20 Years ago, I could never have imagined the direction my career would take… actually forget that – 5 years ago I never thought my career would have gone in the direction it has.
Back then a massive goal of mine was to become a project manager. To get there I took on extra responsibility, went on courses, spoke to people at the top of the profession – I did whatever I could just to give me that edge to reach that next stage of my career.
Then last year, at last I reached a monumental milestone, the goal I’d aspired to for so long had been realised!
You’d think after achieving the goals I must have been pretty happy right?
A lot of my development came during the thrill of the chase, and it just felt like I was in a groundhog day filling in the same old paperwork, attending the same boring meetings and not having as much responsibility as I thought I would.
Then before I knew it, something happened to me that I swore I would never let myself become – I began to dread showing up on Mondays.
The year moved at a glacial pace, and I found two little voices sitting on my shoulders – my idealist side, and my “well that’s life” side.
Well that’s life began justifying my position:
“This is your life now! This is what you wanted, you’ve only been in the job two months so just shut up, accept the responsibility and enjoy the money!”
For a while I entertained this voice, but as I battled through each month, my idealist side who I’d been ignoring began to speak up more:
“Come on, this isn’t you! You know this isn’t right. Where’s that person who believes everyone should realise their potential”
Of course, I knew my idealist was right – I couldn’t live a life where looking forward to an early retirement was as good as it got.
I decided to do something about it.
It was time to change my career.
Steps to take to change your career change
In this post we will look at what you need to do to change your career. This will focus on three steps:
- Approaches to identify what you want to do next.
- Building your skills and experiences to help you make the move.
- Focus on applying for your next role – having the confidence to appreciate what you can offer your new career.
Before we do this, let’s explore why you might want to have a career change.
Why you may want to change your career
Making that first step to change your career can be an intimidating prospect – you are taking a step into unknown, applying your skills, knowledges and experiences to do something new.
Why would you want to change your career? Here are some common reasons:
You’ve taken your career path as far as you can
Some jobs just have a natural limit and the opportunity for advancement becomes scarce or you hit a glass ceiling with no way of progressing
Changing your career lets you move to a new path, allowing you to flourish further than your current profession offers.
You want to learn new skills
When you’ve been in the same profession for a while, the skills can become quite repetitive – sure you can get new experiences moving to a different job, but it can feel like you are using the same skills set just applying it to a different place and people.
Changing your career is an opportunity to escape that comfort zone and find new ways to go.
You find what you’re doing just isn’t you
When you first get into the job market your options are limited – for me my first job was just about getting some work experience and making money.
As you develop your skills, you get more options so you can do more of what you like and less of what you dislike.
A career change gives you the opportunity to find a role better aligned to your values and interests.
You have various personal reasons for change
There are a range of personal reasons that may tempt you to change your career:
- You want to earn a greater salary.
- You don’t like the culture of the workplace
- You desire a position that will give greater work-life balance.
- You’ve had a bad experience with management and you just want a change
On the surface these reasons may seem superficial and shallow to change your career, but really your life is your life – changing your career gives you the freedom to pursue what will make you more satisfied with your life.
You’re bored and want a new challenge
Jobs after a while even good ones can become exceptionally tedious – if you’re not the type of person who enjoys routine and always likes a challenge then changing your career will always keep you on your toes.
Steps to take to help you change your career
When you reached a point where you are ready to change your career don’t just complain about your job, take proactive steps.
How do you do that? Let’s have a look….
Step One: Identify what you would like to do next
What do you want to do next?
This question is more complex than it seems, many of us probably didn’t even have a value what we wanted to do the first time, and what we’re doing is something we gradually fell into.
This post isn’t about finding mean to your life, but finding something on an endeavour you spend a large chunk of your life doing.
When you have no idea what you want, there are a few exercises that can help:
Identify you values
A value is something that is important to us – characteristics and behaviours that motivate us and drive our decisions.
Being highly attuned to a career aligned to your values can make the difference between your attitude to work when you wake up in the morning – are you eager to go or cowering under the bed sheets?
When thinking about what you want to do next, think about what type of person you are. Ask:
- what matters to me?
- what drives me?
- what do I enjoy?
When you have done this, pick three or four of the values that matter the most and write a short statement explaining why these matter to the role you are doing.
Keep these values in mind when thinking about what you want to do so that you are always thinking whether the change would be a good match for you.
(And for examples of the different types of values, check out this link from MindTools).
Look at the tasks you enjoy doing
I now work in communications – one of the original motivators that got me to make this move was that the small part of my job as a a project manager that involved these skills I loved doing.
As a blogger I love doing this, and a part of me always thought
“Wouldn’t it be great if I could be paid to do this?”
People have these thoughts all the time of what they want to do, but dismiss them as dreams – but they shouldn’t be ignored.
Explore your feelings and research professions that utilise the tasks you enjoy doing.
