(Last updated October 2022)
While I might be somewhat young in life and my career (and yes to those who know me personally, I am referring to my 35 years of age as young) still, I’ve somehow already amassed over 15 years of experience in the corporate world and with this, a lesson or two to share on building a rewarding career.
As with most of us, I’d historically played it safe with my career and kept to what I knew for a time, never entertaining what could be.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have dared dream about the thought of taking the risk to leave my comfort zone and jump into a world where I knew nothing.
However, this all changed just about 10 years ago, when I had a change in mindset and outlook on what was possible and where my potential could take me.
Why should I read this?
Well, you don’t have to, of course, however, if you want some honest insight on how you can make that long-dreamed career move, then maybe I can help.
In this post, I’ll be sharing my personal experiences with how I made my own career change. I’ll take you through what I did, and how I did it and share the lessons learnt across the entire process, which anyone can learn from too.
How I made a career change
Let’s talk about exactly what career change I was trying to make happen.
It was around 2015 when I had my tipping point or for the lack of better terminology – my fuck it moment.
The answers to those questions became apparent to me pretty quickly and I knew that it was time to look at what was next.
Now that I knew what I was doing wasn’t for me anymore, I set out to understand just what was it that motivated me, what did the new role look like and what would I need to do to get it.
But what if I can’t make a career change?
Who says you can’t?
It’s easy for any of us to question why would I risk it all for a change.
Why would I leave something that I found easy and comfortable, opening myself to the risk of potential failure even though I knew I could do it?
This, as you might recognise, is an example of self-doubt with a little bit of social conditioning thrown into the mix and I’m sure we can all relate to this.
Imposter syndrome is a bitch
We can all be crippled by our feelings toward taking big risks and it mostly comes from fear, more precisely the fear of failing. Yet what if it all worked out? What if it became more successful than you imagined?
Rarely, do we ask ourselves that question?
When I first started my journey to make a career change, I was plagued by many of these thoughts and feelings, but I also had a blind belief that I could attain what I wanted.
Now I’m not here to tell you that making a career change is easy, because it’s just not.
I’ve always held the view that anything worth having requires hard work, planning and patience – we’ll talk more about this as we go on.
Just know that moving careers can be a risk. Yet, so are a lot of things in life and we have to take risks if we want to do big things.
8 steps to make a career change
The rest of this piece will consist of the 8 lessons I learned from my experience and I share these in the hope that they may help you too.
They are part lessons, part advice and some tips, but nonetheless, I feel you’ll find some valuable insights that can be used in planning your own career change.
#1: Identify your dream career
We begin with one of the most important points, it’s great that you’ve been honest with yourself and recognised it’s time for something new.
Now you need to figure out what’s next.
Where do you want to take your talents and what does that next role look like?
Here are some things to consider:
- What do you enjoy doing? Are you a creator, do you like number crunching or are you a people person etc? What’s your career driver?
- What skills do you currently have and which skills would you like to develop? These can be from both a personal and professional perspective.
- Where are those skills and the things you enjoy best applied?
- Are you aware of anyone who is doing the role you want right now? If so, talk to them about their skillset and thoughts on the industry.
In my case, I had taken a few months to ponder these questions and came to the conclusion that I was really interested in learning and helping others in their growth as a human and careers.
When I knew roughly what I wanted to do, I began to seek out those who were already working in this field for some research.
I will note at this point, that once you identify what you want to do and start sharing this with others, you will potentially encounter some detractors.
I met some resistance and ridicule from a number of people who probably thought I was mad and those who were jealous at the fact I’d dare even try to do something different.
All I can say is be careful who you listen to at these times, once you’ve set your sights on the next move, stick to your guns and go for it is my best advice.
#2: Do your research – seek out those who’ve walked the path before
Now you’ve identified what you’d like to do, it’s easy to get carried away and want to move right away – we are human after all.
My input here is to be patient, take your time and conduct research into different industries. I waited 8 months from knowing what I wanted to move into to actually getting there and I’m glad I did, but more on that later.
