You’ve put hours into working out how to change careers, you’ve enrolled on a course or two to make that new dream happen, but somehow, you’re still stuck in the middle of your career change.
You have a sprinkle of possible ideas, a smattering of self-knowledge and have created so many plans you’ve lost count.
So why aren’t you making any progress?
Since working as a career change coach, I’ve realised that clients who come to me having tried everything they can think of have also been missing out on one vital ingredient – and when they have it, things start to happen!
In this article I’m going to show you how to find that missing piece of the puzzle.
But first, let’s take a look at the two obvious places aspiring career changers look for inspiration – WHAT else they can do and HOW they might navigate that shift.
WHAT type of career change?
Many people start on the road to a new career by wondering what else they could actually do to make a living. This naturally leads to a range of ways you could make a shift:
1. Moving sideways
Very often they think about moving their current role into a new organisation or sector – the ‘safe bet’ shift. This involves some effort of course, but it’s not necessarily a major upheaval in identity. When I moved from secondary school teaching to teaching adults and later, university students, I was still teaching and the transferable skills were pretty easy to identify.
2. Career change with obvious transferable skills
There’s more at stake when a shift demands re-training. This requires time out or time alongside existing work and means a financial investment.
Explaining this move to a future employer and adjusting to a new professional persona certainly needs more energy, imagination and hard work. It’s also necessary to start again at the beginning – a challenge for some.
My experience of re-training as a career consultant falls into this category. I was able to do this part-time and (mostly) distance learning at a time when I was still teaching. Interestingly, my first position in this new career was at management level – so not quite the beginning after all. It turned out that many skills from my teaching career were perfect for careers work too.
3. Complete career change
Another career move that could be perceived as ‘risky’ is to jump in where you have no previous experience or training.
Sometimes this arrives unannounced – like when I took on the role of Head of Programming for the literary festival in Dubai. This was an amazing shift and one which, on paper, looked totally unlikely – but that of course is only half the truth and a story for another day! For now, it’s enough to say I’d built credibility in this ‘new’ sector in ways which I hadn’t considered part of my work.
Just ‘what’ might be possible as a new career is sometimes a matter of imagination and more often than not, of courage. Here’s more of the WHAT from my own career story:
HOW to change careers?
So once you have a great idea for a new direction, HOW can you make it happen?
This is where strategy and tactics shift up a gear. Spreadsheets, timelines, plans, contacts and pathways – however you look at it, this is the nuts and bolts, the project management face of career change.
But first - Making the Decision
When I moved into my current role as a career coach and business owner, I had a flip chart on the go and evaluated the pros and cons of the move using every known framework!
Believe me, I had lists on my lists, ticks and crosses, weightings, visualisations, mind-maps, vision boards – you name it, I gave it a go.
Ultimately this campaign to appease my rational brain was a smokescreen for the real decision that had been made months previously. I knew the answer in my bones way before my brain caught up.
While research, validation techniques, case studies, projections and models kept me busy and I’m sure played their part in this biggest leap of all, the real work, the missing piece of this conundrum revealed the ultimate truth.
This quietly spoken heart of the matter gave me the confidence and certainty that setting up my own business and relying on it to sustain me, was the only way to go. More of that later.
Back to the HOW!
Once committed to your idea - and I’ll talk more about how exactly you can validate and evaluate your choice later - you need a plan, a map, a pathway. Whichever metaphor you choose you’ll need an overall route (strategy) and the nitty gritty actions you need to take (tactics).
Some people place advertised vacancies at the heart of this part of their career change. But while this tactic has a part to play, it is not the best or only way to secure your new role. Do you know why? Many great jobs are never advertised and are filled through connections, personal networks, people known to people! Building connections, discovering developments and opportunities before they even hit the job market and understanding your new sector in more depth - all these enrichments follow.
