THESE days, many people in their 20s and 30s are eager to push themselves into entirely different careers, whether because the economy is telling them to do so, their ambitions are signalling that it is time for a change or they’ve been laid off.
If they are childless, this may be a good time to take the financial risk of not working for a while. A result of all this is that career gaps can be an acceptable option for generations up to their 30s. To cope with living in an interstitial state, young people are cobbling together freelance or contract work, or accepting help from their parents.
Others have full-time jobs and may either yearn for a new career or feel that their companies aren’t investing in them or offering a clear career path. Jamie Yang, 34, decided that it would be okay to quit. He has plans to leave his position as president of EGG-energy, a renewable-energy company in Tanzania, although he will remain on its board and does not have another job lined up.
“I don’t expect to find a CEO position available to me in the US,” he said. He is prepared to take a step down the ladder if necessary and is looking for positions that will allow him to work on business development, strategy, product design or management. Kristen Domingue, 35, who over the past decade has worked at non-profit organisations and in the private sector, and is now running her own business, Ignite, a personal branding firm, said: “There is definitely a generational stigma among older people of, ‘Why can’t you figure it out?’”
Sometimes, it takes one of these career interludes to figure out the right path. However, they don’t always happen by choice. When Lindsey Pollak, 40, was laid off from WorkingWoman.com during the dot-com bust in 2001, her boss said she should go start her own business. Pollak finally took that advice after two years of working part time and freelancing. “It was a devastating transition, but it helped launch me,” said Pollak, who helps people train, manage and market to millennials.
“We are still using previous generations’ career mores to judge people making careers in the new world,” said Pollak, the author of Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. “Twenty, 30 or 40 years ago when someone was in a career transition, it was a loss of identity; now it’s the norm.” Part of what’s driving career breaks is that so many industries are in upheaval.
Sometimes, either by choice or because of a lay-off, young people need to take a step back and figure out how they fit into the new economy. Those who are nimble and can make career course corrections will have tremendous opportunities in the future, she advised. While the conventional wisdom is that employers like to see consistency, the ability to reinvent oneself is gaining currency as a sought-after talent.
“Moving from one career to another is all about listening, and if you are smart, it’s about responding to what the marketplace wants and realigning accordingly,” Domingue said. Although neither sex is impervious to these lulls, women may not raise as many eyebrows when they tell people they aren’t working.
“There is more cultural acceptance of women moving in and out of the work force,” Pollak said. “We unfairly expect men to know where they are going.”
This article was first published in The New York Times.