. What the IT folks need might be the knowledge and skills that were hot 3–5 years ago that were validated in an earlier certification. If that is the case, the MIN accepts that and recognizes the knowledge and experience validated by that certification path.
But the MIN is new and developing. The reality is you have to ask how current your certification is. How marketable are your current certifications? What is your answer? Write it down in your Word doc. Are certification and the newest certs keeping you from landing that ideal job? Think about it.
- What skills, careers, jobs have staying power? A long life cycle?
This brings me to my favorite question when looking at timing and life span. What skills, jobs, careers in the current market will be around in 20–40 years?
Our parents went to work for a company and stayed there for 30–40 years. They made a living, and no one ever worried whether the company would be there, or if they would have a job the next day or the next year. Now 5–7 years is statistically a long time to stay in one job. The current trend, especially in IT, is to bounce from job to job every 1–3 years.
What does that say about the current philosophy of the market and, more importantly, your work ethic? Personally I am opposed to changing jobs every year or two just to get "experience" or "get ahead." It makes no sense.
These trends show how volatile the market is and how volatile you might be if you fall in this category of bouncing from job to job.
What I want for myself and when contracting with others is stability, not volatility. My ideal job is one that I can ride for 10–20 years and where I will not be on some treadmill, like the certification treadmill, to stay competitive.
I had this conversation with a good friend of mine, noted author Emmett Dulaney. He advised me to look at one of two sectors in which there is stability: higher education and healthcare. In those two sectors you can have a degree and hold a job, if you want, with respect for 10–20 years.
Emmett told me to do exactly what he has done: get the Ph.D. and teach for a university. With my background in teaching, it made a great deal of sense. I have not done it yet because the time was not right. But I am seriously thinking about it.
My advice to all of you is to examine whether you want stability or volatility, and find the career that has staying power. One that has a future and one you can depend on to be there when you need them.
For you, what job, career has staying power and is stable? Write it down in your Word doc.
- How long before you cannot physically do the job?
This is a question that few consider, but one that must be considered. How long can you physically handle the demands of your ideal job/career?
Even in IT there are physical demands that look inconsequential when you are in your 20s but could be a deterrent in your 50s. Pulling cable can stress a body, and carpal tunnel syndrome can come from too much time on a keyboard.
Those valiant nurses who walk hospital floors day after day, lifting patients, cannot do it forever. Why? Their legs, feet, and backs give out. Some give out when they are in their 20s.
Chiropractors and massage therapists cannot do it for a career because of the stress that their bodies experience taking care of so many patients.
Like my dad, some mechanics do their jobs for a lifetime; others reach a point where the heavy lifting wrecks their backs. And they have to find another way to make a living.
Those in the entertainment industry have to worry about their looks. After 40 many cannot go on because physically they are no longer appealing or the flavor of the month.
So be realistic. With the career you have in mind, how long can you physically do the job? Write down your thoughts and feelings in your Word doc.
- How long are you willing to go to school to get where you want?
When you look at the expected life span for your new career, you also have to look at how long you have to go to school to get where you want to be and decide whether the time required is worth it.
When you shoot for the moon, expect to need a significant education background that requires years of classroom time.
This also goes for IT now that the CIS and MIS degrees and degrees like them are popular, and for other sectors.
If you want to go into healthcare as a doctor or nurse, expect to spend 2–10 years of post-graduate education. In business or marketing you need the MBA or the equivalent. In the arts, you need the MFA. To teach in higher education, you need at least the Ph.D. or a degree on the doctoral level to have a realistic chance at a good job.
I have held off on the Ph.D. for now because it will take me at least three years to get it and I want to do it somewhere other than where I am currently located. Why? There are limited opportunities even with the Ph.D. where I live.
Whatever career you decide on, you have to look at how much education you will need and how long it will take you to attain it. And whether you are willing to put in the time.
So, how long will it take you to earn the degree or license you need to move into your ideal career? Write it down in your Word doc.
- How long is your education and training good for?
Once you commit to your new career, and you have the education and certifications and training you need to get in the door, how long before you will have to be retrained or get another degree?
This goes back to how long your selling season is and the earlier certification question. If you have your Masters degree or the right IT certifications, how long will they have value? Do you have to go for another Masters degree or another certification in 3–5 years to enhance your training?
This is the reality of the current market. When I was getting a Master's in education, I heard the catch phrase "lifelong learning" thrown around. Well, that is what happened. The market demands lifelong learning for some jobs/careers.
Physicians I know are always faced with being certified in a new competency or skill. They are continually taking tests to meet requirements. And many are not happy about it.
My dad always laughed when I was taking another course. He used to wonder when I would be done with school. His joke was I would be the smartest one in the cemetery. Well this generation will have a lot of smart people there because of market demands.
So how long will your education be good for? Think about it and write it down in your Word doc.