How Often Do People Change Careers?

Career change can be like a maze
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Experts like to talk about how often people change careers during their lifetimes. This figure usually ranges from between three and seven times. Where does this information come from? The experts attribute it to data collected by the United States Department of Labor (DOL). There's something funny about this though. The DOL doesn't keep track of the number of career changes individuals make. The information those experts cite isn't actually real.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency within the Department of Labor tasked with collecting all sorts of employment-related data does not report how many job changes individuals make. According to an FAQ on the agency's website, the BLS "has never attempted to estimate the number of times people change careers in the course of their working lives." As to why the agency hasn't done this, the FAQ goes on to explain: "The reason we have not produced such estimates is that no consensus has emerged on what constitutes a career change" (FAQ about National Longitudinal Surveys on the BLS Web Site).

What Constitutes a Career Change?

The agency's reasoning makes a great deal of sense. We can define career change in many different ways. For some it could mean switching occupational fields, while others may equate it with getting a job with a different employer. Still others might say they've made a career change when they've advanced to another position within the same field.

The BLS, in a press release dated March 31, 2015, released the results of a report that looked at the number of times people changed jobs. This report was limited in that it only considered job changes that occurred between the ages of 18 and 48 and only looked at a small subset of the population—those born between 1957 and 1964, a segment defined as "young baby boomers." The report showed that those people changed jobs, on average, 11.7 times (Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earnings Growth Among the Youngest Baby Boomers: Results from a Longitudinal Survey).

Why You Should Make Better Career and Job-Related Decisions

Whether that number signifies a change in place of employment or career field, it is a big one. Perhaps you can increase your odds of having career stability by putting more thought into choosing a career or deciding whether to accept a job offer. Better decision making could lead to finding a job or choosing an occupation for which you are well suited thereby increasing the chance that you will stick with it. Of course, even taking great care when choosing a job or career doesn't mean you won't want to or need to make a change. There are other reasons you may decide to quit your job or change your career.

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