Career Change Report: An Inside Look at Why Workers Shift Gears

What factors contribute to a career change?

We all know today’s labor market is the strongest in 50 years, and this impacts all areas of hiring. A decade after the Great Recession, it’s a job seeker’s market and opportunities abound. While this is great news for people looking to advance in their current profession, what does it mean for workers who want a complete career change? 

To explore this question, Indeed surveyed 662 full-time U.S. workers from a variety of industries and educational levels. Of them, nearly half (49%) have made a dramatic career shift — for example, from marketing to engineering or from teaching to finance. And among those who haven’t, a whopping 65% say they’re either thinking about, or previously considered, switching.  Read on to learn what factors contribute to their decision to take this big step, who’s making moves and how they feel afterward.

Pay and benefits are important, but many factors motivate a career change

Gone are the days when you stick with your first career choice until retirement. Today’s workers are increasingly aware of their options — and if they don’t like their current profession, many are willing to make a move. 

So what motivates career changers to jump ship? In this time of prosperity, many workers feel empowered to demand more — and aren’t willing to settle for less. Pay is one obvious factor, and 79% of career changers say they left their old roles because they wanted to make more money. The number rises to 88% for workers planning to switch careers. 

However, career changers cite numerous other considerations besides salary and benefits. Many are focused on growth and development: Over ¾ of respondents who change careers do so to continue learning or to move forward professionally. Seventy-eight percent of career changers say they left, in part, because they no longer felt challenged or satisfied, while 77% wanted more opportunities for advancement. 

The takeaway: This is not a group looking for the easy way out or simply seeking more money. In addition to offering competitive salaries, employers would be wise to implement growth and development opportunities for current staff to keep them from looking elsewhere. 

career change

Career changers plan their move for months, they don’t just switch jobs on a whim 

Our data contradicts stereotypes of career changers as indecisive, impulsive or “flaky.” The average age of our respondents is 39, so they aren’t new to the workforce. They take the decision to change jobs quite seriously: 83% report planning their career change in advance, and spend an average of 11 months thinking about the move before making it.

Factoring into this careful assessment is the fact that, for 80% of career changers, the decision to leave also impacted their families and friends. With 58% willing to take a pay cut to switch, the effect on others is clear; this also proves career changers seek more than just higher-paying gigs. 

So what did career changers do to prepare for their new role? While 75% outlined what they would need to do to succeed in a new sector, interestingly, only 37% report enrolling in specific educational or training programs. This suggests many career changers opt for roles with transferable skills, where they can strategically use existing abilities in new and exciting ways. Alternatively, workers may be doing their own self-guided learning, or taking jobs that provide training.

Workers seek happiness from their new career, and most find it

Happiness is another driving factor: 81% of career changers partially attribute their decision to feeling unhappy in their previous role or sector. Similarly, 81% of workers planning to start a new career say it’s because they are unhappy in their current role.

Happiness might mean different things to different people, but we all know it when we see it.  Workers weigh multiple factors when considering whether to stay put: Respondents say workplace culture, feeling valued and opportunities for learning and career growth all influence their happiness on the job. And among workers who are happy in their current position, the number-one reason isn’t competitive pay, friendly coworkers or a fun office — it’s because they like their management teams. 

In addition to happiness, career changers are also motivated by flexibility and paid time off. Today’s professionals not only value, but may even expect, to have multiple options for when and where they work. Among career changers, 79% say they left in search of greater flexibility; this might include the option to work from home or to choose different working hours. 

The numbers are even higher for people currently contemplating a career switch, with 84% saying flexible options are a top priority.

The bottom line? Employers still trying to maintain nine-to-five schedules might want to reconsider their stance — or risk losing talent. 

When it comes to career changes, many workers say “carpe diem”

After all of the time, energy, and strategizing needed to make a career change, do people think it’s worth it? The overwhelming response is yes, with 88% of career changers saying they are happier since making their move.

Workers today have more job options than they have in two generations. While those who switch careers value a competitive salary and benefits, these are only part of the puzzle. Many workers now give more weight to factors such as flexibility; feeling valued; having growth opportunities; and on-the-job happiness when deciding whether to stay the course or try something new. 

Employers can and should use this knowledge to keep talent from leaving. Knowing workers want flexibility and growth opportunities, ensure you have these in place at your organization. Not sure if your culture could use a reboot? An anonymous engagement survey is a great tool to gauge employee perspectives on what needs to change. Finally, remember that workers are more likely to stick around when they feel valued, and a little recognition can go a long way. 

At the end of the day, people want to feel happy about their role and career. Offer your staff the things that bring them satisfaction — and you just might hold onto more talent.

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