Considering A Career Change? Top 5 things to think about before making your move
Think about it: When starting out in your current career, did you accept your first role simply because it was the one you were offered, despite perhaps misaligning with your goals, both personal and professional? Or maybe it was the obvious step to take, as it matched your qualifications and skills, but you didn’t really know what to expect, and have since wavered on whether it was the right choice for you?
If yes, you’re not alone.
Once we are in a role and working for an organisation, our initial needs of income are met, which at first can feel like the most important thing. With luck and hard work, we develop and progress; we are in a work environment that is acceptable; we have colleagues and managers we can work with. The longer we stay, the harder it is to move. We are in our comfort zone and the risks of change increase – even if we are beginning to question our initial choice to embark on this path, as mentioned above, the prospect of moving on can feel daunting or, even worse, impossible.
There are many reasons why you may be considering a career change; you may be making a positive choice after reassessing your needs, and taking a bold step into the unknown. However, sometimes change is thrust upon us against our will, even if we’re quite comfortable where we are. This happens through redundancy, moving location, ill health or the need to care for others. These situations give us the opportunity to stop and reflect, to seek to continue in the same career or to look to make a change. There are 6 work situations that generally trigger the decision to change career.
Before reading further, stop to reflect on which of the following situations apply to you:
Looking for meaning- are you looking for a new kind of reward/satisfaction through work, whether it be personal fulfilment or a strong desire to help others?
Been there, done that, but still need to earn –are you someone who has been, and still are, successful in your work and want or need to keep earning at a similar level, but you can’t face the prospect of staying in the same job for another 10 or 20 years?
Stressed and unhappy –are you a victim of a changing workplace? Maybe the role, manager or location has changed, or worse, have you been discriminated against in some way? Is going to work stressful, and are you wary of continuing in the corporate world, whilst needing to keep working?
Bored and plateau – maybe your work situation isn’t a dramatic one, but you’re left feeling stagnant, bored and frustrated, with no prospects for progression or development, which is impacting your wellbeing and confidence?
Dreaming of being your own boss – fed up with working for someone else, or you have a skill or idea you want to develop into your own business?
Eyeing retirement – you may be at that stage of life when retirement or semi-retirement is an option, but are concerned about what you will you do in the years ahead – should you scale down hours of your current role, change career completely or explore volunteering?
If any of the above apply to you, and you are considering a career change, here are my top 5 tips to think about.
Tip 1 - Reflect on who you are, and where you want to be
When applying for a new role, a common mistake many people make is to jump into updating their CV and looking at job postings, without giving the outcome the thought it deserves. The first step should be, instead, to take time out to reflect on who you are, and what you want. The key areas here are working out your values, personality preferences and interests.
Our early career choices usually focus on our qualifications, strengths, skills and the influence of family and educators. Later we seek fulfilment, and increasingly we feel dissatisfaction if our values are not in line with those of the organisation. Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They determine your priorities and, deep down, they're probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to. When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is usually good – you're satisfied and content. But when these don't align with your personal values, things feel wrong.
We’ve all heard the idiom “a square peg in a round hole”. People are happier and most productive when they are in roles that match their personality. This impacts fundamental choices such as work environment, level of supervision, how we like to be recognised and rewarded and the type of activities we enjoy. If we are in a role that does not fit our personality, we can feel stressed and fatigued. Which is why, if you are looking for a good fit between who you are and the kind of work you do, it is important to know your personality preferences. As a career coach, I use a number of personality profiling tools such as MBTI and DISC to help clients increase self-awareness and identify suitable career choices – I would recommend utilising these, or similar, as a first port of call.
Finally, reflect on your interests. These are things that you give special attention to either because you feel strongly about the subject ,or you like the way you feel when you engage in it. Thinking about our interests in relation to work is more difficult as we often separate our interests from work. The people who are most satisfied with their career have found a way to marry the two. Thinking about your interests is key to gaining new insights and ideas for a career change.
Tip 2 - Review your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)
What can you offer an employer? What are the barriers and risks of changing career? After you’ve worked out who you are and what you want, the next step is to review the realities of making a change. Doing a personal SWOT is a great exercise- take time, be completely honest with yourself and, crucially, seek feedback from others.
Your strengths and weaknesses are generally internal. That is, they relate to you personally and are things that are generally under your control such as skills – professional, technical or personal, attitudes, experience as well as resources available. Opportunities are generally external, relating to the environment and those around you, rather than you yourself. Threats are external things and events that are worrying you or that might happen and prevent you from either achieving your goals, or taking advantage of the benefits.
Tip 3 - Research career options
Once you know who you are, want you want and what you can offer, you are ready to start analysing the job market. Researching organisations and roles before rushing into applying is essential. The self-assessment you have done helps you to identify organisations and roles that will suit you. Research specific organisations that match your values and interests, as well as hard criteria such as location, pay, vacancies. Researching job descriptions and person specifications enable you to identify gaps in experience or qualifications, also.
This research should result in clear criteria and the setting of a specific, realistic career goal, alongside a flexible plan to achieve it. If you struggle with this, working with a career coach will help you to set achievable goals, develop and keep to action plans though maintaining motivation and find ways to overcome barriers and challenges.
Tip 4 - Resources for branding yourself
By now you should be clear of your ‘personal brand,’ and ready to take the next step: developing the resources you need to enable you to market yourself through a winning CV, utilising LinkedIn and networking successfully. Although a CV is the most essential marketing tool, all employers, and prospective clients, will check you out on LinkedIn, so both need to provide a consistent brand presenting who you are and, most importantly, what you can offer. The CV should focus on achievements, and be tailored to the role being applied for, picking up on keywords and requirements. If you are applying to a completely new role or moving into a new sector, focus on your transferable skills.
The majority of jobs don’t get advertised so it is true that often it is who you know, not what you know, that matters. Be active on LinkedIn, join groups and share and comment on articles, extend your contact list and be generous in endorsing contacts, whilst asking them to endorse you.
And, lastly, there is no substitute for getting out and meeting people - with your CV at the ready, arrange information seeking interviews with organisations you are interested in working for, meet up with past colleagues, talk to everyone about what you want to do in the future and follow up any leads.
Tip 5 -Resilience
"Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom." (General George Patton)
For many of us, change can be difficult or uncomfortable, regardless of whether it is a change we have chosen to make. Change moves us out of our comfort zone into a stretch zone which is challenging and, by definition, uncomfortable - at least in the short term. Fear of change is one of the main reasons people don’t revaluate their work or make the career change they desire.
Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing. Resilience isn't a personality trait – it's something that we can all take steps to achieve. These include setting clear attainable goals, keeping positive, making connections and embracing change.
“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude” -Oprah Winfrey
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle” —Steve Jobs
So, what’s stopping you?