Maybe you were thinking about a career change before the pandemic hit. Maybe it was a lingering thought that ebbed and flowed to the forefront of your mind depending on how the work day went. There were thoughts of “one day, I will…” or “after this job, I could see myself doing X…but it’s not time yet”. Maybe you’ve made the pros and cons list (in your mind) or you’ve even written it down, maybe even more than once. You’ve weighed your salary or hourly rate, benefits — if they’re in the picture, whether you’d rather spend time sprucing up your resume and seeing what’s out there or keeping the job status quo because the thought of a job search and networking feels unpleasant — or worse. You’ve thought about interviewing just to reassure your confidence, confirm your value in the marketplace, or to have negotiating power at the current job. You have some hobbies that could turn into a full-time gig, but…you’d have to sell A LOT of painted vases or bike tour tickets or paid social media posts or consulting hours to make it sustainable, profitable, and the right move. Oh, and by the way, you don’t like selling (sales). You have your family, your partner, and your pride counting on you to keep making the same living and to make ends meet and the lack of consistency and predictability is a huge risk.

Or, maybe that thing that’s been lingering for months, or years, or decades in your mind really is calling to you and you really do think you can make it happen, despite the work it will take, the support you will need from family and friends and understanding when you have to make trade-offs, and the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantsness that it may — okay, will — entail.

Now, we’re hearing about “The Great Resignation” — a movement (?) or wave of us getting back to our roots, reconnecting with what’s most important to us, redefining or rediscovering our values after so much time in isolation, with extra thoughts, stillness, time to think, and as uncomfortable as it may have been — time to face the tough stuff head-on. What we really think. What we really feel. Who we really are. What our purpose really is. How we really want to spend our time.

So, maybe now is the time? It certainly feels safer to make such a bold leap with the solidarity of others going through this massive shift while we are. It’s like holding hands in a row with our friends or family or colleagues and jumping into the lake together on the count of three- 1-2-3, rather than alone — we gain confidence that we’re taking a bold jump together, and we have the support as we do it in one coordinated effort. (Not to mention, if everyone is making a change, there’s lots of new opportunity and job openings). Maybe, it’s actually “The Great Reshuffle” if everyone takes each others’ jobs. There’s an idea!

The Most Important Question to Ask Before a Job Change or Career Transition

But, while it feels safer, and it may feel like, as my husband and I say when we’re making a big decision, “the time for action is now”, there’s one big question you should answer before taking the leap or making the job change:

What kinds of problems do I want to spend my time, energy, knowledge, and experience solving?

Here’s why this question works:

  1. It shifts our focus from what we’re leaving to where we’re going — we begin to look forward, instead of backward.
  2. It reaffirms our interest, desire, expertise, excitement, passion, ability to do something different and confirms what that something is.
  3. It creates intention because you are making a conscious decision to shift your time and focus to a particular job, role, area of interest. (This is a great one to counter anyone questioning whether this is a rash decision)
  4. It focuses on solving problems, making an impact, making a difference, which aligns to your values.
  5. It aligns where you will be spending your time and experience with what’s important to you.
  6. It shifts from a job or a career that feels like it’s “taking” from us (energy or time), to one where we’re “giving” — where we’re making an impact.
  7. It prevents us from feeling like it’s a selfish decision for instant gratification to remove the “don’t love” parts of our jobs, careers, lives, to being proactive about the outcomes we will contribute to.
  8. It grounds our decision in purpose, reframing our elevator pitch, and helping us establish a personal brand that focuses not just on what we do, but why.
  9. It takes into consideration our wellbeing and our health because our time and energy directly correlates to our bodies, our mindsets, and how we feel. If we’re filling up our cups, rather than depleting them.
  10. It makes us feel good to be helping, coming up with solutions, and using our unique skill sets, experience, knowledge for something that makes us jump out of bed in the morning.

This quote from a study by psychologists at UC-Santa Barbara about giving and generosity conclude: Human generosity…may turn out to be a bedrock feature of human nature.”

While yes, maybe there are many reasons not to take the leap or make the career change, maybe we want to feel part of our higher purpose. Maybe, feeling more like we’re of service to a line of business, an industry, a cause that aligns with what’s important to us at our core, is a form of giving rooted in our human nature and a desire we’ve ignored for way too long.

Of course, there are practical and critical reasons why now may not be the perfect time, whether we’re in the midst of The Great Resignation or not. Timing is perhaps the most important factor at play when we make the leap to something different, something better, something more in our careers. Timing such as where we are in our lives, whether we have a financial “cushion” to lean on during the unpredictable times of this new career, our family needs, how much risk we can take on right now.

Either way, stick this in your back pocket, bookmark it, write it down. And, next time you’re considering a job or career change, ground yourself in this problem-solving, values-driven, feel-good, forward-thinking question to set your sights on what’s ahead, then go for it!

the most important question to ask when you're facing a career change


  • Rebecca Otis Leder

    Career Educator, Author, Strategic Advisor

    Rebecca Otis Leder is passionate about bringing people together, online and offline, to drive action and create change. Rebecca serves as a mentor for graduates and career changers, she is the author of KNOCK: How to Open Doors and Build Career Relationships that Matter, and has taught over 600 students and young professionals her 5 step method for building high quality career relationships: The Knock Method®. Rebecca is a career educator, an instructional designer and facilitator of professional development workshops, and a strategic advisor for companies large and small focused on innovative workforce and talent development learning experiences where individuals create meaningful careers through high quality relationship building strategies. Rebecca has inspired students and professionals through speaking and teaching at Salesforce, Amazon, BlogHer, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, JewishColorado, Silicon Valley Jewish High Tech Community, Denver Scholarship Foundation, University of Texas at Austin, UW-Madison, and Loyola and DePaul Universities. A former award-winning blogger, she founded a small business marketing consultancy at the age of 26 in Austin, Texas, when she was named a Rising Star Finalist for the Austin Business Journal Profiles in Power Women of Influence awards. Let's connect: @TheRebeccaLeder