Your Career: A Good Choice for the Future?

Hands over a crystal ball which reads "The Future of Your Career" inside.

Perhaps you are making a career choice for the first time. Or, maybe you are already working but have decided to change career fields altogether. Either way, making a career choice is a serious decision, one which will certainly impact you for years into the future.

Sure, you want to choose a career about which you are passionate and excited. Unless you’re already wealthy, you also expect it to pay the bills and support the lifestyle you want. Unfortunately, many people stop analyzing their career choice right there. They forget to ask a very important question. What does the future look like for this field? Of course, nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty. However, there are resources which can help you at least make an educated decision.

A Real Example

Years ago, a friend told me he was going to change careers.  Like many people, he had a job but wanted a real career. He wanted to learn a marketable skill which would serve him for years to come.  In fact, he had already started taking classes at a local college and seemed to be well on his way. You could see the excitement on his face and hear it in his voice.  Naturally, I asked what field he had chosen.  “Drafting,” he said proudly, “I really like drawing and there will always be a need for drafting.” I said, “That’s great! Which drafting software will you be learning?”

Back at that time, computer-aided design (CAD) drafting software packages like AutoCAD® and MicroStation® were rapidly entering the workplace. These then-new tools were quickly becoming the norm for performing drafting tasks. Computer terminals were replacing drafting tables with lightning speed. “Oh, I’m not learning any software. Besides, I don’t like computers,” he said, “I’m learning to do drafting by hand.”

Uh-oh!

I didn’t want to rain on his parade but knew drafting tables would soon go the way of dinosaurs and cassette tapes.  So, I mentioned again how CAD was the wave of the future.  I suggested that if he learned CAD, it would be a real opportunity. He could get in on the ground floor of something new.

“No,” he said confidently, “computers will never replace draftsmen.  There will always be a need for draftsmen. And, as I said, I don’t like computers.”

Well, as you probably already know, computers and CAD software did indeed replace drafting tables.  In the end, his career change did not turn out as he had hoped or expected.  I found out later he eventually went to work in a different field entirely. What a shame.  All that time, energy, and money spent on training were lost. I am sure the whole experience was a big disappointment to him personally.

Where Did He Go Wrong?

Obviously, he failed to fully scope out the new career field he was pursuing. I doubt he visited firms which hire drafters or asked about the employment prospects for newcomers. A little research would have quickly revealed the role of computers and CAD software in the future of drafting. Even the old term “draftsman” had evolved into the more technical “CAD Operator” or “Drafting Technician.” Plus, since he “didn’t like computers,” he could have learned this was obviously not a wise career move. At least not for him.

How Can You Look Into the Future?

How does someone who is not currently working in a particular field learn about its expected future prospects? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Contact a few companies and ask if you can visit the department of interest. Talk to people already working in the field.
  • Consider “job shadowing,” either with your current employer or another firm. (See the Career Lantern article Job Shadowing Saves Time, Money, and Regret.)
  • If you personally know someone working in the field of interest, talk with them. Since they know you, they may give you the “real scoop” on the field (at least as they see it).
  • Trade organizations/associations, unions, and credentialing bodies for the field may have information on their websites.
  • Colleges or high schools may have data and other resources available about future prospects for various fields.
  • Check out the career of interest in the online Occupational Outlook Handbook at the U.S. Department of Labor at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm/es/ooh/home.htm.

A Great Resource

The Occupational Outlook Handbook at the U.S. Department of Labor is a great resource and treasure trove of data.  Search for your career of interest and the results will provide you with valuable information such as:

  • Median Pay Rate
  • Typical Entry-Level Education Required
  • Work Experience Required
  • Additional On-the-job Training Needed
  • Number of Jobs
  • Job Outlook
  • Upcoming Employment Change Expected

A Closer Look

Back when my friend decided to pursue drafting, I’m sure he didn’t know about the Occupational Outlook Handbook. In the days before the internet, this document was probably something available primarily at the local public library. However, had he used it, he would have learned about the major changes which were taking place at that time in the field of drafting.

Fast forward to now. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is readily available online. As an example of what information one might find for a specific career, let’s stick with the field of drafting. Suppose someone is looking to enter the field of drafting today and consults this online resource. What types of things would he or she learn? A quick search of “drafting” on this website will land us on the following page.

A screenshot of the "Summary" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

The Summary page contains a great deal of information.  First, notice the title of the job has been updated to the gender-neutral “Drafter.” What about the pay for this field? A change in careers is usually made, at least in part, to seek higher wages. The Median Pay data is useful in comparing one’s current compensation to that of the new field. However, remember this number is statistically calculated. Therefore, actual pay will vary considerably by individual company and geographic location.

