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The Financial Impact of a Career Change

Jan 17, 2018 3 min read Karen Kroll

Key Takeaways

  • Prepare for an income drop while you gain experience.
  • Start strong by researching the field while you're employed.
  • Cut expenses to build savings and get used to living on less.


It was after a layoff following 9/11 that Kathy Caprino decided to transform her career and life.

She had worked for 18 years as a corporate director and vice president of marketing, market research and product management for nationally known marketing and membership organizations. But she'd always had a deep interest in writing, psychology and fostering personal growth.

When she lost her job, she decided it was time to follow her dreams and launch a new career as a marriage and family therapist. Later, she turned to running her own firm as a career coach, leadership developer and writer.



Caprino's full transition took eight years. To prepare, she earned a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and trained as a coach before launching her business.

“Quitting one day and moving to another career or field is virtually impossible in most situations," she says. “A satisfying new career usually requires new training, education and experience."

Even if you don't return to school or strike out on your own, you'll likely see an initial dip in your paycheck.

“You are new to the career field, regardless of all your previous experience, so the salary matches that," says Randall Hansen, a career development educator. It may be several years before your salary approximates the one from your previous job.

Some people may look into a career change after a job loss, as Caprino did. But even if you are currently working, you may be thinking about pursuing a brand-new field. By taking several steps while you're still employed, you can rein in the financial impact of a career change.

Create a game plan

“Unless it's a completely unmanageable situation, I normally advise creating a game plan," says career strategist Deb Oronzio, rather than “a cold turkey approach."

Many career transition experts advise allowing at least a year.

A starting point is research. Use online resources to become familiar with the positions, salaries and key qualifications in your new field. Complement your research with in-person networking and events.

Caprino, for one, built her client base and platform by becoming a contributor for several large publishers, delivering keynotes and workshops, partnering with women's organizations and other groups, and becoming a media resource on leadership, women's issues and personal growth.

Further advice comes from Jenny Foss, who, five years after launching a recruiting agency, decided to form a second company. Jobjenny.com helps clients manage their careers. For several years, Foss slowly grew the venture while continuing to dedicate most of her time to the recruiting agency.

“By the end of year three, the revenue for jobjenny.com surpassed the revenue of my recruiting agency," Foss says. At that point, she made jobjenny.com her primary focus.

“Meet with thought leaders in the field you're trying to break into," Foss says. By talking with others who've made similar pivots, you can identify strategies to ease your transition, as well as pitfalls to avoid. Build your skills by volunteering or taking a class in your desired new field.

Taking these steps while you're still employed will help you start strong once you leave your job. That can cut the time you're without an income, or earning less than you're used to.

Cut expenses

At the same time, you'll want to consider where you can slash expenses. “Career-changers must change their household budgets, putting more into savings and cutting back on expenses as early as possible," Hansen says.

Among the first places to trim are discretionary expenses, such as eating out and vacations. Put what you save into a special bank account earmarked as your "Switching careers" fund.

Then you can look at managing some of your larger expenses.

For example, Caprino says some of her clients have moved to smaller homes to reduce their mortgage expense (keep in mind that moving itself can be a big expense, so consider whether it's worth it). Some of Hansen's clients have taken on second mortgages or refinanced existing mortgages to boost cash flow.

When Foss left her corporate job to launch her recruiting agency, she took out a home equity line of credit that covered six months of living expenses. If she hadn't been able to gain a foothold as a recruiter by then, she would have applied for recruiting jobs at other agencies.

“I never had to consider Plan B, but I had one," she says.

Take on a side gig

Another way to ease the financial strain of a career transition is to boost income by taking on a second or transitional job. This could be freelance work you can do from home or perhaps a "sharing economy" gig such as driving an Uber of Lyft.

You can do either while you're still employed at the job you are considering leaving, so long as you comply with any conflict-of-interest agreements.


What you can do next

Take a deep inventory of your current financial situation and consider how you can trim your budget as you move toward a major career shift.

Numerous resources can also assist as you take this step. The book, “What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond," by Kerry Hannon, a career transition strategist, is one place to start.

Search online for workforce centers near you, as many offer assistance to individuals changing careers.


Karen Kroll is an experienced freelance writer and editor, with a focus on corporate and consumer finance. Her articles have appeared in AARPBulletin.com, Bankrate.com, Business Finance, CFO, CreditCards.com, Global Finance, and many other publications


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