Have you ever thought that you’d just like to… do something else? That your career isn’t quite where you want to be?A career change can happen at any time, even in your twenties or when you’re building experience. Here are my tips on making the career switch to something you want to do.
That urge to change careers is where I found myself a few months ago. I was lucky in that I had a job that I loved a lot of things about. But, ultimately, my career aspirations had shifted and now lay somewhere else. It really struck me one day: this isn’t what I want to do any more. And so, after six years, I moved out of the charity sector into working in Higher Education.
The good news is that you can make a change too, if you want to! But switching role, job focus or industry is more complicated than just moving to a different company while doing broadly the same thing. Here are some things you’ll want to consider if you’re thinking of a career change.
What do you want to do?
I know this sounds obvious, but you really can’t get somewhere new without a map. In this case, that means an idea of where you want to be and what you want to do! I knew I wanted to work somewhere where I could write, somewhere where I could meet lots of people, and ideally in something to do with education. Exactly what form that would take was less clear, but it gave me a starting point.
You might know exactly where you want to be, or you might just have a vague sense of “something that isn’t what I’m doing now.”
If it’s the latter, then think about your passions. What parts of your job do you really love? What fires you up? Perhaps you love meeting new people, knowing you’ve helped someone, or having the freedom to be really creative. Think about the jobs that will let you do those things.
Don’t be afraid to get advice, either. Talk to friends or a mentor you admire. If you went to college or university, contact your alumni service – many institutions allow alumni to access their Careers Advice service for life. Spend time browsing job postings online, not necessarily even to apply straight away – just see what’s out there and what takes your fancy.
Have a look at some ideas on what to do next if you’re looking for a little inspiration.
Think about retraining
For some jobs, you’ll need specific training before you can get started. This might be a short course, or you might get trained on the job. Then again, you might need to do a whole new degree or qualification. This can be a big investment in terms of time and sometimes money!
If you’re going to retrain, especially if you’re going to do something expensive or time-consuming like a degree course, try to be really sure that it’s the right thing for you before you dive in.
My own job change didn’t require any specific retraining, but I know people who have returned to education after many years out to become doctors, veterinarians, lawyers, and other jobs that take years of studying. It can be done!
If you decide to do this, look at the financial support that’s available – you might be able to get a postgraduate loan, a scholarship to reduce your fees, or do the course part-time while you keep working.
In some situations, you may choose to undertake an Apprenticeship or similar paid training programme so that you can gain valuable experience, knowledge and a qualification in the subject of your choice while getting paid.
Think about your transferable skills
Transferable skills refer to skills you’ve gained in one job that you can easily use in a different industry. Communication, customer service and digital skills are all examples of transferable skills. Almost any skill is transferable if you think about it in the right way.
To give you one example, I’ve used my brief stint in retail banking to illustrate that I can operate with tact and discretion around sensitive issues in a job application (and it worked.)
I’ve also used the time I directed a play to show that I have leadership skills and can manage a team of people to get good results (yes, that worked too.)
You probably have more of the skills listed in a Person Specification than you think you do – you just might have gained them in a slightly different way.
You can get free Young Professional training to help with this. You’ll look at skills you already have – problem solving, communication, teamwork, self management and self belief – in a whole new light. You’ll get to build these skills up. You’ll also see how to talk about your past experiences at job interviews in a way that helps employers see you’ve already got what they’re looking for.
Don’t forget your volunteer and extracurricular experience
Experience gained from volunteering or from hobbies and interests absolutely counts, and should be included on your application if relevant.
For example, I once got a job that involved some events management, having never held a job in events before. How? I used my experience as Vice President of a student society as an undergraduate to show that I understood the basics of how to run a successful event. This gave the interviewer enough confidence to believe that I could learn the rest on the job – and I did.
If you’ve led a group, arranged events, organised teams of volunteers, raised money, or taught a class in your free time, put this on your CV! It’s relevant! Experience is experience; it doesn’t only count if you got paid for it.
Brush up your application materials
Any time you’re trying to change job, you should give yourself the best shot by making sure your application materials – CV, cover letter, possibly application form – are as good as they can be. This is especially true when you’re trying to change career. Get a trusted friend or mentor to look at them for you and offer advice on how they could be improved. Check and triple check your spelling and grammar. A typo is forgivable, so don’t panic if you spot one later. (I once misspelled the name of the job in the subject line of my application email. I got the job.) But an application that’s riddled with errors looks sloppy and like you don’t care.
Your CV and cover letter should be concise (never more than two pages for a CV unless you’re going for a highly specialised job or have a lot of relevant publications to list!)
They should be tailored to each specific job (employers can spot a form letter a mile off, and they hate it.)
Be prepared to talk about your reasons for the change
If you get an interview, your potential employers might want to know why you’re looking at doing something so different. Think about this in advance and have an answer prepared. (And a better answer than “I’m bored of my job!”).
Don’t say negative things about the job or industry you’re leaving. Instead, talk up the job or industry you’re applying for.
- Why are you excited about this industry and this opportunity?
- What do you think you can bring to the table?
- What makes your skills and personality the perfect fit?
In short, why do you think that you and this job are a match made in heaven?
You’ll find lots more job interview tips on Youth Employment UK to help you put your best foot forward.
For an employer, taking on someone who is changing careers can be a risk. Even if you’ve been a star performer in your last job, they don’t know how you’ll perform in this role. They don’t even know for sure that you won’t decide you hate it after all and quit
within three months. As a career change candidate, you’ve already got a bigger hurdle to overcome than someone who is applying from within the industry. This means you’ll need to be patient!
I applied for a job that I (foolishly) thought was more-or-less a sure thing as it related directly to the subject of my Masters Degree. I was rejected with a very kind “you were our second choice, but it was the experience in a similar job that swayed it.” I received several rejections along similar lines – “you were a great candidate but we needed more direct experience.” This will probably happen when you try to change careers. Try not to take it personally. The job I have now, my Career Change Job so to speak, was my seventh interview in a period of about 4 months (and I applied for many more that I wasn’t even shortlisted for.)
Be patient. Develop a thick skin. And don’t quit your current job until you have something to go to!
Keep your eyes open for opportunities
Several months ago, I applied for a job and the CEO contacted me to set up a phone interview. When we spoke, it became apparent to both of us that the job wasn’t quite the right fit. However, she was impressed with my writing and communications experience, and offered me some freelance work. That’s how I’m writing this article for Youth Employment UK right now!
You never know when opportunities will come knocking, even if they’re not quite the ones you expected. Watch for them, and take them when they come.
Changing career can be difficult, but it can also be absolutely amazing. I’m so glad I did it when I did. Switching focus has given me a new direction, a new challenge, and is already opening up so many exciting opportunities and possibilities.
My final piece of advice? Follow your heart, and take the leap.