Note an Associate’s degree is the typically expected entry-level education requirement. The How to Become One page provides useful information regarding preparing for a career in this field.

A screenshot of the "How to Become One" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

The Future Outlook

Check out the Job Outlook page. The 10-year employment outlook for drafters indicates a 7% increase from 2016 to 2026. The number of drafting jobs is expected to grow by 14,600 workers over this time period. Note the report goes on to state this increase is “about as fast as the average for all occupations.”  This suggests drafting is not a high-growth field. According to the information, the expected modest growth is due to a projected increase in construction. Obviously, any unforeseen downturn in the economy could adversely impact this expected increase. If that happens, the result might be fewer job openings in drafting.

But, doesn’t the skill itself required for drafting help provide some assurance of long-term job growth, stability, or security? No, not necessarily. The Job Outlook page reveals something very interesting (I added the highlighting).

A screenshot of the "Job Outlook" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

In the days before CAD, engineers and architects relied on drafters to create all the drawings and blueprints. Manual drafting required a degree of artistic skill, a valuable talent certainly not possessed by everyone. However, according to the information, CAD technology enables engineers and architects to now do much of the work themselves. Just click a mouse. Thus, when caught in a financial pinch, companies could probably get by with fewer drafters.

Here’s the point. When looking at the future of a career, consider how it is changing and the technology involved. Will these factors help ensure someone with your skill set will always be needed, or, does it enable others to easily replace you?

What’s the Future for Your Career Look Like?

Unlike my friend, you have easy access to career data and projections. You can get a glimpse of the expected future for your chosen career field. Yes, it may be only an estimate, but the information can also help ensure you ask all the right questions. What does the future look like for this field? How are changes in technology apt to impact it? 

Final Thoughts

Above all, the field you choose needs to be the right fit for you. But, before choosing or changing careers, carefully do your homework using ALL available resources.  Talk to people in the field. While helpful, do not rely solely on statistically-derived data which can vary greatly and is subject to change. A field which looks promising one year may appear bleak the next. No information or data are perfect, so there will never be any guarantees. However, by utilizing multiple resources you will be basing your decision on the best information available at the time. After all, that is the most anyone can do.

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Click “Leave a Comment” at the top right of this post (or at the bottom on some mobile apps).

Featured image courtesy of Tumisu-Pixabay

Gaps in Employment History

Hands holding an iPad which displays an online job application form.

Nothing seems to jump off the page of a resume or job application like a gap in employment history.  Even though employment gaps may occur for good and legitimate reasons, employers typically see them as potential red flags.  Did the applicant get fired from this job?  Did he or she do something really wrong or even illegal?

Remember that the resume review and interview process is designed, in part, to help reduce the employer’s risk of making a bad hiring decision. While moving through the process, a job candidate will ideally shift from being a risky, unknown quantity to a comfortable choice for the employer. However, gaps in work history tend to impede this transition by fueling suspicion and increasing the perceived level of risk. Applicants must recognize the fear of making a bad hiring decision is a genuine and valid concern to employers.  Therefore, the goal of applicants with employment gaps must be to calm those fears.

Reasons for Employment Gaps

Gaps in employment may have many reasons. To an employer, some explanations may be considered harmless while others may be cause for alarm. Reasons for gaps may include:

  • Taking a small vacation between jobs or to relocate to a new job
  • Layoff due to corporate downsizing, merger, or facility closure
  • A project ended or there was a loss of grant funding
  • Taking time off to obtain or complete a degree or acquire additional training
  • Recovery from personal illness or surgery, or to care for someone who was ill
  • Military service
  • Voluntary resignation due to dissatisfaction with a position or employer
  • Being fired from a job
  • Imprisonment after conviction of a serious crime

Strategies for Gaps

If you have a gap in your employment history, here are three possible strategies to consider:

  • Make the gap less noticeable on your resume and application
  • Have a reasonable explanation ready
  • Use networking to help minimize employers’ perceived risk

Do not misunderstand the first strategy. I am NOT suggesting that you lie or in any way falsify your application materials. If you do, you will likely get caught, either now or later. The consequences might range from severe embarrassment to losing the job. In some cases, falsification on resumes or applications could even result in criminal conviction. (See the Career Lantern posting Lying on Resumes and Job Interviews.)

Make the Gap Less Noticeable

Making the gap less noticeable means merely using an employment history format which presents the information in a way which is less apt to draw attention. For example, consider the resume excerpt shown below.

An excerpt from a resume showing an obvious eight-month gap in employment history.

By including the month or full date on the resume, the applicant makes the eight-month employment gap readily apparent. Such an obvious break in employment will almost certainly prompt the employer to ask questions about it. In fact, the person reading the resume or conducting the interview would be negligent not to ask. When the format is revised to indicate only the year of employment (see resume excerpt below), the gap is not visible.

