A videographer on set

Hitting Refresh: Your Guide To Changing Career

It’s not too late – Or too early.

Ever sat at your office desk fantasizing about what it would be like to just get up, leave and never come back?  Wondered how you ended up in the career you’re in?  Or woken up on a Monday morning dreading the week ahead?

At some point, most of us have probably felt like that.  But often, those feelings don’t translate into action.  We put up with things, rather than change them. 

The prospect of a career change – especially in your late twenties or early thirties – can be scary:  Can I afford it?  Is it too soon to change career?  Am I just wasting the skills I’ve developed? What will my partner / friends / parents think? What would I do instead?  What if I hate it? Where do I even start?

If you’re unsure whether to make a change, what to switch to or how to go about it, read on.

Should I change career now?

There’s no ‘right’ age for a career change.  But for each person, there is a right time

There’s nothing wrong with changing career as you hit 30.  There’s certainly no shame in having tried something and found it hasn’t worked out.  After all, if you think back to how you ended up doing what you do, chances are it was the somewhat random result of a series of fairly arbitrary decisions made at some point between the age of 16 and 25, and for reasons you can’t quite remember… 

Also, don’t forget that, as you get older and take on the increased financial pressures of a mortgage, children and the like, it’s likely to only become harder to make a change. 

But fundamentally, it’s simply not about age.   it’s about whether your career current path is giving you – or is going to give you – what you need.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Might things get better soon?  If they do, will I feel better?  The rut you’re currently in could be a blip.  Things might pick up. 

Or it might be that, whatever happens, the truth is that this isn’t the role for you. Look at your boss.  And their boss. Would you want that to be you in a few years’ time?  ‘Success’ in a role usually means promotion. So if the only thing worse than your job is the thought of doing your boss’ job, think about why, and whether it means you’re best getting out now.

  • Is my career the problem, or just my employer?  Sometimes, what is making us unhappy is a particular person (usually our boss), or the wider organizational culture.  If that’s the case, your best bet – if it’s feasible – is to move to another company, not another profession.  But would that really help?
  • Can I afford it?  This is a legitimate question: a career change may (at least initially) involve a pay cut, as you’re likely to start lower on the ladder.  So you need to be sure you could still pay the rent.  But money issues shouldn’t dominate all others.  If you’re miserable, what good is money?  Plus, if you can’t afford it now, then think about what you can do now, to make sure you could afford it in, say, a year or two.   
  • Am I up to it?  Yes, you are.  Next question.
  • How long until I’m 66?  That’s the age most Americans currently expect to retire.  Chances are, it’s over 30 years away.  So keep your worries about trying to precisely time a career change in perspective – even if the change doesn’t work out, there’s plenty of time to try something else. 

Could you spot the warning signs that show you’re ready for a career change?

What would I do instead?

You realize you’re in the wrong career, but you’re unsure what you’d do instead.  That’s not unusual.

If you do know, great. But just you don’t yet, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck in your current career for ever.

Set your frame

To work out what other careers might suit you, start by ‘setting a frame’ based on “who you are”.  If that feels a bit nebulous, think of it this way: what are your values? What things are important to you, or motivate and inspire you?  And what are your ‘non-negotiables’ when it comes to a new role?

These are important questions to ask, because a career – or employer – that clashes with those values or threatens your non-negotiables isn’t likely to be one that works out long-term (even if the money’s great).  Setting those boundaries will give you a sense as to the range of possible roles that might suit you.

Map across your skills

Once you’ve done that, think about your transferrable skills.  Of the careers in your ‘ballpark’, in which would those skills be put to good use? (quick tip – thinking through this will help with filling in job applications once you’ve picked a career too). 

Don’t just rely on your own perception of your skills.  You’re possibly not the best judge, or you might be overly hard on yourself or underestimate your abilities. Instead, speak to friends or colleagues, and ask them which of your skills stand out for them (indeed, while you’re at it, why not ask them what careers they think you’d succeed at too – the answers might surprise (and inspire) you!)

Remember, your skills may map translate into your new role in fairly subtle ways.  You might not think a photographer needs a bond trader’s risk-taking instinct.  But Humans of New York founder – and former trader – Brandon Stanton said it was the skills he learnt on the trading room floor that helped him take a leap into the unknown and launch his hugely successful portrait blog. And he’s not the only famous face to change path mid-career.

Find your Ikigai?

Another way to zero-in on your ideal career is to find the ones that would give you your Ikigai.

Iki-what?

