- High quit rates and record new job openings point to an employees' market.
- Now that workers have more choices, many are rethinking their current careers.
- Here's how to make the most of it if you want to take time out to change career tracks.
When the Covid-19 pandemic first erupted last year, Janel Abrahami quit a job she had been in for less than a year — without anything else lined up.
To many, such a move may sound risky.
The decision left Abrahami, who lives in the New York metro area, searching for another full-time job in the "bleakest job market in a century," she said. Still, she had no regrets.
"There wasn't a single day that I woke up during that time when I thought, 'Gosh, I wish I was opening my laptop to log into that job right now,'" Abrahami said.
Abrahami used the time off to transition to a new career as a self-employed career coach. Many of her clients are just like she was and "craving more life in their life," she said.
After the Covid-19 pandemic set in, many workers who were lucky enough to keep their jobs were tasked with working remotely while addressing complex challenges like child care, home schooling and health risks.
The stress left many workers to question whether there was a better way.
That has prompted the so-called Great Resignation, where many American workers are throwing in the towel on their full-time jobs, often without their next move immediately lined up.
The quits rate shows that 4.3 million workers left their jobs in August, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, marking a series high dating back to December 2000.
Meanwhile, the jobs market has come roaring back, with 531,000 new jobs added in October. The unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, a pandemic low.
Employees now have the upper hand.
"It's going to take some time for it to be an employer's market again," said certified financial planner Ted Jenkin, CEO and founder of Oxygen Financial in Atlanta. "It will happen, but it will take some time."
Even after the market eventually shifts, many anticipate new workplace norms will be here to stay. Career breaks between jobs, which once had a stigma attached to them, may remain the norm, according to experts.
If done right, that time between jobs can help professionals redirect their focus and find new careers, they say.
Take inventory of your finances
Before taking such a leap, financial advisors emphasize that it is important to get organized financially.
"You've got to know how long your cash reserve will last you," Jenkin said.
The cash you do have set aside may have to stretch farther than you think, depending on your next move. For example, if you're planning on leaving your job to start a business, you probably need at least a year of cash reserves, Jenkin said.
"Businesses always take twice as long to cash flow than people think it will," he said.
Importantly, there are steps you should take before you even leave your job.
Make sure you complete all of your outstanding doctor and dentist appointments first, and figure out what it will cost you to continue your health coverage, Jenkin said.
If you took out a loan on your 401(k), know that you may have to pay that balance within 90 days of leaving your employer, he said.
Also be sure to find out whether or not your company will pay you for unused time off.
Roger Ma, CFP, founder of Lifelaidout and author of the book, "Work Your Money, Not Your Life: How to Balance Your Career and Personal Finances to Get What You Want," said he would advise clients to make the transition as low risk as possible.
Start by seeing if you can take a leave from your current job, even if it's unpaid, or reduce your hours.
"That way the impact to your finances isn't so severe," Ma said.
Take an inventory of your current job situation to identify what's not working, whether it be the job function, industry or pay.
Then investigate whether your next move will really help resolve those issues by doing informational interviews with people who are already in that career.
"Oftentimes, people don't take inventory and jump to what they think is going to them happy," Ma said.
'Do it right the first time'
There are no shortcuts when it comes to finding the best way forward if you're unhappy with your current job, Abrahami said, something she emphasizes with her career coaching clients.
It takes deep thought and reflection, she added. Without that, someone may find themselves in the same situation in six months to 12 months' time.
"If you do it right the first time and are really honest with yourself, it makes the rest of the process so much smoother, easier and more enjoyable," Abrahami said. "If you skip that step, the process is going to be muddy."
When in between jobs, it's important to do something every day that will help you move forward, she said. And when evaluating that next step, do a gut check to make sure it feels right to you.
The key to this is having the opportunity for growth, and growth that feels right to you. "If you're excited to move into the role, that's a really good sign," Abrahami said.
In this job market, many employers are more receptive to career changers, said Ariane Hunter, a career coach at General Assembly, an education technology school that offers coding boot camps, among other courses.
Some of the industries where the school's students are now finding jobs include technology, finance, education, health care and e-commerce.
How much time that takes depends on the industry and other factors, she said. But lining up a new opportunity generally takes less time than it did a year or two ago.
"We're seeing within the span of six months, or sometimes even less, that someone can make a career change," Hunter said.