Wisdom//

How to Go Through a Career Change and Never Look Back

Realizing I wasn't in the right job was a scary moment, but I figured out how to change course.

Adam Gault/ Getty Images
Adam Gault/ Getty Images

When I was young, I remember my granddad, may his soul rest in peace, asking me what the hell I was going to do with a psychology degree.

“Are you going to be fixing other people’s problems with that? If they have a mental illness, they need a doctor or medicines. They don’t need your help,” he said. Obviously he wasn’t a psychologist, and he didn’t appreciate that profession.

He was a lawyer, my father was a lawyer, and so I had to be a lawyer. In my family, if you weren’t a lawyer or an engineer, you were an idiot.

So at the age of 18, I succumbed to what my parents thought I should do, and I started to study to become a Lawyer. Luckily, I suspected it was the wrong choice for me.

As a result, I had the strength to take a new path to become a psychologist, as I’d always wanted to do. It was hard and challenging, but at the age of 30, I realized that it’s never too late to change your direction.

I don’t regret the path I took initially. I had so many good experiences during my first career and learned a huge amount. I also wouldn’t have had the confidence to develop my business the way I have if I’d have gone straight into caring for others through psychology.

Our career is like a treasure-hunt, but we are not the people seeking the ultimate prize. We are writing the map.

Today, everyone of us knows people that look back and realize he or she had made the wrong career choice.

For example, more than 1 in 10–12 percent  of Canadians figure they “definitely chose the wrong career,” and another 24 percent are “not sure” they made the right pick, according to a survey last year of 11,000 Canadians by Kelly Services Inc. That amounts to more than a third of Canadians not really being happy with the career they selected. The figures are even higher in other parts of the world, where up to half of those asked figured they’d picked the wrong career, according to Kelly’s global survey, which polled about 115,000 people in 33 countries. In another more recent survey, 56 percent of more than 2,100 U.S. workers polled by Adecco Group North America said they would pick a different career if they could choose all over again.

In this days and age, with so much career information available, why do so many people still continue to choose the wrong career? The reasons are many. In fact, family, friends, community, and media in most cases have a crucial influence on the path we take.

In my experience, the family factor is the most crucial in making our career choices. I see that happen to other people a lot, and the majority succumb to what their parents think they should do, as happened to me.

Some others enter a career that’s not a good fit just to pay their bills or student loans, thinking they’ll get into what they really want to do later. But once they get pay raises or promoted, that two years of temporary work in the wrong career stretches into 5 or 10 years. And the older you get, the more you realize this is not the career you wanted to get into.

Some choose the wrong career based on their desire for social status or prestige, rather than playing to their own interests and skills. In fact, a lot of people feel that you are what you do.

Media images also factor in. Glamorizing some professions can steer people toward careers that don’t really suit their personalities or abilities.

Moreover, I think there is too much pressure on younger people to choose not only a career, but the right career, right after entering university. And all of this happens way before they really get to experience much of life.

To ward off a bad career choice right from the start, it’s useful to do some early self-assessment, focusing on factors like personality type, learning style, and interests, rather than just skills and grades. “Are you a people person? Are you hands on? Do you like routine or do you want to do something different every day?” Answers to questions such as these can provide clues to steer younger people in the right career direction.

Needless to say, you, not your parents, should be the main decision-maker in career choice. And your decisions should be based on what you’ve learned about yourself, not pleasing your family, where you think the hot jobs are, or where you’ll earn the most money.

Unfortunately, most people treat work as something happens to them, or something they are” in.” They feel like victims in their jobs, when in fact they have a substantial degree of control. They choose to let themselves be carried away by the events of life. But to become an individual in charge of your own life, you must own your story. What happened to you as a kid is only the first sentence of that story.

It is your personal responsibility to become what you want, and you should not shy away from it. This personal responsibility is scary and challenging, yet it is what makes you a human being.

Here’s what to do if you’re already in a career and you want to change direction with no regret:

Analyze Yourself

The most important thing is to stop and to think about what you really, really want. Ask yourself: “Who am I? What are my values? What kind of thing do I want to spend my time doing?”

Your values consist of what you find important. So knowing your values helps you understand what drives you, and also what you enjoy, and what inspires you. And if you build your life and lifestyle around your values, then it’s going to be more satisfying and more meaningful.

Then there’s the question of what kind of emotional and physical environment you want to work in. 

Think about what you don’t like about your current environment, and what you want in your new one.

Are you happy going to the same desk and office every day, or do you need variety? 

Finally, you have to have a job you love. It doesn’t matter if it’s not what you’re trained in, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to other people.

I love what I do, and I am glad I came to it a bit later because I am now at a point in my life where I can give it my attention 100 percent of the time.

Build Your Confidence and Resilience

When it comes to changing careers, many people are held back by limited self-belief. This isn’t helped by the fact that their peers will often try to persuade them to stay in their current job.

You need to be confident and resilient, because you’ll get a lot of push-back. Plus, prospective employers want someone who is going to roll with confidence rather than require a great deal of support.

So how can you build up your confidence?

First of all, you need to remove yourself from the people, environments, and activities that drain your battery. Then you have to stop comparing yourself to other people. This is one of the biggest drains, so coming off social media can be advisable.

Resilience is all about managing your emotions. It’s also about listening more carefully to the feedback you give yourself — because we’re all our worst critic — and very often the messages we give ourselves are completely untrue.

Capture them, look at them, and ask yourself: Is this message true? Where’s the evidence?

Take Action

So many people – myself included – try to apply problem-solving methods to the career-change challenge. That often works in daily life and a work environment – but it doesn’t usually work for this.

So forget about painstaking analysis, making lists, or doing psychometric tests. Instead, you should stop thinking and take action. Go and speak to people in different fields. Have informational interviews, which are essentially ways to find out about what other people do. They are a great way of broadening people’s perspective about what else is out there.

Look for People, Not Jobs

While it might seem counter-intuitive, looking for jobs – with the help of a recruiter – is actually, in my opinion, one of the worst things you can do.

When I was working in the Legal sector, all I was offered by recruiters was more Legal roles. And I wanted something quite different from that.

If you scroll through job sites unrelated to your career, it’s going to be a soul-sucking experience because you’ll see roles there that may be interesting to you but you won’t have the necessary requirements. So you can become very disillusioned by that approach.

Even sending CVs and cover letters off speculatively can be a dispiriting experience, because you’re just not going to stack up on paper against other people with more experience in that field or the right qualifications.

Instead, look for people already working in the sector you want to join. Talk to them, tell them what you want to do.  This approach not only allows you to convey your value and enthusiasm in a way that you can’t do on paper, it also gives you access to the hidden job market.

An estimated 50 to 80 percent of jobs are never advertised. So it is crucial that you go talk to people, which starts to open up these opportunities.

Highlight Your Transferable Skills

When trying to change careers, the best you can do is highlight transferable skill sets and use them as leverage to transition into your new industry.

Think about what skills your dream career requires, and highlight any and all experiences you have had with building those skills.

That’s what it takes to get a hiring manager to take a chance on you, even if you’re fresh to the industry.

For example, I started out my career as a lawyer, and while I didn’t like the day-to-day of my job, one thing I did like about the legal profession was the great attention to details in writing documents.

I developed strong attention to detail, and I was able to highlight those experiences in my profession as a psychologist to know my patients in depth, and help them for the better. And I really love what I do now.

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