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Boost your income

There are two ways to earn more: get promoted or switch careers. Which is the right choice for you?

(Photo: KC Armstrong)

Sick of working for peanuts in a dead-end job? Don’t think your boss understands your true potential? You have two choices: you can stay in your current career and boost your income through a promotion within your organization, or you can increase your earning prospects by switching jobs, or even careers, midstream. There are pros and cons to either scenario, and no shortage of advice on which way to go. Read on to find out which is the best move for you.

Sticking with your career: Perhaps the most compelling argument for staying the vocational course is: it’s hard to change. “The longer you’ve been in a profession, the more difficult it is to switch,” says Carleton University labour market specialist Linda Duxbury. “If you’re in your 40s or older, it’s especially tough, because you usually have a lot of financial obligations, and attempting to switch careers will often disrupt your income, at least temporarily.”

That said, rising within a company requires considerable investment as well. Duxbury notes that these days, continuous learning is a necessity for everyone. “It’s not about moving up the ranks. It’s about keeping your job. You often have to obtain an MBA to win promotions, and you will almost certainly have to take additional training.”

Of course, even with additional education, office politics can derail advancement. Toil away long enough and you will eventually encounter backstabbing co-workers, insecure supervisors and hyper-ambitious underlings. The best advice is to tune out that background noise and concentrate on being the best version of yourself. Getting caught up in the drama, experts say, will lower your superiors’ estimation of you.

That said, you can’t be a wallflower, either. You need to find out what you’re great at and play to your strengths; the boss can’t help but notice. The potential downside is that if you get pegged as, say, the go-to numbers guy, your superior may resist promoting you for fear no one could take your place. For that reason, Duxbury suggests volunteering for additional projects and responsibilities outside your area of expertise, to show the breadth of your skills.

If you can make it work, there are distinct benefits to sticking with one employer. Forty-eight-year-old Paul Dresch has worked at Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, an industry association, for 23 years, starting as a financial officer and working his way up to a VP. Being a lifer, he says, offers the advantage of job and income security. “I’ve never had a disruption in my earnings, I’m getting paid more than I ever thought I would, and I’m looking at retiring at 55.”

He’s had a simple career formula: proving himself through his performance. “There’s a lot of change [in the organization], and I was able to accept it, anticipate it and move with it,” he says. “So when senior positions opened, it was felt I could handle the increased responsibility and workload.”

Changing tracks in mid-career: The great-job-for-life environment Dresch has been lucky to enjoy is increasingly rare, however. Ottawa career coach Judith Thomas says being good at your job is no longer enough. “If your particular skill set or expertise is made redundant by new technology, what are you left with?” she says. She argues that switching careers is a better way to advance than staying in the same job. “It allows you to add skills and experience to your career portfolio. And the more you switch careers, the more you have to offer.” But choose your new path very carefully, based not just on your skills but your values. “If you have strong social, environmental or family values, and your prospective employer values the profit line above all, you might not want to work there,” says Thomas.

Graham Green began his career as a newspaper writer, then joined the diplomatic corps, moved on to become executive editor of the Ottawa Citizen and now serves as vice-president of public affairs at Hill & Knowlton Canada. The key to successfully switching careers, he says, is to figure out what you both enjoy and are good at. “If the opportunity comes along to build upon what you’ve done before, you seize it. If your chemistry matches the DNA of the job, and you’re passionate about it, that’s what differentiates the successful applicant from others who on paper have similar skill sets.”

And it’s up to you to identify the capabilities that make you a great fit for a new opportunity, says Jack Shand, a Toronto executive recruiter. For example, he says, “management skills are highly transferable, so there’s no reason you can’t jump from working as a financial officer in a manufacturing company to marketing manager of a charitable organization.”

Of course, compensation is a key factor in the career-switch equation. “Sometimes, if you’re unhappy in your current job, you will be willing to take a pay cut,” says Green. But he recommends not compromising on salary at the outset or you may end up bitter about your decision. “You want to have both sides—the employer and the employee—happy with the arrangement, or your relationship won’t start on a positive footing.”