Look at the tasks you hate doing
On the flipside it’s worth identifying what you hate doing. I hate minute taking, and made it my mission to eradicate this as a responsibility until it became a reality.
When looking at changing your career, be clear what you don’t want to do, and find opportunities that will avoid these tasks at all costs.
Look at what skills you have – how can you leverage these?
When applying for communication jobs I felt at a disadvantage – I had no copyrighting skills, media management, social media, events… a massive list of tasks that are core to this role that I had no social proof of success in the work place.
But being a project manager is a great role to develop lots of skills that are transferrable to other roles, including communications so I leveraged the skills I did have such as planning, working with people and leadership.
When looking at where you want to change your career, you’ll notice a lot of gaps, and naturally you’ll feel “you’re not qualified”. Remember: You’re not supposed to be the total package!
For me to make this breakthrough, I carried out a SWOT analysis. This allowed me to apply for these jobs with total confidence – and I could highlight strengths and cover up my weaknesses.
When you don’t have a skill and get questioned on it, a good answer is “I don’t have that, but I’m eager to learn!”
Step Two: Build up the skills that will get you there
Carrying out the activities in step one will get you a little bit closer to understanding where you want to go.
Whatever that is it helps to build up the skills that will help you get there. To do this you need to set some goals.
This can range from talking to your manager to request experience in another departmer, or if you’re looking at a total career overhaul, going through full retraining!
When setting goals make sure to:
- Write them down
- Focused – Keep them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound)
- Reflect regularly on your progress
For advice on setting goals check out my post How To Set Your First Goals.
Getting quick wins
Applying for jobs is a box ticking exercise, which is why I’ve always focused on getting quick wins to boost my experience.
When you feel you fall short of requirements in a job description, remember the average job criteria doesn’t doesn’t care how long you’ve been doing most of the task for. So get opporunity to perform tasks once, so you can say you have the experience doing it!
This is one of the few times I recommend focusing on quantity rather than quality!
To get quick wins:
- Ask your manager or a colleague if they can show you how to do a particular task.
- Shadow a colleague in another department for a morning to understand jobs they do.
- Take a free online course that will explain the fundamentals of a profession.
- Start something in your spare time whether it’s a hobby, a blog, or a course that will give you the edge.
Step Three: Get Applying
Technically this isn’t step three – you should be applying as soon as you have an idea what you want to aim for – you might get lucky, and even if you don’t applying for jobs will help you understand the the types of skills you need to build, and any interviews you get will boost your experience.
Some tips for applying for your desired career:
- Work on your CV/application skills
- Get a friend/colleague who knows the industry to give you feedback on your applications before submitting.
- Don’t sell yourself short – if you’re changing career it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take a pay cut before you can move up (you may even come out with a pay rise!)
- Don’t be put off by failure – if you really want the change you’ll keep trying.
How to overcome the challenges you face when changing your career
Adapting to something new
The biggest challenge in moving to a new career is the mental battle you have with yourself because you don’t know everything, and kick yourself because you make a lot of mistakes from your inexperience.
To help with adapting, work closely with your manager to understand what you need to do to be successful and identify where development is needed.
And always reassure yourself it’s okay not to be perfect – when you move to a new career you won’t know everything!
I discuss a lot of these fears in my post Starting a New Job: How to Defeat Imposter Syndrome and give some tips to help you deal with this transition.
Being pigeon holed for your ‘other’ career skills
Coming into the team some people didn’t quite get understand what my role was – they thought I was a project manager who did a bit of communications.
Because of this I found I was being dragged into project manager tasks.
To escape being dragged back into what you ‘old’ career was set expectations with your colleagues – work with your manager to define your job role, and don’t be afraid to push back if you’re being asked to do jobs that are inappropriate for your new career.
People assuming you’re a seasoned expert
On my first event I was tasked with preparing social media content that would go out ‘live’ reacting to the speakers.
Not being sure what I was supposed to do I rewrote some wording and sent through to the social media team, who responded basically saying what I had written was trash.
In these situations, honesty is the best policy – admit your ignorance as people are willing to help you grow your skills and are also more forgiving if things aren’t quite right.
Choosing to change my career wasn’t an easy decision – the fear of the unknown made me questions whether I should just stick with what I know.
However so far everything has been great and it’s been the best decision I’ve made in my career.
When changing your career there are many benefits:
- It’s rewarding to take on a new challenge.
- You get out of your comfort zone.
- It opens up lots of new opportunities to expands skills, experience and qualifications.
- You can utilise the experiences from your old career to bring a new perspective to your new role – I know my new employer appreciates the organised project manager spin I bring to communications!
If you’re thinking about changing your career and not sure whether to make the jump, then I recommend going for it.
You may have doubts about whether you will like, of course there are always risks. But the good news? The job market is not permeant and you are free to move around – so if you realise it was all a big mistake you can easily go back to your old career or move onto the next big thing!
Good luck with whatever you choose to do with your future career.
Wishing you the best in your success
James @Perfect Manifesto
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