An excerpt from a resume using a "years only" format which makes an employment gap less noticeable.

Of course, this approach is neither foolproof nor always even possible to use. For example, if the employment gap extends to another year or spans several years, it will show up. Also, some online job application software systems make the month or full date of employment a “required” data field. Thus, the applicant cannot complete and submit the online form unless all required fields have been filled out. In this situation, the gap will undoubtedly be revealed to the employer.

There is also always a chance the gap will somehow become known during the job interview.  The interviewer may ask questions which force out details regarding the exact timing of your work history.  Finally, a reference check might bring the gap to light. At a minimum, reference checks usually involve verification of the dates of employment. This approach is used to confirm there is not a discrepancy between the information provided by the applicant and that given by former employer. Again, this is why honesty is the best policy.  A small gap appearing after a reference check is likely less damaging than if an outright falsification is discovered.

Just Leave it Out?

Suppose you have been with an employer for a long time, perhaps ten or more years. However, prior to your current job, you worked for a few other companies.  Unfortunately, let’s say you have a noticeable gap in employment between two of them, for whatever reason. Should you include that information?

In some situations, it may not be necessary, especially when you have advanced, changed positions, or assumed new responsibilities several times with your current employer. You could simply use each of those changes to “fill in the space” for your work history. Doing so would not only reflect a recent pattern of successful career advancements, but might also eliminate the need to include the old employers. And just like that, the gap is gone.

Besides, does an employer really care about a job you held 10 or 15 years ago? Maybe not, as technology, laws, the market, and many other factors have probably changed since then and your old experience may not be applicable in today’s workplace.

In her article How to Explain an Employment Gap on Your Resume on thebalancecareers.com website, Alison Doyle states, “There is no requirement that you include all your experience on a resume. That’s especially true if you’ve been in the workforce for many years. If you are looking for a mid-career position, an entry level role from decades ago is probably not very relevant.”

Have a Reasonable Explanation Ready

Even if the employment gap can be made less noticeable, you still need to have a reasonable explanation prepared and ready. In other words, you may have no choice except to “put the best face” on the gap. The explanation should be crafted such that it does not sound like an excuse and can be delivered without embarrassment. Be careful to not go on a rant or badmouth the former employer, even if the employer really was the reason you left.

In the article 5 Tips for How to Explain Gaps in Your Employment History on LinkedIn.com, Bronwen Hann offers a suggestion. She says, “Keep it positive when talking about why you left your job before the gap. Explanations that scream: ‘I didn’t like my previous employer’ don’t look good. Hiring managers might just ask why you didn’t wait to find a new job before quitting your old one, especially because it’s easier to find a new job when you’re already working.”

So what do you say? Check out the article How to Explain Gaps in Employment (With Examples) by Biron Clark on CareerSidekick.com. Here are the general steps Mr. Clark recommends following when explaining gaps in employment in an interview:

  • Explain the situation clearly but briefly. They don’t need a ton of personal details. Just give them the core facts.
  • Show that the situation has ended or is no longer a factor, so they won’t be worried you’ll have to take another break from working. If they hire you, they want to know you’re 100% ready to work for them.
  • Reiterate your interest in their position and bring the focus back onto this job interview and this position.

Networking

As mentioned earlier, employers may view a work history gap on a resume as a sign of risk. Since employers avoid risk, they may just dismiss your resume altogether, which is bad news for you. However, when possible, using any available networking resources may enable you to do damage control in advance.

In an interesting article on Forbes.com entitled Ten Questions Employers Have about Your Employment Gap, Caroline Ceniza-Levine suggests a pre-emptive approach.  She writes, “Because an employment gap raises so many questions, many of which aren’t raised explicitly, the employment gap is a resume killer. Employers are likely to skip over resumes with gaps because there are enough out there without one. This means that you need to get in front of employers aside from submitting a resume. Directly contacting employers, networking through friends and colleagues, and making connections at professional association meetings or conferences are all ways to circumvent the faceless resume submission process and tell your story so that your employment gap isn’t the first or only thing they know about you.”

Put the Strategies to Work

If there is a gap in your work history, use the three strategies to convince potential employers you are a good choice and not a “bad hire” risk.

  • Where possible, use an employment history format which does not make the gap stand out.
  • Always have an explanation ready, one which you can state with confidence in a positive manner. What if the reason does involve something questionable? Design your explanation to convince the employer the issue has been resolved or is no longer applicable. The employer needs to hear the past problem will not resurface or adversely affect your employment.
  • If possible, use networking resources to help foster a favorable first impression, one not unfairly tainted by the work history gap.

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Featured image courtesy of geralt/pixabay.