The Art of Changing Careers: Three Lessons Worth Knowing

When done right, changing careers can be an exceptionally rewarding experience. Here are three things to consider before making a change.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Research from the London School of Business and Finance has highlighted that almost 50% of us harbour daydreams of working in a different industry to the one we’ve dedicated much of our working life to.

I don’t know about you, but I found that pretty relatable; we’re often siphoned into career paths after school or university and not given much breathing room to think about what we really want to do with our lives. Somewhere down the track, we start to realize that accountancy isn’t our forte and we’d much rather channel our passions for design as an interior decorator.

Luckily, there are websites upon websites of advice, guidance and flexible options to help support us make decisions about changing careers. With the looming presence of the ‘Future of Work’ and doomsday reports about AI taking all the jobs, thinking about how to make yourself adaptable and flex a different professional muscle isn’t such a bad idea.

I recently had the opportunity to do just that. It wasn’t that I didn’t find the career path I’ve dedicated most of my adult professional life to fulfilling anymore, there were just other things I was enjoying doing more. And I wanted to explore how I could spend more time doing those things and pay my bills at the same time.

Instead of jumping in guns blazing, I spoke with a few people who I know have made the change successfully and really thought about my reasons behind wanting to switch things up a bit.

These exceptionally revealing and worthwhile conversations taught me how not to do it just as much as how to do it successfully.

Three Mistakes to Avoid

If like me, you’ve been thinking about making a change, it can be easy to get carried away. Before you get snap happy with handing in your resignation there are a few things you might want to think about first.

Here are three key ones that came out of my conversations with successful career changers:

1. Confusing your current job for your career

One of the main reasons people cite for making a career change is they hate their current job. It’s important to remind yourself that your current job and your career are two distinctly separate things. You can dislike your job but love your career.

If you think this might be you, it’s important to spend some time reflecting on and analyzing the reasons you don’t like your current job. Is it the people, the management, the company culture, the location, hours, or the resources that you have at your disposal? Then ask yourself, are these unique to your current role, and could they be better at a different company in the same position?

If you dislike your job for more value-driven reasons, for example, if it doesn’t give you a sense of fulfilment, you feel stifled or agitated by the work you do, or some key part of your professional identity isn’t being nourished, then a career change could be the right step for you.

2. Not researching your next steps or career path thoroughly

We often believe the grass is greener elsewhere. When we’re not getting the things we want from our current role, we tend to create heavily romanticized ideas about what a career change would look like for us.

There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming about a better tomorrow, but when a career change can have a long-reaching impact on our lives and those around us, it’s important to get it right.

Make sure you do some research into your next chosen career domain. Read up on job descriptions, job profiles, connect with people in the industry and pick their brains over coffee. Assess your current skills and values against those required in the new direction you want to take your career. Ask yourself:

Where do I match up and where are the gaps?

How can I fill these in so I’m better prepared for the change?

Consider some job shadowing, a short course or entry-level volunteering: all of these activities will not only build your own knowledge and skills of the new career path but also aid you if you do decide it’s the right direction for you.

Build as robust an idea of the reality of the industry as you can, this will really help you transfer those dreams to reality and allow you to make a fully informed decision.

3. Committing to a change based solely on short term rewards

Some careers within certain companies can be very alluring because of their salary and benefits package offerings, but be wary of making a big career change based on things that will only offer you short term value.

People who are happiest at work rarely rate a higher than average salary as the reason for their happiness. There are so many other factors that matter, such as company culture.

Many of us will be aware of one or more stories from our networks of the individual who dropped out of their financially rewarding career for a pay cut in a more fulfilling role. Keep in mind that high paying roles will also come with added responsibility, demanding more of your time, energy and work-life balance. If your reasons for wanting a change lie within these factors, switching purely for financial rewards could see you paying the price in other ways.

The Big Question: WHY do you want a change?

A career change is an extremely exciting and rewarding experience — as long as you put the time into making sure you fully understand your motivations for wanting it.

During all my conversations with career changers, those who had the smoothest transition had a strong understanding of their ‘why’ for changing. They also approached their transition with emotional intelligence, not emotional pressure (my term for when we try to make changes as a way of escaping difficult emotions or situations).

Take your time. Put the effort in. Get this step right and you’ll definitely be reaping the benefits in the long term.

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