I've worked in the mortgage business for 17 years. And over the past few years, a close friend of mine and I often talked about the depressing state of the industry. Every time I ran an idea by him about a job I was considering, he went bass bravado with eerie undertones and repeated, half-mocking, half-imploring, "Get out!" for each valiant "But, but, but, what about XXXX?" I offered.
I knew he was right. But it took four years before I actually got out for good — last December. These days, I'm a consultant to small- and medium-size businesses and a writer. Getting out was the best career decision I've ever made.
Let me tell you the back story and then offer a little advice if you, too, need to get out of the job or career you're in.
I started selling mortgages initially because of a successful friend, and a lack of better ideas. Then I took the ride and hung on.
As if having almost no sales during the past couple of years (following my best years three and four years ago when I earned about $100,000 annually) was not frustrating enough, I had also jumped companies three times in 12 months and four times in the past two years. Each time, there was a promise for "more leads" or "better leads" or "better service" or "better pricing." And each time, the job didn't work out as planned.
It wasn't just a case of false promises by the companies. It was also dealing with apathetic, indifferent mortgage prospects again and again.
These days, three major banks and one giant lender (Quicken Loans) control the industry. They use catchy, informative ads and are strong enough to convince today's borrowers and home buyers that they don't need to talk to a "sales guy" to get a mortgage done.
This represents a monumental shift in this business. When I began in mortgage sales, the technology was sketchy and the target market was skeptical of handling business transactions online. Times have changed. Radically.
Millennial home buyers — the biggest consumer group in housing — prefer making mortgage decisions (and so many other decisions) via the internet, rather than by working with another human.
Another big change in my field: Plentiful leads from real estate agents had been key to my earlier success. But my referral sources aged out and the ones who were left possessed a smaller number of listings, contacts and leads.
Spending a lot of time fuming about nonproductive referral sources makes a job heavy, daunting and oppressive. That was my experience.
The turning point
The turning point for me came as a result of the 2008 credit crisis that rocked the banking world, altering every aspect of the way loans were initiated, processed and approved. The environment morphed from a salesy, customer-centric, low-document frenzy to a document-expansive, regulatory and compliance-infested nightmare. I went from being a good fit to a poor one. From that point on, it was impossible to deny the realization that I didn't like the mortgage world and it didn't like me.
I stayed on, however, because I felt stuck. I knew the business was not for me, but all my other ideas, including the ones I'm pursuing now, came without immediate financial rewards. Ultimately, though, I realized that remuneration for my sales efforts was even less promising than making a major career change in midlife.
Now that I'm out, my spirits have improved. I'm filled with hope and energy again. There are a lot of positive forces coming together internally and externally.
I can't claim victory yet; all I've really done is begun playing a new game on a new field. But I have absolutely no regrets and not even the slightest temptation to go back to my former field or life.
My five tips
Now to my five tips if you think it may be time for you to get out, too:
1. If tech and the internet are phasing you out, look for a niche where not only experience, but other talents, are increasingly in need. Find the gaps and match those gaps with your skills and experience. Creative and consulting positions and projects are examples. Computers usually don't sing or dance or help children or the elderly.
2. You know the old rule "look for a new job while you already have one?" It's become easier to follow it these days, because of technology. Almost every industry has online resources that provide listings for temporary and part-time jobs. Don't be surprised if your job interviews are conducted on tape or live over the internet. Mine have.
3. "Age" is an obstacle when looking for work after 50, but "experience" is an asset. Play up your experience and skills; play down how old you are. Don't lie about your age, but don't raise it as a possible concern, either. Lately, I haven't had anyone ask me when I got my college degree — just where it's from and what it was in.
4. Look to your talents, aptitudes, abilities and skills that do not require an extensive track record to get a job or a gig. If you play an instrument, paint, sing, speak publicly, write or can otherwise demonstrate your talent on the spot, you have an excellent chance of finding at least temporary projects or work. Success on those can then lead to much more.
5. Consider a balance of your dream and the steam. The "steam" (as in steam engine) is grabbing an unskilled job you need to ensure there's money coming in and the train keeps running. Uber or Lyft driving is one way to make a decent living, if you put in the time. It's not a bad gig, and if you have the stamina, it may suffice. But if you limit your hours doing that driving (and, of course, your income), you can pursue something more fulfilling and potentially, better paying.
So, what are you waiting for?
This article originally appeared on NextAvenue.org.