jma-fern-2Changing careers is one of the most momentous decisions of your life. But if you’re like most people, you’ll find yourself at this crossroads more than once: Although the data on career changes is fuzzy, one study from New York University reports that those surveyed expect to change careers an average of three times during their lives.

Knowing that your career aspirations are likely to evolve over your lifetime, here are some factors to take into consideration — not only right before seeking a new career, but also as you grow in your current career.

  1. Am I making a career change for the right reasons? Think about what’s driving you to change careers. Are you under too much stress in your current job? Are you putting in too many hours? Perhaps your boss or co-workers are driving you crazy. Or maybe you’re bored with the work you do and you want a job that stimulates and challenges you.

These are all valid reasons for making a change — but not necessarily a career change. A frank conversation with your manager about your workload, switching to a new role inside your company, or even taking a different job in the same industry could address the dissatisfaction you’re experiencing in your professional life. On the other hand, if you’ve taken these steps (or thought carefully about them) and are still unhappy, it’s probably time for a career change.

  1. Do I need to go back to school? For many people, this is the biggest hurdle to changing careers. Going back to school is a major commitment involving your time and money. But there are alternatives to traditional degree programs. Online education providers like Coursera, Khan Academy, edX, Udemy, Udacity, and Lynda.com offer free or inexpensive courses in a wide range of areas, including data science, entrepreneurship, marketing, web design, cybersecurity, programming and much more. These courses are taught by leading experts in their fields — professors from the world’s best universities, or people from companies designing proprietary technologies (like software or programming languages). Once you complete a course, you’ll receive a certification that you can showcase on your LinkedIn profile and share with your connections.

Of course, online certifications won’t cut it for many careers. But if you’re considering switching to a career in — for example — IT, finance, marketing, law, or entrepreneurship, you should look into whether online courses can give you the skills and knowledge you need.

Whether it’s a degree from an accredited institution, or a combination of free online courses, internships, and volunteer stints, you need to think carefully about how you’re going to gain the experience necessary for the career you want. Know how much time and money it will take, and how it’s going to affect other areas of your life.

  1. jma-fernHow will this affect my family and my personal life? Changing careers also means a change in your income and work-life balance. These two factors can have a big impact on your quality of life — as well as that of your family. As you research your career of interest, think about how it will affect your finances — both in the short and long term. How will it impact your budget, retirement goals and financial obligations? Will you have the means to pursue your own interests and those of your family? Can you maintain the standard of living to which you’re accustomed?

Then consider your work-life balance. What will a typical week look like when you’re in this new career? Will you have enough time in that week for taking care of your other responsibilities, doing activities you enjoy, being with your loved ones, and simply relaxing? What vacation days and other time off will this new career afford you?

If a career change means taking a financial hit or spending more time working than you and your family are used to, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it. You’ll be the judge of that. But make sure you consider these things before you make the decision to go for it.

  1. Should I hire a career coach? If the above questions are making your head spin, you may need someone to help you sort out your thoughts and point you in a new, useful direction. A career coach can bring more clarity to your decision-making process — increasing your confidence that a career change is the right move for you.

What else should you consider before making a career change?

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