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Should I Change Careers During an Economic Recession?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 6th 2011

Should I Change Careers During an Economic Recession?E. Mail:

"Got the courage just to be shot down. - Christine - Oct 4th 2011"

After being a bankruptcy paralegal for 5 years and a legal secretary for 7 years I finally left to pursue a career as a children's librarian. Only having an Associates Degree, I had to return to school and got my BA in literature. Since this took longer than anticipated, I cannot afford nor have the stamina to go forward to get my MLS degree (Master's in Library Science) to become a certified librarian. Unfortunately, you can only be hired with your master's degree. In defeat, I look back to legal and try to find something there to catch up on money and the reality of a home for my husband and me. Six years of us living with my parents is due to unemployment is long enough. But being away from the legal field and not wearing high class clothes, they tend to look at me like I don't belong in this field anymore. I thought about taking the NYLA Library Assistant 1 week course, but I am not sure what good that will do. Any suggestions on jobs that I can?

The writer is caught in a dilemma that is affecting millions of people. Essentially, the dilemma is the question of whether or not a career change is a good idea during a recession. Conventional wisdom says that it is wiser to keep a job than lose a job during recession.

However, very often conventional wisdom is not what drives a person when they have a dream they want to pursue or hate the career they are in. With certain conditions in place, there are reasons to move into a new career even when there is an economic downturn as there is at the present time. Following are a few of those conditions and questions that each person needs to carefully weigh:

1. Are you a risk taker? There are many people who feel better with certainty and are not comfortable with the kinds of changes and dislocations that accompany any job or career change. Having said this, it is important to keep in mind that we are living in a time of great uncertainty. Even jobs what were once considered safe and secure are no longer so. In fact, there is another wisdom that says it is better to search for a new career because the longer one remains in a job, the likelihood of a layoff increases greatly.

2. Have you done your homework? If moving into a new industry brings with it an increase in job availability then it might be worth making the move. However, if the industry you are contemplating is decimated with job loss then it makes no sense to do this. I have no way of knowing the availability of jobs in library sciences today but the writer needs to find out before she decides to move forward.

3. Moving into a new career or profession usually brings with it a loss in salary. The reason is that people find themselves starting at the bottom of seniority and salary scale when they begin. In addition, there are careers that notoriously have low incomes. In this case, an individual needs to ask themselves if the new job is important enough to work for less money or not. 

4. Do you have enough in terms of finances through the savings accounts, investments, scholarships, grants and other sources of income to see you through the process of education that are needed for some professions? There are some families who are willing to contribute to their relative's education fund in order to show support for this change in direction.

5. If education and all of these other conditions exist, the big question becomes whether or not you have the stamina, will power and downright stubbornness to see all of this through. Only you can make the decision. It's also important to discuss these matters with family and close friends. Emotional support is necessary to get through such a difficult time.

6. Do you have children and a spouse whose lives will be impacted by your change of career and will they be able to tolerate the deprivation that many people must endure before they can move into a new career? Of course, as stated above, this may happen anyway due to the rate of job loss around the nation.

These are just a few questions needed to think about and discuss with loved ones.

With regard to the woman who wrote the Email it seems a shame for her to have gone this far in her education and development to give up now. It is true that she, her husband and children have lived with her parents for long enough. Yet, this is where the gritting of teeth comes in and moving ahead in a determined way. While living at home may be intolerable, it is a way to reduce expenses while she pursues her Master's degree. In terms of money, there are sources that she may not be aware of.
After all, she does not have a job that she fears losing. Of course, these are my opinions and, therefore, it's easy for me to say. Her decisions must be based on the realities of her situation and no one knows those better than her. As far as the task of returning to her former work, it must have occurred to her to speak to her former employers about work. They might well be more interested in her now that she has her BA regardless of the clothes she is wearing. If and when she has a job in the legal field or elsewhere, it is always possible to do what so many others have done before her and that is to work towards the MA part time and during evenings.

Finally, it seems to me that taking the library exam makes perfect sense. One never knows what opportunities may emerge from that.

For everyone in this and other similar situations the idea is to think creatively and not give up hope. The loss of hope brings with it depression and despair. It always feels better to formulate a plan, follow it, modify it as you go along and avoid falling into the pit of "helpless-hopeless thinking and feeling.

You are encouraged to submit you advice, support, personal experiences, and questions.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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