Ikigai (pronounced ‘ee-ke-guy’, and meaning “reason for being”) is a Japanese formula for finding happiness in your life, and your work. It’s about doing the thing (or things) that combine what you love, what you’re good at, what you can get paid for, and what the world needs.

You can apply the Ikigai formula to any potential career. Ask yourself – would a career in “X” check all four boxes?  If not, which roles might? What other things could fill the gaps? And what do I need to go to achieve those.  Find out more with our short ‘Iki-guide’ here.

Try it now. The careers that Glassdoor recommend switching to, based on pay and work-life balance, are:

  • data scientist,
  • social media manager,
  • fundraiser,
  • software engineer,
  • market researcher and
  • financial planner.

How would those score on your Ikigai scale?

Where do I start?

You’ve decided it’s time to move on.  You’ve even found the job of your Ikigai dreams.  The next question is where to start.

Make a plan

You don’t know what the future holds, but you’re far more likely to end up where you want to be if you’ve thought through in advance what you need to do.  Think about timescales – when you want to have certain actions done by – and what “success” or “progress” would look like at various milestones

Remember, this is a journey, not an entry on your to do list between checking your emails and feeding the cat. You’re not going to be starting your new career tomorrow, and your plan needn’t be based on moving as soon as possible – you might be in the middle of a project you’re enjoying, or you might not yet feel financially secure enough to shake things up. 

If that’s the case, don’t do nothing, but instead work on the basis that of being in a new job in a year, or three years, and work back from there.  What can you do now – whether it’s saving cash or learning new skills – to lay the foundations for that future change?

Get up to speed

How much do you really know about the career you’re contemplating moving to?  And we don’t just mean what you’ve read about it, or- worse still – seen on CSI.  We mean what it’s like to actually do the job. 

To find this out, get out there and speak to people in the industry. Not only will you get more insights than from any careers guide, you’ll also be getting the word out that you’re passionate about the industry and keen on a move.  Whether or not you believe that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, the fact is that 50 – 80% of jobs reportedly come through personal contacts and are never advertised at all.  

So networking really can help get a foot in the door.

Get yourself ‘game ready

By game-ready, we’re talking skills and experience. 

As far as experience goes, jobhunting can sometimes feel like Catch 22.  You need experience to get a job.  But you need a job to get experience. 

But there are ways out of that gordian knot.  Many firms offer Internships, for example, which – even if they’re unpaid –can be hugely valuable.  As well as giving you something for your résumé, there’s nothing better than spending time “on the inside” when it comes to working out whether a career is really the one for you. 

And don’t be put off just because a company doesn’t have a formal intern program. Many internships aren’t formally advertised, and arise instead out of more informal contacts.  So once you’ve followed our advice and built up your contact network, approach them to see if they have anything they can offer you – even if it’s just a day work-shadowing.  Remember, the worst they can do is say no.

Volunteering can also be a good shortcut to gaining experience. Charities and non-profits invariably need volunteers, often in ‘traditional’ roles like marketing or IT. Your lack of past experience probably won’t be an issue, and the experience you gain could well be what gets you over the first hurdle when you apply for full-time roles.

That said, you might not need more experience at all, just to ‘repackage’ the experience you have.  Often, “minimum experience” requirements are just shorthand for wanting certain core skills – skills you might already have from your current role. If so, emphasise that, and how they could transfer across, in your application.  Make your diverse background a positive selling point: after all, it’s what will make your application stand out from the rest. 

Touch up your self-portrait

Needless to say, you’ll want to make sure your CV or résumé (and LinkedIn profile) are up-to-date and they’re tailored to the career you’re aiming at. Remember, the things you majored on when you used your CV for your current job might not be the same things you want to highlight for your new role. Think about what your new employer will want to know about you.

Indeed, you might have to ditch the CV altogether.  If your target career is one where people use video profiles or portfolios of work to market themselves, what good is your typed-up list of job titles and educational qualifications?

And as we’ve said, make sure it’s clear to the recruiter why you’re changing career. It gives you the chance to show your passion for your new field and explains to the recruiter why she’s looking at applications from accountants for the acting job she’s recruiting.

Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t forget your social media footprint. This isn’t about erasing who you are (they’ll find that out eventually). But are the ‘ironic’ tweets you wrote a decade ago, and now lacking any context, really the first impression you’re aiming for.

Don’t go it alone

Finally, a popular (and deceptively simple) tip from those who‘ve changed career is to find someone to do it with– a kind of gym buddy for your career search.  Having someone along for the ride can keep you motivated, offer a source of advice and reassurance if things get tough and possibly even provide a useful source of new contacts or career inspiration.

And that’s that. 

So what are you waiting for?

 So will you stay or will you go?