The pandemic has hit us all hard and profoundly affected the way we live and work. We were forced to take a pause and consider what was most important to us, and, for some, this may have also led to us re-evaluating our careers.
As we now return to some sort of new normal, this is the perfect time to consider whether your job is still a good fit for you, the way you want to live and what your long-term career goals are. After all, we are all retiring later than ever and some of us may not even want to retire at all. So it's essential that we spend these precious working years doing something that is as fulfilling and rewarding as possible.
If you've been mulling over a possible career change, here are seven steps to take before you make the leap to a new job:
1. work out what you really want from your job
The advantage of making a change mid-career is that you'll have plenty of previous experience to draw on in terms what you do and don't enjoy.
Ask yourself what have been your best work experiences? What were you doing at the time? Who was there? What was the work environment like? What difference did you make?
You'll learn a lot from your answers about what's important to you, what motivates you, and how you like to work best - all of which can help narrow your focus on possible areas for a new career.
Also consider your worst work experiences and make a list of the things that you don't ever want to repeat. This is your chance to draw a line in the sand and say that you will no longer tolerate these aspects as part of any future role or career change.
2. build your confidence
Being able to talk easily to any employer or client about what you have to offer will be crucial to any future career move. The simplest way to feel more confident is to know and understand what your unique strengths are.
These are the things which come naturally and easily to you and allow you to perform at your best. If you don't know what they are, ask some trusted friends and colleagues what they think your strengths are. Or take this free test: Personality Test, Personality Assessment: VIA Survey | VIA Institute (viacharacter.org)
Also think back on your proudest career achievements. What have you overcome, professionally and personally? As our career progresses, we rarely take the time to pause and acknowledge our achievements. By reflecting on what these are, we are able to see more clearly what our potential is and what we might achieve in the future.
3. adopt a growth mindset
Change is scary and therefore sometimes it’s easier to tell ourselves stories which keep us in our comfort zone. These might be stories such as “It's too late to make a career change” or, “You don't have the skills and experience that your dream job requires”.
However, if you take the time to do a proper brainstorm of all the skills you have learned to date, you might be surprised at how qualified you already are for your new career path. And if there are training gaps, identify how you can upskill yourself and gain relevant experience. Could you do a course? Or shadow someone in that particular department or industry?
Don’t hold yourself back by having a fixed mindset around what you’re capable of. You're only as limited as the stories you tell yourself.
4. try a shift project
Before going all out on the job search for this new direction, it’s a good idea to get a taste of your potential new career or role, so that you find out sooner rather than later if it's a good fit or whether there are aspects you don't really enjoy in reality.
One way to do this is via a small 'career experiment' which is action based, relatively short (only lasts a few hours or days) and which you approach in a playful way. For example, if you dream of becoming a family photographer, why not offer to do a free ‘shoot’ one afternoon for some friends with kids. Pay attention to which aspects of the experience you most enjoy, and which leave you feeling bored or stressed out. As a result you might want to pivot slightly, or possibly move on to a completely new idea.
Other ways to approach this might be through volunteering, shadowing someone in their role, taking a sabbatical, or going part time and building up a business on the side.
5. look for employers who share your values
Something which can hold people back from making a career change is a fear of encountering ageist attitudes. Don’t forget that you are protected from this by law, but if it is a real concern then you might want to research the company before you approach them. What are their values? What does it say on their website about their overall mission? And how diverse is their workforce? Is this something they prioritise?
Speaking to someone who already works there can also be very revealing, or, if you can’t find any connections, then anonymous company review websites like Glassdoor can provide some information on what it’s like to work there and also salary information.
6. consider a new work environment
I like to encourage my coaching clients - particularly the career changers - to consider not just what they want to do, but also how they want to do it. This can open up all sorts of new avenues and ideas relating to future career options.
If remote or flexible working has become more important to you during the pandemic, then look for companies which are now offering this long term. Or perhaps you can no longer tolerate the stress of a long commute or long hours, and want to look for somewhere more local or reduce your hours.
Or maybe you want to make more of an impact, and therefore work for a charity or an organisation that specialises in a field you care deeply about. Reflect on your ideal work environment as much as the work itself.
7. get your ducks in a row
So you’ve done your research, identified a new dream career path and acquired the relevant skills. Before you launch into job searching and making applications, make sure that you have looked at your finances and polished your job search tools to perfection:
- Depending on what level you will be entering your new industry at, you may need to take a pay cut in the short term. Make sure that you have assessed your incomings and outgoings, and have a clear idea of what you will need to earn or save up in order to cover the basics during the first few months of your career transition. Start creating a ‘rainy day’ fund if you haven’t already.
- Update your CV. It might be some years since you were last in the job market and you want to ensure that your CV gets you over the first hurdle in the application process. Many companies now use applicant tracking systems (ATS) which look for keywords in a CV, so have a think about which keywords might be relevant to your desired role and edit your CV accordingly. There are plenty of articles and videos online to help you learn how to do this.
- Hone your interview skills. Practise makes perfect so have a go at a mock interview with a trusted friend, relative or coach. There are plenty of sample interview questions that can be found online and printed off for them to use. Also think about how your existing strengths and skills will be relevant to the role you want, and really help the interviewer see how you are the perfect fit for the job.
I'm a strong believer that there is never a ‘perfect’ time to make a career change. However, the pandemic has created a natural space of sorts, to allow us all to stop, take stock and re-assess our lives. So if you are feeling called to make some changes in your career, why not go for it? Open a new door and start a journey towards a new career.