Gearing up for a big career change is like anything in life: if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
But don’t let that put you off—it’s not as daunting as it sounds. With the right mentality and a solid plan, you can relaunch your career and find your happy place at work.
Your happy place at work: let’s talk about that for a minute. It’s not unusual to fall into a profession accidentally, or to eagerly embark on a certain career path only to find that, actually, it’s not for you.
People change, and those days when it was the norm to stay with the same company for forty years are long gone. Today, the average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times throughout their career—and for good reason.
The cost of being unhappy at work
There’s nothing fun about doing a job you hate, or slowly realising that your career leaves you numb and bored to the core. That goes without saying, but being unhappy at work can also have long-term repercussions for your wellbeing.
From a health perspective, studies have found a strong correlation between dissatisfaction at work and unintended weight gain, greater risk of illness, depression, anxiety and sleep loss.
As if that wasn’t enough, being unhappy in your career can also affect your personal life and, worst of all, your confidence and self-worth.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already thinking about changing careers. However, maybe you’re still not sure, or just don’t know how to go about it. Perhaps you’re scared of failure, or just don’t know if it’s financially viable.
There’s only one way to find out!
Here’s how to prepare for a major career change. If you’d like to skip ahead to one specific step, just use the table of contents:
- Run a reality check
- Identify the skills you need to master
- Set goals and deadlines
- Start connecting the dots
- Crush your inner demons
1. Run a reality check
You’re no doubt familiar with the “grass is greener” concept, and this very much applies to changing careers. Before you do anything else, make sure your “dream” career is exactly what you think it is.
On the one hand, you need to draw a realistic comparison between your current career and your desired one. Identify concrete reasons for wanting to leave your job behind, and consider how the new career path might solve these. For example: you currently work in finance but want to be more creative. A career in design would give you this opportunity, whereas becoming a maths teacher might not.
Be honest with yourself about what you’re looking for and whether you can really find it in this alternative career.
At the same time, gather as much information about the new career path as you can. What does the day-to-day look like? Browse current job ads within your desired field to see what kinds of tasks and responsibilities you can expect to take on. If you want to go into design, for instance, you might relish the thought of getting creative—but have you considered the fact that you also need to be good with people?
It’s also important to gain a more long-term view of the industry. Do some research into salaries and employment rates, as well as potential for promotion and progression.
If, after all this, your dream career is still your dream career, keep going!
2. Identify the skills you need to master
If you really want to make career change happen, you’ll most likely need to master some new skills. The more drastic the career change, the steeper the learning curve, so make sure you know exactly what you’re in for before you quit your job.
Find out the must-haves and nice-to-haves in your dream role, and identify where your skills gaps lie. Once again, job descriptions are a great place to start. Browse your desired job title on sites like Indeed and Glassdoor, and make a list of all the skills, qualifications and qualities that frequently crop up.
Depending on the field, you might need to study for a whole new qualification. This can open up a fresh can of worms in terms of finance and time—which is why it’s so important to have a plan in place.
If you do need to take a course and you’re still working, you’ll need to explore your options in order to find something that’s both flexible and affordable. Further education can be a big investment, so dedicate plenty of time and research to getting the best value for your money. Try out as many free introductory courses as possible—like our free UX design, UI design, and web development short courses.
The more prepared you are in terms of skills and qualifications, the easier it will be to make a dramatic career transition, so start upskilling as soon as possible.
3. Set goals and deadlines
One of the trickiest things about voluntary career change is just that: it’s voluntary. While the idea of leaving your old job behind for something more fulfilling is highly attractive, it’s easy to lose motivation when faced with the reality of going back to school as an adult learner or swapping your senior job title for an entry-level role.
This is why it’s so important to set goals and deadlines. You need to hold yourself accountable for your career change and keep sight of the bigger picture at all times.
Yes, changing careers can be a long and arduous process; it’s not going to happen overnight. Once you’ve made up your mind to take action, set yourself a career-change deadline based on the hours you can commit to learning new skills and how long it will take you to finance any courses or qualifications.
For example: in four months’ time, I want to be halfway through this course. In eight months’ time, I want to go for my first interview in my dream field.
By breaking the journey down into mini goalposts, the whole task seems much more manageable and much more achievable. This will keep you on track and help to make sure that you actually see it through.
4. Start connecting the dots
Some career changes are pretty self explanatory; others seem completely random and out-of-the-blue. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing now or what you want to do next—as long as you can tell a convincing story.
CareerFoundry mentor Tobias Treppmann always urges his students to relate their previous experience to their new field by weaving a flowing narrative. This means connecting the dots and highlighting all the transferable skills and experiences that have led you down this new path.
For example: you currently work in customer service, and your natural gift for empathy has led you to the user-centric field of UX design.
But why is this important?
It’s all about how you sell yourself. Eventually, you will need to convince employers that you are right for the job—a tricky task if you’ve spent the last ten years doing something completely unrelated. However, if you can highlight the similarities and focus on all the transferable skills and knowledge you have gathered, you can show that this new career path was actually quite a natural and logical progression.
Even before you reach the interview stage, get to work on your narrative. Know exactly what you’re bringing to the table and be ready to tackle that tricky “But why the sudden change from X to Y!?” question.
5. Crush your inner demons
Career change is tough, so prepare yourself to tackle some doubts and demons. The key is to anticipate these moments of uncertainty and be ready to confront them as soon as they arise.
So what are some typical “inner demons” and how can you tackle them?
One of the most common career-change doubts is based on age. “You’re too old to change careers now!” protests that annoying little inner voice.
Considering that the official retirement age in the US is 66, you’ve probably still got quite a significant chunk of your career ahead of you. It’s never too late to seek happiness and fulfilment, so why put an age limit on career change?
Delving into a brand new field can be daunting, and you might struggle to believe that it’s possible or that you’re really good enough to make it work. If you’re scared of failure, there are many strategies you can use to redefine failure and overcome this fear.
Another classic demon that plagues career changers is impostor syndrome. However, help is at hand here, too—in this video, seasoned professionals and self-confessed impostors Brittni and Penny share some tactics for beating it:
These are just a few examples of how you can apply rationale and logic to overcome counterproductive thought patterns. It can also help to draw up a list of all the reasons you wanted to change careers in the first place and refer back to it every time the doubts creep in.
If you’re interested in reading move about the world of tech, then some of these articles may be of use for you: