How to decide upon a change in career?
Deciding to make a career change is not an easy task. It requires you to be clear why you want a change of career, what career you wish to pursue instead, and how you plan to transition between them. Answering these questions requires action, and action requires time. For most people, the desire to explore a career change will surface whilst they are already working. This article suggests a framework for deciding upon a potential change in career whilst working. It also suggest some tools and apps that I have found useful for using time wisely, and keeping committed to the process. It is hard work, but with the right approach and mindset it is not impossible!
Step 1 – Identify the right question to answer
In order to take a decision to change career most of us need to have confidence that the new career will address the problems that has plagued us in our existing one. Therefore anyone who is considering a change in career, needs to answer the following questions:
- Why am I considering a change in career? (and have I already tried to address the issues I identified within my existing career?)
- What career will be a better fit?
- How would I make a career change?
What question are you trying to answer?
Think of these questions as three phases of your career planning project. Answer these questions and you have the information required to make a decision. If you are already working and serious about addressing your career dissatisfaction, you need to use your time as efficiently as possible, and answer these questions in a sequential order. For example, it’s impossible to answer how I would make a career change, if I don’t know what career I am seeking to change to! Challenge yourself to answer each. The first question that you can’t answer clearly is where you should start!
Step 2 – Build your commitment to action
Once you have a clear idea of the question you are seeking to answer, you need to build your commitment and motivation to answering it. You need to prioritise your career planning project over a whole range of other activities that you could be doing. Not only that, you need to keep it prioritised over a long period of time. In these situations, it can often be useful to ask yourself the following question:
“If I don’t take any action, how long am I prepared to stay where I am now? Doing the same things, feeling the same feelings of dissatisfaction?”
If the answer to this question is “not a day longer” then ask a second question. “What are you going to do about it?” I emphasise the word “do” because if finding a new career was simply a matter of thinking about it, you probably would have solved it by now.
Asking these questions is a great way to quickly build commitment to action. Commitment is the single most important ingredient for anyone considering a change in career. If you are suitably sick of the constant feelings of dissatisfaction, you will prioritise actions that will address them. If you are only mildly irritated by them, you won’t. Remember this question, and repeat it back to yourself whenever you find yourself lacking commitment or motivation.
A recent survey found nearly half of the UK workforce would like a change in career.
Step 3 – Think like a scientist – generate hypotheses, and tasks to test them
The next problem becomes what action to take to answer your target career question. Getting to the point of deciding on a change in career, let alone actually making it happen, is a serious undertaking. If you have little free time, choosing the right activities to focus on is very important.
Brainstorm hypotheses, and devise experiments to explore them!
Begin by writing an hypothesis. For example, if your target question from step one is “what career would be a better fit?” write down any potential answers that might pop into your head and why. For example, you might generate a hypotheses that a career in social enterprises is better than a career in banking. You should also identify a reason. Then ask yourself, how can I validate this? One way might be to go for a coffee with someone who works in the social enterprise sector, and use the meeting to ask them questions about their career.
Repeat this process for every hypothesis and, very soon, you will have a list of activities that will validate, or invalidate them. Congratulations, you now have a list of activities for your career planning project! Complete these activities and you will answer your target career question. Answer your target career question, and you are one step closer to deciding whether a change in career is right for you. If you are looking for useful a tool to manage lists and actions online, check out Trello.
If you identify an activity that you think might be useful, always ask yourself how it will help you answer your hypotheses. If you cannot link it back, chances are it’s a poor use of your time. In these situations, challenge yourself to keep focused on the core activities you already identified.
If you are struggling to identify activities to test your hypotheses, download my self help guide – 5 Ideas to Identify a New Career Whilst Working. It has some good ideas for testing career ideas and hypotheses that can fit around your day job.
Try wherever possible to break activities down into the smallest tasks possible. I realised in my own career change, that the smaller the action, the easier it was to fit around my job and complete. Regularly completing small actions can help maintain commitment. They can also generate a sense of achievement in what can sometimes feel like a lonely project.
Step 4 – Employ the 80/20 Principle to carve out more time
Unfortunately, it’s likely (almost certain) that you will identify some tasks which cannot be broken down. Interviews with people, webinars, and conferences being common examples. In these cases, it can feel tempting to use our holiday allowances to “create” the time required. However, we all need time to rest, so try and keep the holiday allowances for real time off. Instead, look for ways to free up more time in your daily routine.
How much time can you devote to your career planning project?
A good place to start is to look at our working hours and commit to leave work on time. Parkinson’s Law postulates that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, if you give your day job 50 hours a week, its likely it will consume those 50 hours. Give it less, and you’ll prioritise your activity to get the most important stuff done. Consider using the 80/20 principle to prioritise your work and carve out additional time for your career planning project. The 80/20 principle (more commonly known as the Pareto Principle) describes how 80% of outcomes (whether work related or otherwise) derive from just 20% of your efforts. For those, who haven’t heard of it before, this sounds impossible but facts back it up.
Another area to consider can be after work socialising. Drinking might be a great way to temporarily forget about the day job, but it eats into the time you could spend on career planning . In this situations, seek to prioritise social activities that will give you long term satisfaction over short term pleasure. Divert any time you liberate towards your career planning project. If you want to do a fuller analysis of where you spend your time, considering using apps like Toggl.
Step 5 – Build your resilience to distractions and negative feelings to keep committed
As I mentioned in step two, commitment is the single most important ingredient for anyone considering a change in career. It is easy when we are tired, or when the weather is bad, to cancel that meeting you were going to go to. It’s much easier to stay home and watch TV instead. We can also lose commitment after fleeting positive experiences at work – e.g. when you receive great feedback from your boss. Sometimes, it feels easier to conclude that your existing job isn’t that bad, and your career project just isn’t worth the hassle.
In situations like these its important to remind yourself why you committed to your career planning project. Practicing mindfulness can help improve your mental resilience, and help you “catch yourself” when your commitment is wavering. A good app for practicing mindfulness on the go is Headspace. You can also consider enlisting friends and family to help you with your objectives. Check out my article on how friends and family can help you make a career change. Verbally sharing your planned actions with others can increase your resolve to completing things. Apps such as StickK can also be a great way of keeping yourself committed to action, particularly if sharing your intentions publicly isn’t for you.
One final piece of advice. Small and regular activity is best for maintaining commitment. It’s easy to draw up a big list of things to do, only to get disheartened by a seeming lack of progress. Also, remember that invalidating a hypothesis is just as good an outcome as validating one. Keep focused on one activity at a time, and reward yourself when you complete a significant milestone.
Step 6 – Update hypotheses and activities to confront change-related fears
Keep your career planning project focused on validating hypotheses, and answering the target questions from step one. As you near the end of the process, keep in mind that fear can rear its head and weaken our resolve to taking action. This is particularly common in later stages of planning, when we are trying to answer how we would make a career change.
Whenever you experience fear related to your career planning project, recognise it, and ask yourself if the fear is well-founded. Sometimes our brains are over-reacting – they perceive danger to exist where really it doesn’t. But sometimes they can be right. If you think a fear is well-founded, try and devise a new hypothesis to address it. Whilst no career change is completely free of risk, it should be possible to address most well-founded fears. The goal should be to reduce uncertainty to a level that allows you to make a decision and start a career transition.