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How to Change Careers: A Complete Guide

The results of a recent Gallup poll make for truly startling reading.

According to the poll, a staggering 85% people worldwide feel they are not engaged at work – in other words, that they don’t like their jobs.

With most of us in the UK spending an average of 35.9 hours a week focusing on our jobs, over time this adds up to a significant part of our lives that we’re spending on working in careers that we don’t want to be working in.

Everyone deserves to feel fulfilled at work. If you’re currently feeling that you’ve lost motivation and interest in your job – and that you just… well…hate it – it could be a sign that the time has come to change careers.

We’ve created this guide to hopefully answer the question of how to change careers in a way that’s logical, considered and fun. Let’s get started.

How to change careers – the key steps

1.   Break down the big picture

The process of changing careers can become quite overwhelming if we consider everything as a whole. For example, if someone asks you ‘how do you change careers?’ on the spot, you’re likely to be slightly flummoxed and not be able to answer straight away – there are just too many parts of the process to really think about and hold in your mind at once.

That means we need to find a way of making the daunting project of changing careers easier to comprehend.

The simplest way to do that is by dividing the entire process into smaller sections, focusing on the various tasks that need to be completed in order for you to progress to your final objective (ie. a new career).

This technique is called ‘microproductivity’ and Kat Boogaard at the Trello blog has written a fantastic blog on what the concept actually is and how it can help improve your overall productivity when it comes to completing bigger projects.

2.   Discover your motivations

One of the most important sections to focus on at the beginning of your journey to finding a new career is your reasons for switching roles or industries. In other words, your motivations for changing your job.

Our motivations can tell us a lot when it comes to changing careers. They ultimately show us what we want and what we don’t want: what things excite and drive us forward at work and what things hold us back. Examining our motivations can help us to focus our minds and give us a clear sense of direction, helping us make better, more informed choices about career development.

Advice about how to identify your motivations for changing your career could fill an entire blog post on its own. It’s a huge topic that we can’t entirely do complete justice to in this short paragraph.

To take just one example, the ‘Why & How People Change Jobs (Mar 2015)’ survey by LinkedIn explores some of the most common reasons that people cite for why they want to change careers.

In the survey, 45% of people cited lack of opportunities for career growth as one of the main reasons that they pivoted to a new career: in other words, one of their motivations for moving on was a desire to embrace new career opportunities.

A stressed woman at work holding her head in her hands

Other top reasons for changing careers included:

  • Dissatisfaction with leadership at organisation: 41% of people surveyed
  • Dissatisfaction with work environment and culture: 36% of people surveyed
  • Desire for more challenging work: 36% of people surveyed
  • Dissatisfaction with compensation/benefits: 34% of people surveyed
  • Dissatisfaction with recognition: 32% of people surveyed

Do any of these seem familiar to your own situation at the moment?

Think carefully about the reasons you are considering a new career and ask yourself a few simple questions to help discover your motivations:

  • What interests you about your current job?
  • What doesn’t interest you about your current job?
  • If money was no object, what would you do for fulfillment?
  • What are your natural talents?
  • What do you find challenging?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years, in terms of your career?

The answers to these questions should help to show you where your motivations lie.

3.   Mindmap possible new careers

Mind mapping isn’t just something we did in school to get our science teachers off our backs – it can be a powerful tool when it comes to solidifying your thinking and generating new ideas in your career search.

Mind maps are also called spider diagrams, so-called because of the web-like structure that a finished mind map takes on, similar to a spider’s web.

You start by drawing a circle in the middle of the page for one central idea and then you create smaller circles branching off from this that explore other ideas. Further branches explore these ideas in more detail.

This blog by Rumie covers the process of making a mind map for your career development in exhaustive detail. You could choose to focus on your motivations and try to explore what topics interest you, or you could drill down into specific careers and look at the various steps required to get where you want to be. As tools for exploring ideas go, mind-maps are surprisingly versatile and can be adapted to basically any question you’re looking for an answer to.

Two women smiling whilst holding a piece of paper

4.   Build a professional network

Having a supportive group of people who are going through the same process as you, or who have already gone through the process, can really help guide you on your own career journey. Scratch the surface and you’ll find that networking provides many more benefits that just support.

Networks are a collection of mutually-beneficial relationships between a group of professionals working in a particular field. Studies have also suggested that people who have a strong professional network are more likely to experience success in their careers, along with a whole host of other benefits.

A study by Hans-Georg Wolff and Klaus Moser at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg found evidence that suggested having a network and ‘networking behaviour’ – like staying in touch with ex-colleagues, visiting conferences, keeping in touch with contacts from your field – was correlated to growth, opportunities and long-term job satisfaction.

