A change is as good as a rest, right?
Changing your wardrobe, sure. Changing your carbon footprint, maybe. Changing your career? Well…
For many, when faced with navigating an unknown jobs market, investigating part-time/freelance/flexible options, or selling your skills on social media, it can feel less like a rest and more like hard labour.
When we think about making a change in our careers – whether that’s progression within our current role, a switch of the sector or a complete etch-a-sketch reset of a career change – it’s common to think about the end goal. While this may seem motivational, giving you a sense of focus to work towards, in reality, it can seem overwhelming. Throw into the mix any childcare, volunteering, social plans, life admin and anything else that dominates your non-working hours, and reaching that end goal now feels like a pretty mammoth task.
Just do something
Goals are good, sure. But sometimes, goals can get in the way of actually getting stuff done. This is where the social pressure to Be Your Best, Do What You Love and Achieve Your Dreams can actually be alienating rather than aspirational. I’m not anti-ambition – far from it. Having a dream that drives you is great. But it’s crucial to recognise that there are multiple paths to that dream, each of which is made up of many small steps. So, while ‘Just Do It’ might work well for getting you into your new Nikes and out for a run, I’d suggest Just Do something to move you in the direction of that career change.
Chances are, if you’re considering a career change, you’re probably quite busy already. You may be working full-time. You may have family commitments, freelance work, financial pressures. So an explorative three-month internship perhaps isn’t ideal. But could you ask to meet a contact for a coffee, to find out more about their area of work? Could you fit in a couple of hours of work shadowing? Could you go along to an industry event (check sites like Eventbriteand Meetup) to learn what’s happening in that sector, and where the opportunities might be?
You might not know exactly where these somethings may lead. But it’s about putting yourself out there, asking questions and starting conversations – and seeing what might happen. We live in an uncertain world, with unexpected events around most corners (Trump, anyone?!) – which calls for a curious, flexible and optimistic approach to chance and opportunity. And don’t just take my word for it. There’s a whole load of career development theory underpinning this approach – for example, have a look at Krumboltz’s Planned Happenstance Theory if you’re interested in finding out more.
Reflect on why you want a career change
Think about why you want a change in career. Is your role or sector changing, and you need to upskill and shift your focus? Do you feel you never gave yourself the chance to pursue your ideal career? Are you desperate to escape a nightmare boss? Has a change in circumstances opened up the opportunity to move in a different direction?
By evaluating why you want to change your career, you can start to determine what a positive career change would look like for you. Does everything need to change, or just something? The outcome could be a different role in the same sector, the same role in a different sector, or even just the chance to work on new projects and develop new skills in your current role.
Maximise opportunities in your current job
Sometimes a career change will require additional experience or skills, which you may not have the luxury of learning in your spare time or during a career break. Could you start to gain some of this expertise in your current role? Perhaps there is a committee you could join, a project you could lead, or some training you could access. Or if there’s nothing, why not initiate something? Spot opportunities or risks for your current team, and propose a piece of work that could maximise or mitigate these.
If you have a supportive manager, talk to them about areas you would like to develop. They could help you to access opportunities in your own organisation, such as finding a mentor, shadowing your counterpart in another department, or exploring a professional qualification.
Another way of gaining additional skills and experience is through volunteering. It could be as little as a couple of hours a week but could give you an insight into a new area of work.
Don’t rely on job adverts
If you are applying to a job advert, consider how to up your odds. If there is the opportunity to speak to the hiring manager before applying, take it – surprisingly few people bother. This can give you additional insight to reference in your application and interview and can help you make a good first impression. You’re no longer an anonymous set of qualifications and experiences on a piece of paper, but someone they could see potentially fitting into their team. So don’t just apply blindly – think about how you can build connections and sell your story in a compelling narrative.
It has been estimated that up to 70% of jobs are not advertised. And this makes sense – recruiting the conventional way is expensive, time-consuming and not always effective. That means that speculative approaches, referrals and networking are important avenues to explore. If you see yourself fitting into an organisation but they’re not explicitly hiring, make a speculative application. An initial conversation is useful, but if this isn’t possible, construct a CV and cover letter for the role you see yourself in. Follow up within a week or two – even if they can’t hire you, they might know someone who can.
Take your time
Exploring what you want, reviewing your skills, building networks and making transitions all takes time. Reflect on what you’ve gained at each stage, and celebrate your successes. Making a career change doesn’t happen overnight. But making a step towards it can. Pretty much as good as a rest, then.
For some inspiration from others who’ve made significant changes in their careers, take a look at these stories.
Isabel Frazer-Veli is a careers consultant, working specifically with women who would like to make a change in their careers or enhance their career confidence.
Take a look at www.isabelfv.com to find out more, or contact Isabel on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an informal chat.