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Naomi Rothwell-Boyd, May 17 2022

10 Safe Steps To Start Your Career Change

Welcome to the next chapter of your career

Career change is scary. It's hard to know where to start with a career change, or even what's possible for you. It's not obvious how to change your career. I've seen thousands of people who want to change careers and the majority struggle to even start the process.

But there are patterns to career change and we can learn from them to make starting your own change easier. We're going to look at the 10 safe steps that anybody can use to start their own career change.

Whether you've only just realised you hate your job, or you're thinking about changing your career at 30, or whether you need a career change at 40 - no matter the stage you find yourself at, these steps can help everyone to start exploring career change safely:

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Exploring career change doesn't have to be risky

These steps are the safe way to approach career change, because instead of just looking through job listings, applying to the first few you see and quitting straight away, or other conventional career advice, these steps arm you with all the insights you need for a far better informed job search.

Career change may not always be a good idea for everyone, and you don't want to jump off the deep end, that is where the risk comes from. Instead you want to make calculated, well thought out decisions before taking key actions. You need a plan for you next career. These 10 steps are how you define your own plan.

Before we dive into each step, I want to briefly examine the most common themes people face when they embark on this journey.

The big challenges when you change career

I’ve coached people from loads of different industries - execs in finance, banking, consulting, insurance, lawyers, engineers, teachers, corporate operations, media and marketing – through all my coaching, and all the conversations I’ve ever had with anyone who’s trying to make a career change, the same themes and similar challenges keep coming up. 

I'm feeling completely lost

The majority of people often describe how they just have no idea what they really want. They feel lost when they think about the next stage of their career. They don’t know where turn or where to even start. 

This is understandable – the idea of changing career can feel overwhelming when you don’t know what other type of work would suit you. So of course it’s easy to feel clueless or find it hard to get going with exploring career change.

Limited by my experience

The other common theme I see is that although they may feel like their current career is going nowhere, they still feel anxious about doing something different because they worry about being limited by their experience.

They often feel like they might not be capable of doing something new, and of the hard work involved, so they’re scared of failing which has made them put off exploring a change. Feeling stuck and trapped by your experience is a normal reaction. 

Insecure and lack of confidence

I see this in people who are leaders in their field with 20 years’ experience. Lacking confidence is not just for people who’ve only been in a career for a short time.

Even if they’ve mastered their current field of expertise, so many people still feel out of touch with other industries and daunted by the idea of stepping out of their comfort zone. 

They effectively aren’t sure what their transferable skills are. They don’t know themselves well enough to make confident decisions in areas where they aren’t a formal expert. 

Feeling this way has a major impact on your life, it’s a stressful way to feel. Think about how much time we spend working - it tends to take up the most of our time.

You shouldn’t have to accept feeling this way about your career forever. That's why we've put together this guide, so let's dive in!

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1) Identify what's not working for you today

The easiest place to start is by noting what's not working. People find it far easier to explain what they don't like about a situation.

Sometimes it can be difficult to identify what you are looking for, so starting with the negatives can be a helpful way to define the parameters of your career change.

Some key questions to ask yourself here are:

Answering these questions, and considering what the opposite might look like, can help give you a better idea of the type of career that would suit you better.

2) List your minimum requirements

What are your non-negotiable requirements for your career? These might be things like:

When you know what your minimum requirements are, you can start to rule out career options that don't fit the bill. This will help you focus your search later on more realistic options.

3) Identify your core personal values

While minimum requirements are more superficial and practical, you also need to dig deeper about your own personal core values.

Core values are like your personal principles, they're your personal rules that dictate how you like to live your life. They also influence what you expect from those around you, and therefore impact how you feel about your work, colleagues and team culture where you operate.

Someone who knows that one of their core values is, for example, fairness, would feel confident avoiding an industry that treats people unfairly even though they have relevant skills for that industry and would be paid highly. They would still be able to sleep better at night and wouldn’t waste years going into the wrong industry. 

Ask yourself questions like:

Questions like these will help to pick out certain traits that you prefer which could indicate your core values. These core values then act as your north star for decision making.

Company culture doesn't seem fair? Cool discount it. Unsure if the hiring manager has integrity? Discount it. Team mission seems to have the same positive purpose-driven approach you like? Short-list it.

4) Prioritise your requirements

Once you know what you want (steps 1 & 2) and also how you'd like your working world to ideally look (step 3) - then it's time to prioritise your requirements.

List them all down and start to rank them. Which ones are the most important to you? Which ones can you be more flexible on?

