Changing Career Direction

Sometimes just changing jobs is not enough. What you want is a more complete change - you want to do something completely different.  There may be one or more factors pushing you into such a decision, such as:

  • A change in personal circumstances means your current job no longer suits you.
  • You no longer value the work you are doing and feel you have something more to offer.
  • Your current position is about to be made redundant, and the thought of pursuing a similar job for another 5 years or more makes your heart sink.

It is also possible that there is nothing too bad about your current position, but you feel an impulse to do something much more personally rewarding. Sometimes we just grow out of what we are doing and need a change.

The first thing to consider is that you are almost certainly better off planning your career change while still employed - you at least have the financial stability that will give you time to nurture your plan.

Secondly, you need to appreciate your situation - is this need/desire for change based on a 'knowing in your heart' what you want, or a 'yearning in your heart' to find something more satisfying. In the first instance you might be considered fortunate - you know where you are going and your task is to find the route. In the second instance, your task is to explore the route in the hope that it might lead to a satisfying destination.

In either case consider the destination (your new career position) not as something set in stone - but as another stage in your overall career and life journey. There maybe further stages - who knows at this stage! And importantly, when engaging a life changing process like changing career direction, take guidance from those who have spent their life trying to understand and master the process.

Preparing for Change - Self assessment

If you are going to make a change, you will want it to be for the better. Therefore it must be based on your best understanding of yourself and your circumstances. A career change is rarely a solo affair - it impacts on all aspects of your life, so these too must be considered.

1. Work/Life balance

The energy, motivation and courage required to change ones career can easily distract you from bigger picture issues like achieving a healthy balance between various aspects of your life.

  • Work
    There are a number of different types of employment outside traditional 9 to 5 office hours. Being aware of these now may motivate you to adopt or aim for a different arrangement for the next phase of your career. 
  • Learning
    We live in an environment where a wide range of educational opportunities are available to everyone, and in an economy where more employment opportunities are available to those with higher levels of education. Expect to spend significant periods of time developing either academic and/or business knowledge, and fine tuning your 'career skills' as is appropriate to the new roles you may have to adopt.
  • Playing
    Playing includes all activities that serve to relax and/or invigorate you - its about doing what you enjoy. Many of the happiest workers see their work as play - they are getting payed for what they might do anyway! A career change should aim to lessen the distinction between work and play, and regardless of how successful you are at this, making sure you make time for play is critical for your psychological well being.
  • Giving
    We all live in a community of some sort - be it family, friends, religion, club or whatever - and we recieve the support and belongingness that they offer. We need to continuously ensure that we contribute to our community and not get lost in our quest for our personal goals. Finding a career that contributes to one of the communities you are involved in can be doubly satisfying as your sense of purpose and value can be easily seen.

2. Your Knowledge
Its a good idea to reflect on what knowledge you have accumulated during your career so far. This may be what you learned during your school years, what you have studied since then, and what specialist knowledge you may have picked up during your working years.

What aspects of your education have you enjoyed and has helped you along your path so far? What aspects will contribute towards a new direction? What areas might you need to develop now or build on in preparation for a new move?

If you have had a number of positions in your career to date, you may well have an unusual mix of specialist knowledge and practical experience. Such combinations are likely to be highly valued and may position you in a relatively unique position for new employment. Reflect on the combinations of experience you have and brainstorm how those experiences could be applied to areas that interest you now.

With continuous education being the norm, consider topping up your skills by participating in dedicated upskilling programes or conversion courses run by the Universities and Institutes of Technologies.

3. Your Skills
In your career (and life) so far you will have developed a range of highly valued skills that will enable you to use your knowledge and experience effectively in the world. Knowing what skills you have and in what measure can reveal a lot in terms of what you are going to be able to achieve in a new career.

You can learn about these 'transferable skills' and complete a skills audit by downloading our Career Skills Self-Assessment form and completing the exercises. You can get additional information from looking into what employers look for when recruiting new staff.

4. Your Interests
There are two factors to consider here - those interests that are quite specific (e.g. soccer, traditional music, or specific hobbies) and those that represent general interests (e.g. practical work, helping work). If you have specific hobbies that you think you might like to pursue professionally, then you should look objectively at your hobby in the context of your knowledge as discussed above, and your skills as measured using the skills exercise. Spend some time thinking these three things over and discuss with as wide a group of friends as you can. You may discover that there are possible roles that would combine elements of your previous knowledge and skills with some aspect of your hobby.

If nothing comes of this exercise, or you want to explore further possibilities, then create a career interests profile (use the SignUp button at the top of this page to create an account and complete the Careers Portal Interest Profiler CPIP). Your interests profile should clarify some of your general motivations, and can be used to suggest occupations and courses that have something in common with your interests. You will be able to explore hundreds of occupations and courses in detail and this should enable you to shortlist a number of possibilities to focus your attention on.

5. Your Values
Your values are a guide to your career needs and wants. Again there are two considerations here - those values that are general (e.g. achievement, support) and those that are more specific (e.g. working indoors, showing committment). Though an exploration of your values will not alone point you towards a particular career, consideration of your values can help focus your exploration.

You can take a general values self-assessment online here (it's free, but a basic registration is required after you complete the test) to rank your core values, and then proceed to compare your values with a range of occupations. This may alert you to any mismatch and give you time to reconsider your options.

Once you have developed a reasonable sense of who you are and what motivates you, you should have a more solid sense of what you might like to do. The next task is to see what is avalable in the world of work.

Researching the World of Work

The world of work is continuously changing. Different industry sectors grow and shrink according to market conditions. New occupations are invented every day. To change your career you need both the internal confidence to succeed and the clearist picture possible of your future position. To make your new move in confidence talk and discuss your options with as many people as you can. In particular try to get to talk to someone who is already doing that job or one similar to it. If the job is in a particular company, research the company in depth - get as much information about what it is like on the inside.

You will find on this site many in-depth interviews of people from all walks of life who discuss many aspects of their career path to date, including some who have probably faced similar situations to you. These may inspire you to take up positions you had not considered before, and could provide valuable first hand information about an area you are unfamiliar with.

Complete your research by following the guidelines set out in our section on Career Research. Keeping in mind what you have uncovered from completing the self-assessment exercises, work to locate the sectors that interest you most and that you might have most to contribute to. Your goal is to narrow the focus of your inquiry to a managable region in the world of work, and start an indepth exploration of that area - what companies operate there, what are the marketplace conditions, and where exactly might you fit.

Taking Action

At the end of your research you are likely to be left with one or two options. You will have identified a number of positions that you would like to try, and/or you will be of the opinion that you could form your own business to pursue your interests. In the first instance you are now ready to start looking for a job. If starting your own business is something you want to consider, then you must start researching this as an option.

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