Career change and plan Bs should be two sides of the same coin. When you're planning to switch careers, it's easy to get excited about the road ahead, and to invest entirely in your ideal outcome at the expense of a sensible fallback option. We recommend that you take some time to put some plans in place should things not work out the way you hope they will.

Here we present you with a basic approach to formulate a Plan B worth having.

What's the next best alternative?

If your ideal career doesn't work out, what's the next best alternative? Look at related career paths and find one that satisfies the following criteria:

  1. It's related to your ideal outcome (in a similar field, business area, geographic region, etc.)
  2. It's a more credible transition from your "pre-change" role and career type (it is easier to connect the dots between what you do now and what you intend to do)

For example, if you're an engineer trying to break into top-tier management consulting, consider roles at firms who specialise in working with clients in the engineering field.

What steps can you take now to make it more likely you'll achieve your next best alternative?

There are often 2-3 actions you can take now to prepare you to "activate" your next best alternative if you have to. For instance, brush up a second language, earn a new accreditation, or get involved with a network/community that focuses on the relevant professional field.

The best plan Bs run quietly in the background, alongside your plan A. They involve some effort to set up and maintain, but not nearly as much as your plan A. Often, by reducing your anxiety about what will happen if your career change doesn't work out, they free up extra energy. When things are tough during a career change, they can also help buoy you up.

The counterargument to this is that plan Bs provide a sense of safety that can enervate your drive to achieve plan A. Whether or not this dynamic, or the preceding "buoying effect", dominates depends on the individual.

Is your plan B practical and conservative?

A plan B that represents a similarly large "gear-change" to what you're trying to achieve with your plan A is not a good one. Make sure that the odds of you being able to take advantage of your plan B are high. Subject your plan B idea to the same rigour you applied to your new choice of career: check that the financials stack up, that you know what plan B entails in the near- and long-term, and investigate the most effective route from where you are now to achievement of your plan B.

Career changes involve risk. When you make a transition you forego other opportunities, income, and career advancement. Even when switching career makes complete sense, it's invaluable to set yourself up with a solid plan B that provides you with some insurance if things don't work out to plan.

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