Some people may have a very fixed idea of what they want (e.g. I must work from home, I need a salary of £50k per year, I want more travel in my working life) whereas others might have a longer list of career options and be willing to budge on some of their requirements.

It's important to be honest with yourself here - if you're not willing to budge on a requirement then don't list it as something you're open to negotiating on. It'll only cause frustration later down the line.

5) Explore your interests and skills

Now that you have some ideas on what you're looking for next, based on your prioritised needs and values, it's time to explore the other factors that influence where you focus.

It's worth quickly noting your main work interests. I don't mean "passions" as it's not good advice to always chase your passions for work - it's perfectly fine to have different passions in your personal life to your work life.

So think about what you find intellectual stimulating about work. What topics do you like to read about in your spare time that are work-related? What trends, articles and discussions keep you interested? These can be a good indicator for the types of roles and a new career path that might interest you.

You should also consider what skills and experience you have to leverage straight away. Skills are strengths that you've developed through experience, learning or practice - they're things that come naturally to you or that you've gotten good at over time. Even if you're just looking for an entry level position you will still have valuable skills.

You might have a skill for quickly understanding complex problems, or for being able to maintain calm under pressure - these are things that would be attractive to a potential employer and give you an edge in certain roles when applying for a new job.

Make sure to list down both your interests and skills as they'll come in handy later.

6) Brainstorm any career possibilities

It can seem overwhelming or hard to think of new career possibilities, so try out this framework. Try thinking of ideas in these four distinct buckets:

Stepping stone jobs are the jobs you could walk into today if you needed to, the ones that on the same experience level or perhaps a little lower. They might be in the same industry or field as your current job, or they could be something completely different.

Aspirational jobs are ones that you could do with a bit more training or experience. They might be in a similar field to what you're doing now but at a higher level, or they could be something entirely different.

Dream jobs are the ones that you might not be able to do today, or even in the next five years. But they're the jobs you really want to do, the ones that excite and inspire you.

Crazy jobs are just that - crazy ideas that might not be possible or realistic but that you love anyway. They're the ones that make you think "what if... ?"

Some people find it helpful to write down their ideas in each category, others prefer to just keep them in their head. It's up to you. The goal here is to come up with a large volume of ideas. Make as big a list as possible.

7) Define the scale of your change

Now that you have a load of ideas, from small to crazy big, that were informed by your needs, values, interests and skills, now you need to decide what your appetite for change really is.

It's worth remembering this is a journey - it's not just one change you need to make and done. So you could start with a small change, perhaps a stepping stone job would help get you out of a bad environment and feel refreshing.

Or perhaps you're ready to make a big change and chase after a crazy dream job. There is no right answer - even combinations work if you can see a potential path forward. You just need to acknowledge yourself what you'd like to achieve in the next 3 - 6 months when you start changing careers.

8) Identify your transferable skills

This is an important step as it trips up many people. Often people stop here because they then feel trapped by their experience. So now you need to identify your transferable skills.

Competencies are your truly transferable skills, the professional skills that stay with you forever regardless of what vocation or situation you find yourself facing.

For example, negotiating is a supremely valuable competency that helps in all walks of life, whether you're discussing the price of a car, or asking for a pay rise. And it's one that you've probably spent years refining without realising.

You need to focus on these super-competencies when making your career change. They are the skills that will see you through any situation and help you to excel. So make a list of all the competencies you have that you know are valuable, and focus on playing to these strengths.

9) Begin your job search with your new parameters

You are now armed with the self reflection and insights to start a better informed job search. You will have a much higher chance of success now you've defined what "better" looks like and the assets you have to chase it.

So it's time to start testing the waters. The internet has made it easier than ever before to research companies and reach out to people who work there. So use this power and look up potential employers that meet your new criteria.

Reach out to people who work there and ask them about their experiences. Get a feel for the culture of the organisation and whether it would be a good fit for you.

And finally, don't forget to update your CV and social media profiles to reflect your new focus. You never know who might be looking.

10) Start talking to people you trust

Your network is worth exploring. Talk to friends, family, mentors, and people you respect. They might have ideas or know of opportunities that you haven't considered.

And remember to talk about your career change openly. The more people who know what you're looking for, the more likely it is that somebody will be able to help you.

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Find help to change your career when you need it

But don't feel like you have to go it alone. If you're feeling lost, there are career coaches and counsellors who can help you figure out your next steps.

Making a career change can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be scary. With careful planning and execution, you can make the transition safely and start paving the way towards a bright new future.

What steps will you take today to start your career change?

Written by

Naomi Rothwell-Boyd

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