So, how do you network? Well, the process is about cultivating new relationships with people.  To do that, you’ll generally need to do things like the following:

  • Talk to people outside your general professional circle at work
  • Find spaces (online or in person) that allow you to mix with a wide-range of professionals with shared interests
  • Listen to others and help them without expecting something in return
  • Be confident, friendly and approachable

This blog by Forbes has some great advice on how to build a strong professional network that can help you weather the challenges that career development can throw at you.

We’ve also written a really detailed blog about networking with some tips for how you can get the process right too.

5. Find a mentor

Finding a mentor – someone who can provide dedicated support and guidance to you whilst you transition to a new career – is one of the steps that many folks who’ve successfully changed careers swear by.

A mentor is an experienced professional that you respect, who has a significant degree of experience behind them, who is willing to give you advice about how best to tackle your career change. They’re basically someone who has been through the same things that you’re currently experiencing and who can offer you guidance about how best to go about the career change process.

A mentor will be able to:

  • Provide ongoing advice and guidance about how to progress in your career
  • Offer emotional support when things get tough
  • Help build your confidence and inspire you to achieve
  • Encourage you to push your boundaries and get out of your comfort zone when developing your career.

We’ve covered the topic in detail in this previous blog, which provides a lot of useful tips for approaching a mentor. This blog by the Harvard Business Review also has some practical advice about how you can navigate finding the right mentor.

Young Women Browsing Phones

6. Get some work experience

There’s obviously a difference between thinking that you’re well-suited to a particular career and being well-suited to a career. The only way that you can really find out which is the case is by experiencing a typical day in the life of roles in the industry you want to move into. And that means getting work experience. 

Work experience is a time-honoured tradition at UK schools – one week in a year where you get transported into a bewildered workplace to learn about what a typical 9 to 5 is like. Thankfully, work experience as an adult is a lot less awkward.

Arranging it is usually just a simple case of contacting the organisation and asking if they’d be willing to let you have a short work experience placement where you could experience what a specific role is like. Usually organisations will feel quite flattered that you want to have a placement with them: they’ll also probably be glad of the free labour too.

This article by Prospects has some great advice about how to gain work experience, with some handy tips to help the process go easier.

7. Identify the qualifications that you need

Usually when it comes to transitioning careers, you’ll find that you need to develop a new set of skills and knowledge specific to that role or industry. That means either gaining work experience or studying specialist knowledge.

Whilst it can be done, it’s often hard to break into an industry without showing some prior evidence of having done that before. This is particularly the case in today’s ultra-competitive job markets.

 Studying a professional qualification is one of the most useful way to prove to employers that you have the exact blend of skills and knowledge they’re looking for – particularly if you study a widely-respected qualification from a widely-respected provider in your industry.

As a result, at this stage in your career change project, it’s best to start looking at potential qualifications that will help you transition.

For instance, here are some of the providers most in-demand professional qualifications from employers, for the most popular industries that we offer:

  • Accountancy and Bookkeeping: AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)
  • Human Resources and Learning & Development: CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development)
  • Corporate Governance: CGI (Chartered Governance Institute)
  • IT: BCS (British Computing Society)
  • Leadership and Management: ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management), CMI (Chartered Management Institute)
  • Marketing: CIM (Chartered Marketing Institute)
  • Procurement and Supply: CIPS (Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply)
  • Project Management: PRINCE2

When choosing a qualification to study, be sure that its format aligns with your own study needs. These days, courses are offered in a range of formats: from traditional, classroom-based study through to self-guided online study. Which study format you choose depends a lot on your own preferences.

Many providers (including us) focus solely on providing qualifications that you can complete entirely online, at your own pace. This provides a great level of flexibility, allowing you to balance studying for a new career with your current commitments, like a full-time job or caring responsibilities.

8. Create your career plan

When you feel like you’ve got a good handle on the situation from completing all of the previous steps, you’re probably ready to start creating a comprehensive career plan for how you can put your ideas into practice!

There’s lots of advice on the internet that does great justice to the subject, so do some desktop research and see what you can find – this blog by Indeed is particularly good!

A career plan is simply just a document that you can refer to guide you about the specific steps that you’ll need to take to achieve your dream role. It can be as comprehensive or as simple as you like. The choice is entirely down to you: as is how you use it.

Some people use their career plans as a working document and a physical reminder of the specific tasks they have to complete, in order to achieve their objective. Others use it more as a flexible roadmap to guide them along the way and keep them accountable.

Be brave and make the change!

Ultimately, the only way you’ll truly know if a career change is the right thing to do is to try it. That requires a certain degree of bravery – and of taking a calculated risk. Whilst this can obviously be scary, try to stay confident and resilient. Follow the steps we’ve outlined above and you’ll hopefully be able to tackle the process of changing career efficiently and, dare we say it, whilst having fun.

Develop your career with a professional qualification that you can study 100% online. Download your free course guide today and get started.