I’ve written about how you can strengthen this part of your journey in my guide: Connections to Fuel Your Career Change ( a guide for people who hate networking). You’ll find the details on the resources page - scroll down to Paid Resources.
Just email me to request your copy and you’ll soon understand the protocols, how to set up meetings, follow-ups and even the best mindsets for a successful ‘informational interview’! Meeting the right people were essential to two of my own career shifts, so don’t miss this part of your strategy - it will unlock surprising things.
Your exact strategy will depend on where you are now and where you want to be, and is the focus of the final phase of my Quickstep Career Change Programme.
By looking your current reality straight in the eyes, understanding reasons why your career change can work and what kind of bridge you need to get yourself across the obstacles in your path, you’ll have a plan and be ready to claim your future.
In this video that explores the HOW, I also explain how vital people were in at least one of my own career changes:
Now, just what is this missing piece? Let me say, it’s crucial when finding out how to change careers.
Well, quite simply it’s: WHY?
WHY do you want to start this new role?
What will this really give you?
And the answer to this question will provide fuel for the journey, vision for the transformation and a beating heart for your real campaign.
There are two core ways in which you can evaluate your decision and know - with conviction - that you have made a strong decision.
So how can you start to understand your WHY?
The pulse giving life to this project are your values and your purpose. These are the missing links in the decision-making chain and the factors that so many career-changers ignore, dismiss as unimportant or which don’t even appear on their career change map.
For me, these are the starting point and the reason for everything. When you have these vital components in place, the decision is easy, clear and actually, a complete no-brainer. They provide solid ground, a touchstone and your raison d’etre.
What are VALUES again?
Yes, this is a word that pops up everywhere.
Values: the expression of what matters most to you.
While their order may shift as a result of age and circumstances, they are fairly constant throughout your lifespan.
When you get clear on your top values you have a crucial and authentic way of measuring options. You can move away from your parents’ or your peers’ evaluations of what makes a worthwhile career and decide on your own vital way of measuring a fulfilled working life.
PURPOSE sounds a bit grand…
Purpose: the impact you want to have in the world and the contribution you can make.
You are probably already living this, even if you’re not completely conscious or appreciative of the impact you have. If you can bring this into focus, you will have clear meaning in your life. Uncovering your real purpose – or as the Japanese name it, ikigai – is a delicate and lengthy operation. In many ways, it’s a life’s work.
Once you’ve identified your values and purpose, you can immediately see why you’re dissatisfied in your current role. And you have the foundations for which to find a role that will align with this missing piece.
Does this explain why so many people lose heart, give up and get lost in the maze of job-sites, CV revamps, interviews and death-spiral over analysis? So many people want to know how to change careers but without the WHY, they risk moving into another unhappy role.
When you add in the magic potion of values and purpose – your why – and everything becomes clear, compelling and joined up. And this is why the process I use with my career change clients places these two elements at the heart of the programme.
They drive the WHAT and the HOW – which would be headless chickens without their WHY!
What does this really look like?
When I understood that FREEDOM was my highest value, closely followed by AUTHENTICITY, CREATIVITY and LOVE, I understood from my head to my heart why the job I was doing was such a terrible fit. None of these values could find real expression – I was being crushed into someone else’s WHY – and it hurt!
When I grasped this and knew how important authenticity was to me, it was obvious that if I wanted to lead a fulfilling working life then I would have to move.
So I did.
Today I bring my whole self to my work and give it full and free expression. The experience is exhilarating – and worth every stumble, doubt, brick wall and wakeful night I’ve experienced along the career change way.
Know your WHY and you’ll have the keys to your kingdom. What happens next is up to you!
And if you’d like to know how a career change is like a headless chicken, watch my third video below about how WHY provides the vital missing piece in a coherent career change.
If you’d like to know more about The Quickstep Career Change Programme, including clarity on your values and purpose, look here.
If you’re lost and not sure what you need to get you through the labyrinth of career change, get in touch with me and we can start making a plan. Just hit that button!