Early Career Job Change — Learn How to Pull It Off

job change

Navigate an early career job change with this step-by-step guide.

The idea behind both semi-retirement and FIRE is to save diligently in the beginning of your career so that you can have more freedom later. This is what I call Step 1 in the Semi-Retire Plan. As a result, it can feel like you have to “grind” at your unpleasant job with no reprieve. Well-meaning family members or mentors might tell you that an early career job change can push you off track for the remaining portion of your working years.

I would argue otherwise.

How long should I wait before changing jobs? 

There’s no one answer for “correct” timing for an early career job change. How much of a problem is your current job? If you’re suffering through abuse, leave immediately. If you just don’t enjoy it, you’ll need to explore further.

Certainly, most people don’t love every minute of their full-time job. To an extent, that’s just normal. But life is too short to suffer through a job you truly hate. Even while saving for semi-retirement, it’s important to still prioritize spending your time and money in areas that are most meaningful to you.

The SR Wife and I both made early career job changes after less than 2 years at our first professional jobs. I’ll dig into the details below, but I want you to know that I’ve been in your shoes, and it can work out very well.

So, if you are not being compensated fairly, suffer abuse, work extreme hours, or outright dislike what you are working on, I want to validate your concern and discomfort. It’s alright to feel that way, and you should get out of there!

Does job hopping look bad?

Many people are concerned that changing jobs can look bad to a potential future employer. In my experience, this has not been a deal-breaker.

When employers see that you’ve made an early career job change, they’ll  want to know why and if it will be a pattern. It’s true that employers want to reduce their own risk of re-filling your position after only a short time in the role.

Remember, though, that leaving a job after only a year or two is becoming increasingly common. So there’s nothing wrong with you if you’ve found that a certain role or employer just isn’t a good fit.

One other key element to navigating this topic is to avoid speaking too negatively of your previous employer that you left. If you “trash” you past employer in an interview, the interviewer will believe that you’ll speak negatively of them too, if hired.

If approached carefully, you can demonstrate to a future employer that your early career job change will not be a pattern for you as an employee.
If approached carefully, you can demonstrate to a future employer that your early career job change will not be a pattern for you as an employee.

Your main goal when talking with a potential future employer will be to speak professionally about your departure and to explain that it was an exceptional circumstance that required you to leave. You can explain in your responses that you’re a very reliable and trustworthy employee.

Where do I start when making an early career job change?

The first step in making an early career job change is to identify what’s broken.

Do a “post-mortem” review of your current role. What do you enjoy? What is your pain point?

If you’re just getting started in your field, it may be hard to know how much of the problem is specific to your manager vs the company vs the industry as a whole.

Try talking to peers at other similar companies, reading employer reviews from sites like Glassdoor, or even just imagining if your job would feel significantly improved in a similar role but with a different manager.

Only pursue a new job if your current pain point will be changed in your new role.

The SR Wife worked in a small office setting in her first job. Her manager was too intense. To him, every mistake was a “total failure.” She decided to pursue new options after being with the employer for less than a year, and it has worked out great! In her case, it wasn’t an industry problem, just a manager problem. Her salary increased by $10k at her new position.

When I left my first job, I felt that I wasn’t being compensated fairly. Your time is “worth” whatever the market will pay you. A former manager from a college internship reached out to me, and I told her I was interested! The new position included a 44% increase in salary.

How do I get an interview?

Start by checking in with any contacts you already have in your target industry. PayScale estimates that 70-80% of jobs are filled by networking, rather than job board listings.

Consider reaching out directly to companies you’re interested in and expressing your interest. They may have a position to fill that is not posted online yet.

When I was applying to the first company I worked for, I wasn’t getting any responses to my application. One day I found a broken link on the job posting, I called the company and let the HR department know about the error, and then we discussed my application. I quickly had 2 phone interviews scheduled with them.

In the interview, remember to gear all of your responses around what you can do for your new employer — that’s what they care about. Frame your responses around this structure: “_______ happened, I responded by doing _______, and I will use that same skillset at your company to help you do _______.”

My last interview tip is be prepared to ask questions! It shows you are interested, and it gives you a chance to respond. Ask about what skills a good candidate for the position would have, then share a story showing how you demonstrate those skills.

Nailing the interview is an important step in executing your early career job change.
Nailing the interview is an important step in executing your early career job change.

How do I prepare for the interview?

Next, update your interview tool kit and you’ll be ready for your early career job change! This resume guide from my friends at Your Money Geek is my favorite resource to help with this step.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile looks sharp and that your other personal social media channels either look professional or are set to private.

Get ready to interview! I like to bring a leather padfolio with a notepad, pen, and several extra copies of my resume. I also like to prep by researching the employer and identifying 5 personal stories I will share to show my relevant skills.

Be confident but not pompous or arrogant.

How do I respond to a job offer?

When you get an offer, you may also find that the possible new employer offers benefits you didn’t know you were missing. When asking about benefits at your new employer, consider inquiring about each of the following:

  • Salary (try to negotiate for more)
  • Paid time off (try to negotiate for more)
  • Retirement account contribution match
  • Bonuses
  • Relocation assistance
  • Sick days
  • Maternity and paternity leave
  • Childcare assistance
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Discounts on company products or services
  • Insurance cost supplements and discounts
  • Discount corporate rates on cell phone plans

One of the reasons I made my own early career job change to my current employer is the tuition reimbursement program. I recently completed my master’s degree and it’s not affecting our debt level or cash flow!

Changing jobs early in your career

Remember, you can successfully make an early career job change. You don’t have to be a martyr for your financial future. If you hate your job: prepare, find a new one, then leave.

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