Shifting Gears (II)

Kyle McIntosh

I LEFT MY CORPORATE job a year ago to start a second career in higher education. At the time, I offered five pieces of advice to those considering a similar change. That advice included creating a plan with your family, giving your desired new career a test drive and taking advantage of deferred compensation plans. A year into my new career change, here are four additional tips:

1. Estimate the point of no return. Last year, I urged people—once they had found their passion and done an adequate amount of planning—to “just do it.” While I still think it’s important not to procrastinate unnecessarily, I’ve also come to believe it’s prudent for career changers to ask colleagues and recruiters, “How long can I be away from my current career before I limit my ability to return?”

If the consensus answer is that opting to leave for even a short time will make it hard to return, you may want to be slower to change careers, so you have extra time to chew over the decision. If you decide not to change right away, consider whether there are ways to incorporate elements of your desired career into your existing role or if you could take classes to prepare for your next job.

2. Consider the credentials you’ll need. When I made my shift to higher education, my goal was to spend most of my time teaching, coaching and mentoring students. While I’ve been successful in hitting that goal, I sense that I’ll soon want to expand my focus. The issue I face: My credentials may not meet the minimum qualifications for certain leadership roles.

While I knew this coming in, I probably should have spent more time exploring the necessary qualifications for advancement in higher education. If professional credentials or further education will be required for promotions in your new career, identify programs that’ll allow you to earn the needed credentials and consider whether you should pursue them before you make your career shift.

3. Figure out what you’ll do with your spare time. Many folks see having more free time as a good thing. Indeed, more time to pursue personal interests can be a key reason people make career changes. If you’re shifting to a less time-demanding role, however, you may struggle with how to utilize your newly found time. As part of your transition, I recommend estimating how much spare time you will have and when you’ll have that time. Will you free up a few hours per day or will it come to you in chunks at certain times each year? If you will have significant additional free time, ponder how you’ll use and enjoy it.

My old job was heavily scheduled, but I now have more flexibility. I’ve used some of the freed-up time to coach my daughter’s track and field team—a new sport for me. Practices are three days a week, providing a little more structure for my now less-structured life.

4. Collect deferred compensation over time. During my final five years in my corporate job, I put a little money each year into the company’s deferred compensation plan, knowing it would come in handy when I switched to my new, lower-paying career. That deferred compensation was paid out earlier this year.

While I’m happy I made the deferrals, I probably made a mistake in having the money paid out as a single lump sum. If, instead, I’d had the payout spread over multiple years, the tax bite would likely have been less.

Kyle McIntosh, CPA, MBA, is a fulltime lecturer at the California Lutheran University School of Management. He turned his career focus to teaching after 23 years working in accounting and finance roles for large corporations. Kyle lives in Southern California with his wife, two children and their overly friendly goldendoodle. Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleGMcIntosh and check out his earlier articles.

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