Earlier this year we ran a career changers seminar which generated some interesting advice and insights. Making a career change can be a life affirming, but also inevitably stressful process, requiring you to overcome a number of potential hurdles. Here we share some of the most common challenges facing career changers, along with tips for how to address these constraints directly to help you transition into a new career:

Is it push or pull that’s driving you?

Being clear on your motivation for change is critical. Perhaps you’re feeling undervalued in your current organisation, or maybe you aren’t feeling sufficiently challenged? Maybe your career has stalled or it could be just time for something new? On the other hand are you clear about what you do want, and, what is attractive about the new career destination? Whatever the reason for your current career contemplations, the change equation dictates that your dissatisfaction with your present position combined with your vision or passion for how things might be, must be greater than your desire to maintain the status quo. In other words if you’re in a comfortable routine, or even a safe and secure ‘rut’, don’t start to contemplate a major career change as you just won’t stay the course.

Do you have the right mindset?

Does this mean having a clear focus or keeping an open mind? When you set off on a journey it’s obvious you need to know your destination, your route and the milestones you’ll pass on the way. So in the same way if you have a career goal and you know where your skills lie, what would make you happy, and which employers would value you, then you can focus on the steps you need to take to achieve your ambition. However if you prefer to dream big, to keep your options open, and are prepared to experiment and potentially have a few failures on the way, then you’re on a path of exploration and experience, where flexibility and being comfortable with uncertainty are going to be key to your success.

Are you in the right place?

It’s important to have positive self esteem when making a career change. If you’re feeling confident and positive this could be the moment to try something new, but if you could do with a self-esteem boost you may need to take some action before embarking on your career journey. Steps you could take include:

  • capturing your skills and experience in a way that enables you to articulate your transferable capability
  • asking for some generative feedback, the type that makes you feel as if you could climb the highest mountain and achieve great things
  • seek out your fans, ie. the people you can trust and with whom you can share your hopes and concerns, safe in the knowledge that they will give you a boost

Is it the right time?

Is there ever a right time to begin a fresh chapter in your working life? Occasionally a number of circumstances come together to create a time which makes a career change the obvious next step. These serendipitous events can include redundancy, relocation, or a change in personal circumstances such as the birth of a child, marriage, illness etc. Whatever the situation, you may find yourself by chance at a crossroads, ie. taking stock and reviewing what’s important to you and what opportunities are out there. Alternatively you may be quite clear about the alignment of circumstances which will enable you to consider new career options. Perhaps your child needs to start school, or you need to complete some additional studies, or maybe you want to take some time out before commencing a new career. But beware constantly ‘putting off’ any decision or action without questioning your motivation.

Are you looking for the right fit?

Be realistic about the skills you will need to transition. Whenever you change roles or employers you are going to start a fresh learning curve to plug skills gaps. When you consider a radical career change, that curve is going to become longer and steeper. Reflect on the skills you have and their transferability and think about the gaps that you’ll need to address. Finding ways of developing new skills sometimes requires some ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. Perhaps you could do some voluntary work or get involved in a project? Are there online courses or self-directed learning you can do in your own time? Would joining a special interest group or participating in a new social or sporting activity help you develop and practice these skills?

Is fear of failure or rejection holding you back?

Remember success and failure often go together. Often people are reluctant to seize opportunities that come their way or to make a career change for fear of failure or rejection. What will others think? What if it doesn’t work out? Ask yourself: ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen’? This will help you address some of those nagging doubts. Rejection and failure are an inevitable part of life; it’s about how you respond to this that’s important. Often these incidents are a key catalyst for learning and for positive change in the future.

Who can come on the journey with you?

Don’t go it alone, seek out your own support network. Ask friends and others who know you well for some feedback on what makes you ‘you’ and what you’re great at. Getting this external perspective can really help you keep your energy and motivation up, particularly when you are facing a set-back. Network and talk to others who have made a career change. Ask them for their insights. What strategies did they use? What did they learn? What would they do differently? How did they overcome challenges? Seeking out a mentor can be a really useful way of helping you get unstuck and addressing personal traits and behaviours that may be holding you back.

Final words of wisdom

But don’t take our word for it. Here are some final words of wisdom from a few people you may have heard of:

  • ‘When you come to a fork in the road take it’ – Yogi Berra (at some point you need to stop researching, exploring or procrastinating and make a decision)
  • ‘Luck is preparation meeting opportunity’ – Oprah Winfrey (set yourself up to succeed by doing your research and homework)
  • ‘I believe in intuition and inspiration…at times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason’ – Albert Einstein (trust in your own judgement, but also seek out the views of others)
  • ‘Take opportunities and make them fit for you…The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have’ – Sheryl Sandberg (be curious and think laterally).

Good luck!

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