Figure Out What's Next

How Many Times Will I Change Careers?

career change mark gleason Aug 14, 2009

by Mark Gleason

photo via pixabay 

“Many of my clients should expect to have four to seven careers in their working lives,” says Mary Lindley Burton, who has been helping people make career transitions since 1978, when she founded Burton Strategies. At the time, career consulting was not an established profession. (Even today, it’s unregulated, without governing standards or qualifications.)

Burton has watched the American business landscape change drastically over the past 30 years. “In the ’70s and ’80s, the business community was disoriented and surprised by radical changes in the business environment . . . People were fired who never expected to be fired.” That sense of complacency is gone. More important, ”the world changes rapidly now,” she continues. “It’s not likely that one individual can amass enough knowledge to last a lifetime of work.”

Of course, the world has always changed rapidly. But now there is a crucial difference: There’s no one to help you keep pace. “From World War II through the ’70s, major American companies provided retraining for their employees. You had reason to think your company would take care of you. Not anymore,” Burton says. And just as the expectations for employers have changed, so have those of employees. “People focus on the contribution they can make to a company, but they are not thinking of a lifetime commitment.”

Burton likens her clientele to churchgoers. Some just want to change pews—doing the work they have always done, but for a different employer. Some want to change churches—staying within their professional community, but moving to a different part of it, like another field of law or marketing. Others want to change faiths and do something entirely different. “These are the people who take a 360-degree look at their lives and decide to repot,” she says.

Burton has worked with an estimated 1,600 people in her career—and she’s learned that changing pews, churches or faiths is not easy. “Learning to go inward and find out what you value is an acquired skill, not a natural one.” But those who do it often find enormous benefit.


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