I appreciate not everyone will have access to do this, but I was fortunate enough at the time to work for a large organisation with people who had lots of experiences across different careers and industries, so it would have been foolish of me to not take advantage of this.
I would suggest you look across your network for those who’ve either made several career changes and/or those working in the industry/role you wish to move into.
Speaking with people who have experience in these areas can be immensely beneficial in setting you up for success in your quest.
I was able to connect with a number of people who shared valuable insights with me, but you can find this outside your own company too.
We all have a pretty useful tool at our constant disposal that contains mountains of knowledge called the internet, which will help in connecting with others.
Look at this as your opportunity to ask lots of the burning questions you have.
I found this stage of my journey to be very helpful in fully understanding the task in front of me and where I need to develop.
So do reach out to people, you would be surprised at how many people will want to help.
#3: Look for opportunities to develop and showcase future skills in your current role
Just because you’re not in the new role yet, doesn’t mean you can’t build and practise the skills you need in your current role or in your time outside work.
When you start applying for roles in your newly chosen career, you’re going to need to demonstrate some skills, experience and of course the desire to learn what’s required of the role.
Firstly, we can look at the transferable skills which can be used in your new career.
However I’d also suggest looking at the other, perhaps more specialist skills you’ll need to develop and looking for potential opportunities to build and develop these in your current role too.
As an example, maybe your new career will require a number of public speaking engagements and this isn’t something you feel comfortable with right now. This would be the time to seek out any opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and practise your presentation skills in forums such as team meetings and similar events.
You don’t need to wait until you secure the next role to start building the skills you need. You can and really should think about starting to invest in your new skills now.
#4: Build skills and experience through personal projects
If you can’t find the opportunities to develop some of the skills and experiences in your current role (which might be the case for brand-new technical or specialist skills) then making use of your personal time to do this would be a good option.
If at this point you find yourself rolling your eyes and thinking “I shouldn’t have to use my personal time to do this” then I would invite you to think about how much you really want to make this change.
As I said before, hard work is always needed to get what you want, so maybe drop Netflix and scrolling through Instagram for those couple of hours and invest time in yourself.
What I feel gave me a great advantage was using personal projects to build skills and experiences I couldn’t get in my day job.
My role today requires that I design communications and engagement strategies, develop marketing campaigns and measure performance data. All of this is on top of my depth of expertise and skills in learning experience design.
At the time I didn’t have a lot of skills and experience in these areas. Not enough to convince someone to take a chance on me in my eyes anyway.
In my past role, I didn’t have the opportunity to develop these, so I had to look at other ways I could do this.
After some reflection, I decided to develop these skills and experiences through a personal project. I decided to build my own website and blog which allowed me to develop skills in the following areas:
- Content writing
- Community management
- Design, create and launch weekly email campaigns.
- Building communications calendars, content campaign plans and social media campaigns.
- Learning how to build email workflows and automation.
- Track, analyse and confidently discuss performance data, understand key metrics and take action on insight I gathered.
I ran this project for nearly a year before I moved into my new career and continued to use it as a testing ground for development during my first few years in the role too.
This project allowed me to not only develop gaps in my own knowledge but also demonstrate to my future employer that I had ambition, I can be resourceful and that I’m willing to put the work in by committing my own time to develop myself.
As a bonus, I’d already built a good base in the specialist skills that I would need for my new world vs others who were trying to make the same move.
You could say I built my own advantages.
The skills I developed through this project, coupled with the skills I currently had, enabled me to make a better transition to my new role and set me up for success from day one.
The planning and preparation made securing my new role that little bit easier and I’ve spent the remaining years continually developing these skills through new experiences.
I still use a number of personal projects to this day which continually allows me to expand skills and experiences I just wouldn’t be able to access in my day job.
I mean, I wouldn’t be a good learning advocate if I wasn’t walking the walk of continuous learning, would I?
The main takeaway here is to make use of everything at your disposal.
Do all you can to help yourself out and be set up for success in your new world – remember you never stop learning and you’re never too old to learn new tricks.
#5: Take your time
Everyone is in such a rush these days it seems.
