Do You Need a New Job or a New Career?

How to Decide Whether to Change Jobs or Careers

A man at his work station trying to make a decision.
••• Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

Do you hate your job? Do something about it. Spending eight hours a day—at least half your waking hours—doing work you don't enjoy or working with a boss you don't like can have a profoundly negative effect on your life.

Deciding to make a change is less complicated than trying to figure out what kind of change is required to make your work life more pleasant. Do you need a new job or a new career? When considering those two choices, it is essential to figure out the real source of your dissatisfaction.

A new job may be the right option if you still enjoy your work but not your place of employment. On the other hand, there could be reasons why it makes sense to make a whole career change.

Don't decide whether to find a new job or a new career without first giving it a lot of thought. Here are some scenarios that make one option better than the other.

Factors that Affect Your Decision

There are several things to consider when analyzing your discontent and how you want to move forward. It helps to do some introspection by journaling, talking to your spouse or a good friend, reading up on the subject or working with a career coach to really identify what's missing and how to make changes to your job or career path. You can start by considering questions such as the following:

  • Would your employer be considered a good company to work at by most people?
  • Is your boss invested in your future success?
  • Could anything in your personal life be affecting your thoughts about your job?
  • Have you seen that others in your company have succeeded in changing their duties, getting promoted, or transferring to other positions within the firm?
  • Did you take the job because it was easy and had good benefits, or because you enjoy it?
  • Have you already changed jobs and still feel unhappy?

The more angles you can approach the situation and the more questions you ask yourself, the more insight you'll gain and the closer you'll be to figuring out your next move.

Following are some example scenarios to illustrate whether it makes more sense to change jobs or careers.

Change Jobs: You Dislike Your Employer But Enjoy Your Work

If you still like tending to the specific duties of your occupation, consider taking your skills and experience to a new employer. A new job is the better choice when your relationship with your boss is unacceptable, or your coworkers are difficult. If your commute is getting to you, find work closer to home. For example, as a retail salesperson, you may enjoy selling merchandise to customers but don't mesh with the other salespeople, your manager, or the long drive to work.

Change Jobs: You Like Your Job, But You've Identified a Problem

If, for the most part, you like your boss and the company, but you have an issue such as feeling bored or apathetic about certain duties, a new job might help. Go back to the example of the retail salesperson. In your current position, you love interacting with customers but find the products uninspiring. Perhaps if your job involved working in a different type of retail store, for example, a shoe store instead of a home furnishings shop, you would be more interested and inspired.

Change Jobs: You Can't Clearly Identify the Problem

When the root of your discontent with your job isn't clear, it's hard to know what to do. Sometimes your problem might be something more subtle, like a company culture that doesn't fit your personality, a boss that is nice yet doesn't support you growing in your position, or a job that you're good at but which doesn't feel meaningful or gratifying.

A career change will be the more arduous of your two choices—it may involve going back to school, for example—so it's worth giving a new job a try before taking more drastic measures. A new environment, new boss or the same job in a different industry may do the trick, but if it doesn't, then you might want to start exploring a career change.

Change Jobs: No Chance for Advancement

When the lack of available positions at your current organization is limiting your boss's ability to promote you, it is time to move on. This situation is common in smaller organizations where the only position above yours might be your boss's. If your boss recognizes your abilities and understands your need for advancement, ask for a reference to help in your job search.

Change Careers: You Don't Like Your Job Duties

If you don't like your job duties, you may have outgrown your occupation, or it was never right for you to begin with. If you crave new challenges, and you've asked around but there's nothing else for you at your current job, stay with your employer until you're ready to move on, but make good use of that time.

First, do a thorough self-assessment to identify new careers that are a good fit. Then explore the ones that interest you to learn more about them. After deciding which to pursue, take care of getting your required training and education while still at your current job. Since your employer isn't the problem, there's no rush to start a job search, so use this time to retrain for something new and exciting to you.

Change Jobs or Careers: You're Not Challenged

If your job isn't challenging, it is time to find one where you have greater responsibilities. Read job descriptions for roles that are a step up for yours, and ascertain that you meet all the requirements of a more responsible role. If not, get additional training before starting your job search.

Your Training May Be Holding You Back

Even though your boss loves you, they may not be able to give you more responsibilities because you lack certain required skills. Just changing jobs won't likely help, but a complete career change may not be necessary either. Instead, ask your boss what additional training will allow them to give you more challenging work.

Once you've investigated additional training options, you might decide that it's not worth the time and/or monetary investment to get to a higher level in your current career. In that case, if there aren't any other issues at your current job, you can stay in your current job while you take the opportunity to investigate other career paths where you can leverage your existing skills, or start in a brand-new career that has more attractive prospects for you.

To Summarize: New Job or New Career?

Consider looking for a new job if:

  • Your problem is with your employer and not your job duties
  • You like your employer and job duties, but something else about work is an issue
  • You crave new challenges but none are available at your existing job

Consider a career change if:

  • You don't like performing your job duties
  • You tried changing jobs but you're still unhappy
  • Your current work doesn't challenge you, but lack of training limits you from having more responsibilities (and you can't or don't want to go through more training)