Written by Emma Parnham, COO


Cultural norms have determined the typical pathway that people should take to identify and achieve their career goals through early childhood, high school, college, post-graduate degrees, internships, and landing that first job, everything is aimed towards having a successful career—a career that many young people choose before their values and perception of people and the world are fully formed. And yet, there is an expectation that upon reaching that final career goal, it will live up to all that they dreamed with the assumption that their career goals will not have changed over time. Not everything is always what it’s touted to be.

Changing careers can be daunting, especially given personal and familial expectations, the time and money invested in schooling and the fear of diving into the unknown. Here are a few tips which may ease the pain for those considering a career transition:

Take time to evaluate your present situation and ask yourself why. What is it about your current role that is igniting the desire to change careers? Is it something that could be overcome by speaking with a manager or supervisor? Is there a creative solution that would help you achieve your goals—whether that be financial, promotion or flexibility? Explore your current circumstances from every conceivable angle first, stay open-minded to solutions, and, if a career change is still the direction for you, consider the steps below to ease the transition.

Understand who you are and what is important to you. What are your personal values, skills, and experiences? Think about the roles you have been in, what you learned and how these have shaped you. Write down examples, as these will become helpful further down the line, not only in interviews for new jobs but also in assessing the people you want to work with. It is critical to evaluate not only the work environment itself and whether you are right for the role, but also whether the work environment and potential new co-workers are right for you. Take time to identify your traits and attributes as well as your blind spots—those areas that hold you back or need developing—and what you are prepared to do to grow in these areas.

Identify alternative careers that would be a good fit. This can be harder than it appears. Someone who is structured, logical, rational and likes to be prepared may struggle in a chaotic, dynamic environment where decisions are made on the fly and plans change frequently. This may point to professional services over creative agencies. A helpful suggestion is to start broader than narrow the focus. Ask yourself questions: do you want to be your own boss or appreciate that you are a stronger number two? Do you want to work with people or prefer working alone? How important is an office environment versus flexibility, home working or being outdoors? What are the opportunities for advancement? There is no harm in discussing ideas with a few close confidantes—it’s always helpful to receive advice from those who know and understand yourself best and whose advice you trust. Once you have identified industries, you can refine your search.

Explore what’s out there. The job market is vast. There are recruitment and staffing agencies that can help. There is also a wealth of information online by simply Googling roles that interest you. Social networking sites and online recruitment sites are also useful resources. These websites also have information about average salaries, benefits, and reviews of companies. Gather information to get an idea of suitability based on the areas you have identified in earlier steps.

Refine your search and grow relationships. Find out as much as you can about the jobs that interest you and think about whether you have any personal connections who can help. That might be introductions to decision-makers or a simple conversation to gain more insight or suggestions about similar roles. LinkedIn, your personal network and alumni networks are all useful places to start. Do not underestimate the power of your current relationships in finding your next move, which can be more successful than sending ‘cold’ job applications, although that is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Test the waters. If you can find the time, you may wish to consider an internship, volunteering or freelancing to see if the role is a good fit for you. These are all great, low-risk ways to dip your toes in the water without over-committing or finding out that what you thought might be your new dream job just isn’t right.

Demonstrate growth and curiosity. In identifying your strengths and attributes, you may also learn where you have gaps in skills and experience. Again, volunteering, freelancing or internships are great ways to gain experience and fill those gaps. Evening classes, online courses or local groups are additional options to continually learn and develop.
Stay within your industry. Consider whether you want to transition away from the profession or industry you are in currently or whether a different role within the same industry might be an option. For example, working in retail could lead to a role in corporate, or a career as an attorney could transition into a career in finance, HR, marketing, business development or operations with a law firm. Stay open-minded.

Update your resume and learn to write a great cover letter. After identifying who you are, what’s important to you, the industry you would like to work and established some connections, find an opening (or potential opening). Make sure that your resume is up-to-date, accurate and lists practical examples demonstrating your skills and experience. The cover letter is your opportunity to bring your resume to life and differentiate yourself from the crowd. Rather than tell an employer all you have achieved, consider sharing why you think you could fill their needs based on your strengths.

Above all else, stay positive throughout the process. Changing careers is not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.