Career change or job dissatisfaction: How to tell the difference

Most people go through a period of job dissatisfaction. There's a wide range of reasons for this, and in many cases, it's a chronic and highly stressful situation. It's common in mid-career, too, which is arguably the worst possible time for it to happen.

However, there are big differences between the career change situation and job dissatisfaction, even severe cases of job dissatisfaction. Career change is a huge step, leaving the entire previous career. Job dissatisfaction isn't necessarily on the same level of Richter scale events.

We don't want to devalue or denigrate anybody's suffering in a horrible job situation, but there are distinctions to be made. Job dissatisfaction can have very different causes than career change level dissatisfaction.

Career dissatisfaction at career change level is based on:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Lack of interest
  • Disinterest in career options
  • Lack of application to career issues
  • In some cases, total rejection of the career goals

Job dissatisfaction is usually based on:

  • Frustration
  • On the job nuisances
  • People problems
  • Issues with management
  • Workplace environment
  • Overwork
  • Levels of pay
  • Lack of promotion
  • Lack of recognition

As you can see, some of these things do have obvious career impacts, but they're also related to the goals of the career. The common factor is that they're all related to that particular job. These are very understandable reasons for severe job dissatisfaction, but they relate to the job itself, not to leaving the career, per se.

Pinning down the problems

Making the distinction between 'I don't want to do this any more' and 'I want to get out of here' is the major issue. In many cases, just changing jobs will solve the job dissatisfaction problems, sometimes completely. Career change issues, however, can happen even without the job dissatisfaction, although it is usually a part of the problem.

There are a few pointers you can use to figure out if you have a job problem, or a career problem.

Ask yourself:

  • If I leave this job, does that get rid of the problem?
  • If I have a job which gives me the things I lack, does that solve the problem?
  • If the main problem disappears, would I be happy in the job?

If you answered 'yes' to these questions, the problem is definitely the current job. You need to get out of that environment. It's more than likely you're overdue for a change and better options, and the friction from the various local job issues is simply aggravating the problems. A new job, a better work environment, and real opportunities will solve the major issues.

If your answer was 'no,' you may have a real career issue. The job isn't the major issue. You still need to move on and change the environment, because like job dissatisfaction, the environment is making things tougher for you.