7 years ago my career finally broke me.
I often think about how I might have got unstuck and moving much faster in my shift if I’d known then what I’ve learned about career change since. So, if you’re feeling stuck too, I hope these, my ten top pieces of career change advice, help you.
I’m feeling a little emotional.
It’s a big anniversary for me.
7 years ago my career finally broke me.
It had been building up for years before that, but a sequence of shitty office politics, spectacular failings from management, and the realisation that I didn’t care about the work I was doing AT ALL, came suddenly to a head.
All in the space of a humid, grey May afternoon.
It was like a bomb had gone off in my head.
I swore, loudly.
And I made myself a vehement promise that day.
That I would no longer put up with work being this way.
The boiled frog syndrome I’d been slowly enduring was going to stop. I was going to escape, no matter what it took, and find work that made me feel like ME again.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot during this virus outbreak. How things getting so bad was then, like now, an invitation to create something new, to do things differently.
It was painful. And it was slow going.
Because there were some key pieces of career change advice I didn’t know.
If I had known them, I know now without doubt that my shift would have been less painful, faster, and more fun.
So, I want to share them with you, so that you can take them, run with them, and not spend so long spinning your wheels, like I did.
1. It’s not career change. It’s life change.
Wanting work that lights you up isn’t about your job title, your salary, how many people you manage or how nice your office is.
It’s about how you want to show up in the world and for the world.
It’s about understanding the foundational principles of what makes you you. And how you’re going to bring them to life.
What kind of impact you want to make on the the world and in what way you will make a difference in the lives of others.
When you find work you love, your whole life gets better, not just your career.
Because you’re aligning your work with something MUCH bigger.
And it’s that bigger picture that can make the whole process incredibly profound. But you HAVE to have the courage to ‘go there’.
2. If you’re looking for someone to tell you what you’d be good at, or what you can do with your qualifications, you’re starting in the wrong place
“How do I know what I’m good at?”
“What else can I do with my qualifications?”
As well as being the questions that I focused on early in my career change journey, these are also the questions that I see other career changers ask ALL THE TIME.
And it makes sense, right? Traditional career change advice says: work out your transferable skills, brush up your CV, network.
As if we were all back at school, going to see our careers advisor to be told what would be a good match for us.
The problem with these questions is that they put the emphasis of your shift in COMPLETELY the WRONG place.
If you want to find work you love, you can’t start by asking what the world will allow you to do.
If you want to learn what lights you up, you can’t start by asking what work you have permission to begin.
The process has to start with YOU. Figuring out how to make what you love come to life outside of you is part of the process that happens MUCH later.
If you want work that leaves you feeling inspired, you have to work out what makes you feel inspired.
If you want to feel in flow, for at least a good portion of every day, you have to understand the kinds of things that bring you into flow.
What you’re good at, is only a small part of the conversation. Because find the thing that lights you up, and you’ll move heaven and earth to become good at it, if you aren’t already.
Starting with questions about competence and permission misses out the most important part of this whole process: what makes you come ALIVE.
You can’t skip this step. You can’t take a shortcut. You have to do the work.
3. You can’t solve this problem by Googling more stuff
While there’s absolutely a place for research in a career change, you can’t expect it to take you from the beginning of a shift all the way to the endpoint of work you love.
If you want your career change to remain theoretical and in your head, by all means go for it.
If, however, you want to find out real world information about the lines of work you’re interested in, and to test drive your ideas before you commit time and money to a new career path, then I can’t give you any more important piece of career change advice than this: you’re going to need to take your ideas out into the real world.
Conversations with actual people.
Low-risk, low-cost career test-drives to see how they feel.
Assumptions examined and either confirmed, tweaked or quashed entirely.
Without this real-world information, you’ll be basing your career change on a series of fantasies: what you think a career would be like, your assumptions about what’s involved in it, or how to get in, and your imaginings around how it would suit you.
And that’s a recipe for being right back in career discomfort within a very short timeframe.
4. Careers feel out of whack when they don’t match your values. So work out, deeply, what your values are.
Each of us has around 4 or 5 key principles that we either already live by, or desperately want to live by.
When we move too far away from these, work and life starts to feel painful.
Articulating your values WILL help you to see exactly how things have drifted off course, and how you can get them back on track.
It’s HARD to pluck your values out of thin air. Instead, you’ll recognise them, deeply, when they’re shown to you.
Look at values lists online. Find the words that resonate.
Starting with these values is a powerful place to begin your career change from.
5. Your ideal career is probably already in your life somehow, right now.
When you find work you love, the idea is unlikely to announce itself with a chorus of Hallelujahs, thunderbolts or flashing neon signs.
Newsflash. It might not even be a surprise.
Because the chances are, the things you love have already appeared in your life, even if only in a small way, before now.
A hobby, an activity, something that connects several things you enjoy, a theme, a motif…
The clues that add up to your ideal career are already there.
But you might be blinkered to them. If you can focus on removing your blinkers, the possibilities will open up.
While those possibilities may not be a surprise, they’ll feel deeply exciting.
And they’ll feel like coming home.
