What to Do When Your Career Disappears

Worried manufacturing worker in a processing plant
•••

kali9 / Getty Images

Could your career actually disappear? According to research from Oxford Economics, there is a possibility. In a 2019 report, the global economic forecasting firm found that tens of millions of jobs—particularly in sectors such as manufacturing and service—were at risk over the next decade due to automation, in which software, advanced robotics, and other technologies replace human workers with cheaper, speedier, computerized counterparts.

The robots, however, aren’t the only threat to your job. Other risks include economic downturns and outsourcing, both of which can create an unstable environment for workers generally or in specific industries. 

But if you feel your livelihood is being threatened, you may be less interested in why and more interested in what to do next. 

How to Plan for a New Career

Here’s how to create a plan that will help you survive while you change careers:

1. Take Stock of the Situation

While financial experts suggest keeping three to six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, 40% of Americans couldn’t come up with $400 for an unexpected bill, according to a Federal Reserve survey. 

So, if you don’t have enough money to cover months of expenses in the bank, don’t blame yourself. Instead, figure out where you stand. Find out whether your former employer will offer severance pay, and determine whether you qualify for unemployment benefits. Make a basic budget, tallying up your income and expenses and identifying any shortfall.


Contact your creditors immediately if you’re unable to make payments. You may be able to defer some bills under certain circumstances.

2. Make Money Quickly

Any time you find yourself unemployed, it’s a good idea to investigate ways to make money during the short term, instead of waiting for another full-time job. This is even more important when you’re unsure of your occupation’s future as a whole.

To make money quickly while you figure out your longer-term plans, look into all your options, including:

  • Temp jobs: Temporary or seasonal work can fill the financial gap and help you stay active in the job market.
  • Gig work: On-demand apps offer flexible work for drivers, grocery shoppers, movers, babysitters, virtual assistants, and more. As a benefit, gigs are typically easy to schedule around other jobs or responsibilities.  
  • Jobs that use transferable skills: Finally, don’t assume that you’re out of luck with full-time employment just because your current occupation doesn’t have a robust outlook. Remember that many of the skills you learned in your old job are valuable in other jobs and careers. Look for new positions that use these transferable skills. (Be sure to emphasize these in your resumes, cover letters, and during job interviews.)

If you’re collecting unemployment, check with your state’s department of labor to determine how your earnings may impact your benefits.

3. Find an Interim Solution

When transferable skills and work experience aren’t enough to bridge the gap, certification might be the answer. Completing a certificate program can help you get started in several high-paying jobs, including web developer, court reporter, and HVAC technician. These programs typically take only a few months to complete and may cost less than an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

4. Make a Long-Term Plan

Longer term, it may make sense to go back to school to gain additional degrees or certifications—or you may be able to develop new career skills on the job. Regardless of the direction you take, it pays to invest the time in building a career plan.

The career-planning process includes:

  • Self-assessment: To choose the right career, you need to learn as much as you can about your interests, aptitudes, and values. While a career counselor can help guide your search, you can get started for free by taking online assessments.
  • Research: Once you’ve compiled a list of possible occupations, it’s time to do some homework. Use free resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn more about possible career paths. You’ll find data on salary potential, career growth, and educational requirements, as well as related careers that might interest you.
  • Exploration: Through your professional network, arrange informational interviews and job shadowing experiences to learn more about what it’s like to do these jobs in real life. Feeling shy about reaching out? You’ll be surprised at how willing most people are to share their time and expertise.

5. Prepare to Grow

It’s hard to say how often people change careers, but the BLS reports that people ages 18-52 have held an average of 12 jobs over their working lives. Given the turbulent economic times we live in, it’s a safe bet that many of those job and career changes are involuntary.


To thrive in this environment, be prepared not only for sudden career shifts but also for a gradual change in requirements. 

The skills you need to do your job today may become obsolete tomorrow. Your best bet is to keep learning new skills—and to plan for a lifetime of learning and growing.

Even if it doesn’t happen abruptly, every career will change, so be ready to change with it.