Once you’ve set your heart on that next career move, it’s not unusual to want the change to happen right now.
Yet, we all know that this is not the way our world works and anything worthwhile comes in good time.
I’m not suggesting that you restrict yourself to a specific time frame to make your move as everyone will be different, however, you will need to accept that it will take time to break new ground. Once more, how this is dictated will be personal to you so don’t let others try to drive this for you.
I mentioned earlier how I waited 8 months for the opportunity that was right for me and one that would provide an environment for me to succeed with the right people.
It’s so important to note that your environment and the people are big factors in making a decision on any move. I used this time to focus on the steps I’ve laid out in this post and make sure I was ready for when the right opportunity came.
Some big things I learned during this time were resilience and patience.
I practised patience in the face of finding the opportunity that suited me and resilience from the thoughts and opinions of those around me. Many doubted me during this time and we all know people love to pass their own opinions and judgements when someone is doing something different.
What I focused on was making sure I found the right opportunity for me and not just the first thing that was waived in my face, as if I did, I’m sure this article would be on the mistakes I made instead.
Remember to take your time, use it wisely and don’t be afraid to wait for the right opportunity that you want.
#6: You will meet rejection
It’s a common fact of life that change is not always easy and of course, a change in career is just the same.
One thing I’d encourage everyone to make peace with is that a lot of people will turn you down.
Although you’re fully on board with your mission and willing to take the risk that moving to something new could bring, you will find a number of employers aren’t so up for that risk.
To put it bluntly, you will hear a lot of No’s.
But don’t let this detract you, it’s all part of the process and I was turned down a number of times too, yet I write this having reached my goal and being exactly where I want to be.
As mentioned in lesson 5, you must find the right environment and people in the opportunity you take. Sometimes it takes 10 no’s to get the YES you want, sometimes it’s more, but it’s all part of the process.
#7: The struggle is real, but you gotta have faith!
As with any big change in life, negative self-talk can rear its ugly head and of course moments of self-doubt.
This was just as true for me, especially when I hit the 6-month mark of my search for the big move. I was starting to become frustrated with my progress, my dislike for my current role was growing stronger and I began doubting my abilities for a moment.
I had spoken to a bunch of people already and was constantly on the lookout for a role in my new industry with little movement, I was becoming obsessed.
Little did I know at this time, that what I had been seeking was a mere 8 weeks away from me and would give me everything I wanted and much more.
It would be foolish of me to say that my process of a career change was plain sailing because as you’ve read thus far, it really wasn’t.
I had plenty of highs and lows, yet in time I came to accept the struggles as part of the deal. If I wasn’t struggling in some way, then everyone would do it, yet they don’t – so don’t throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble.
#8: Congratulations, you’ve made it!
Eventually, I hope you find the right time and opportunity to make your career change and when you do, know the work is not over, the real work is about to begin.
You see both you and your new employer have taken risks in investing in an unknown commodity. Now is the time for the real work of learning your new craft, building the skills to enable success and showing what you can really do.
Hopefully, by following some of the lessons I’ve shared, you will be in a great position to do this.
So rejoice in what you’ve achieved, yet appreciate that your journey is just beginning.
And so our journey ends
Let’s summarise this all shall we?
These are some of the lessons that I share with those who ask for my insight from my own experience in switching careers. In my humble opinion, it will become the norm of our culture to make career changes more often than we do now.
Technology and automation will force many of us into new career paths, so being adaptable and able to build new skills will of course be very beneficial.
The main message I want to leave you with is that anyone can make a career change.
You are the owner of your career, no one else ever will be, so don’t let other people drive this for you.
I’m a firm believer in if you have the will, you’ll find the skills. Confidence, ambition and self-belief will get you so far, but it’s the art of doing that counts.
- Know what you want
- Do your research – talk to others and use your network
- Invest in your skills and seek out new experiences
- Be patient, persistent and strong
- Never stop learning
I hope this content helps you (if you’ve managed to get this far – well done and I thank you) in your own journey.
Now it’s time for you to get out there and make it happen.
Before you go… 👋
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