Before you decide to switch, research the compensation: it’ll enable you to enter negotiations with realistic expectations, says Shand. “There’s a lot of information out there on compensation for every sector of the economy, and it gets quite detailed and granular.” Through websites like Payscale and Glassdoor, as well as industry surveys, you can learn—often at no cost—what pay comes with various jobs across the country.

To ease a prospective employer’s concern about your fit for a job that differs from your past experience, Shand suggests offering to structure an employment contract with built-in pay-for-performance metrics. “It mitigates the risk to the new employer,” he says. “Virtually everything can be quantified, so it’s relatively easy to ascertain whether you’ve hit the targets in the contract.”

When you’re starting out: For students entering the workforce for the first time, finding the right career launch pad can be especially daunting. Career coach Thomas, though, says lack of experience need not be insurmountable. “You have to sell what you have,” she says. Students, for example, will likely have excellent computer and problem-solving skills, can work to tight deadlines and are innovative and enthusiastic because nothing has jaded them yet.

Joe Banks, head of the journalism program at Algonquin College, has graduated hundreds of students into a difficult job market, and finds the most successful are those who aggressively network—“actually use their feet to get out and have coffee with potential bosses.” Above all, he says, students should take full advantage of school-related internship programs or job placements. “An internship…is where that first reference gets written which will lead to that first paid job, and the launch of a career.”

Many of Canada’s labour markets are thriving. So nail that promotion. Find something you’re good at. Because it’s not just business; it’s personal.

Looking for a new career? Here are three profitable and growing categories:

Health care: As Canada grows older, health-care professionals grow richer
In 10 years, Canada will make demographic history when the senior citizen population tips to outnumber children. Those seniors will need a lot of health care: at age 80, the expenditure on each Canadian’s health care is almost $19,000 a year. No wonder there are 12 health-care-related jobs on our Top 50 list. Beyond nurses and health policy planners, the two biggest beneficiary groups to date, pharmacists and the broader pharma sector, stand to see spikes in demand. Drugs already account for 16% of Canadian health spending, and that will rise as more of us start popping Lipitor, calcitonin and Viagra. Between 1998 and 2008, there was a 51% increase in the number of home-care recipients in Canada, raising the need for home health assistants—projected to be the third-fastest-growing profession in the U.S. over the next decade. The need for specialized care for aging bodies and the expansion of services covered by health insurance are also fuelling rising demand for respiratory therapists, physiotherapists and several other health occupations.

Technology: The entrepreneurial hub shifts west, and demand goes mobile
Ontarians may think of the Waterloo area, home to Research In Motion, as Canada’s high-tech hub, but increasingly, the West rules. Today Alberta is the base for the largest number of technology startups per capita.

As mobile and web technologies transform culture and business, tech workers in many specialties are seeing their salaries go up. In addition to the four computer-related professions on our Top 50 list, mobile app developers are enjoying sharp wage spikes, seeing an 8.2% salary increase within the past year alone, according to the annual Robert Half salary guide. Typical incomes now range from $72,500 to $102,700, and overall, tech workers’ base compensation is projected to rise 4.4% in the next year.

For those working in corporate IT and consulting, a survey co-sponsored by IBM Canada shows the skills in highest demand are project management, computer security and architecture design. Both large and small companies also report a growing need for staff to provide infrastructure and wireless support.

Oil & Gas: Want to make $1,500 a day? Working in oil can be dirty, but it pays
The oilpatch is booming, and several of our Top 50 jobs are related to the energy sector, including two in the Top 10. What’s more, these jobs are among the highest-paying: a rig worker can make up to $1,500 a day.

The industry already employs about 130,000 people in Canada, but those numbers are about to surge. A recent study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute projects that in 25 years, the oilsands alone will support about 480,000 jobs, adding $2.3 trillion to our GDP.

Who’s getting hired? Drilling site managers, who oversee exploration projects, are in huge demand, with both number of employees and salaries up by more than a third over five years. Geoscientists who opt to work in oil and gas can make up to $200,000 a year.

The industry is also competing for staff in support functions, from marine services in offshore operations to IT and tradespeople, such as crane operators and welders. Civil engineers are needed to oversee construction of plants, and the technicians who support engineers are fetching six-figure salaries.