6. Trying to figure out the answer before you take action will keep you stuck
I see many career changers get tied up in knots with this one.
You research, research and research in an attempt to find clarity, convincing yourself that once you have a solid idea, then you’ll take action. Traditional career change advice says this is a sensible plan, right?
Except you never get the solid idea, because research alone leaves too many questions: Will I like it? Will I be any good at it? Will I be able to make it pay?
It feels like too big of a leap into the unknown, and too big a risk, when you’ve only got one chance to get your career change right.
So you research something else. Go around the whole sorry cycle again. And you stay disappointingly STUCK.
You believe that clarity will lead to action.
When actually it’s action that will lead to clarity.
Testing your ideas in small ways in the real world will give you actual, quality information that you can use to refine, pivot or tweak your ideas.
You’ll get to learn, deeply, how your career ideas FEEL.
And you’ll gather experiences that will bring you closer to work you love, even when you hit a dead end.
7. You are not alone
I used to feel like the only person in the world who had got things so terribly wrong at work.
Because it all felt so deeply my fault, it came with a huge amount of guilt, shame and embarrassment.
All my friends seemed to be doing so well: getting promotions, talking excitedly about new projects, earning more.
And there I was, feeling more and more left behind.
Was I mad to be thinking of starting again with something new?
Surely it was just me? Aren’t you supposed to not enjoy work? Isn’t that what makes it ‘work’?
Except it wasn’t just me. And I wasn’t mad for wanting work that involved getting paid for being fully, gloriously and FINALLY myself.
The moment I starting finding my way into spaces where there were other people who were trying to find work they loved too, things started to happen.
Like a series of dominoes, each one making the next thing happen, I started to move decisively closer to what I wanted.
Realising I wasn’t alone was a huge relief. And reaching out to people for camaraderie and guidance was a turning point in my shift.
Everything good happened from there.
The key career change advice takeaway? Don’t do career change alone.
8. Career change happens through conversations, not necessarily job applications
I sometimes see career changers get irritated with this idea.
The much-touted statistics around the hidden job market (which some claim represents up to 80% of available positions) can feel like a frustrating myth. Especially when you’re on the outside of that market, looking in.
But the reality is, it’s true.
Out of all the 1:1 clients I’ve worked with in, say, the last year, I can only think of one who’s found her way into a traditionally advertised role.
The others won positions through having fostered new connections and demonstrating clear and compelling passion for the role.
Several have forged their own paths through creating their own businesses. And others have had companies on standby, wanting to create bespoke roles FOR THEM.
Whether the route in is traditional or not, you can be sure that the success of your shift will be dependent on your conversations with people. Even with a job application you’ll be dealing with a recruitment contact, an interviewer and so on.
Focus your efforts on the quality and authenticity of the conversations you’re having with people, and you’ll see clear forward movement in your shift.
9. The job market is not set up to help career changers
Traditional job applications often require job histories, lists of experience and CVs.
When your CV is essentially a list of jobs you no longer want to do, it’s hard to use it help you get in the door of something new.
Recruitment agencies will take a look at the key experience on your CV and point you back towards more of the same.
You won’t get past the automated tracking systems that many employers use, if you can’t demonstrate the exact experience they’ve asked for.
And you’ll find it hard to get off the haystack of applications and into a hiring manager’s first choice pile, if you can only present yourself on paper.
You’ll be competing with people who’ve years of experience in the new areas of work you’re going for. And your application won’t stack up.
But this doesn’t mean you’re stuck.
Look for people instead of jobs. Follow the fairy lights of conversations that inspire you. Keep asking questions. Show your passion. Offer value.
And make your CV work for you by reshaping it into a powerful skills-based CV, instead of a job-history-based one.
I’ve had clients have their dream companies call them and ask them to come in for an interview, without a specific job role in mind, thanks to a CV overhaul.
Get noticed by getting yourself in front of people, not processes.
10. Career change is easier, more fun and faster if you get dedicated 1:1 help
If you need your car fixed, you go to a mechanic.
If you need your wedding photographed, you find a wedding photographer.
Yet, when it comes to career change, you’re putting off getting help.
Why is that?
I know in my own shift, a few things were happening. I felt that if I could somehow figure it all out on my own, and do it all in secret, presenting it to the world as a fait accompli with a big ‘TA DA’, it would go some way to soothing the embarrassment I felt at being in my 30s and still not ‘sorted’ in my career.
There was also fear.
If I spoke to someone, if I got specialist 1:1 help with making my shift, it would make it all very real. I wasn’t sure what shift I was committing to making, since I didn’t have any clarity about what that shift could look like. So what would I be letting myself in for?
Ultimately, a tipping point came. When I realised that the ‘fait accompli’ approach was actually keeping me stuck because I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to career change, and what I was trying wasn’t getting me anywhere.
And the cost to my mental well-being of staying put was becoming far greater than the cost of investing in some structured, expert help to give me the career change advice, techniques and unconventional approaches I needed to get out of the RUT I was in.
I didn’t get a coach. My shift took me years. And I am still, in some ways, debriefing mentally from having work that was so miserable, for so long.
My career change advice? Don’t do what I did.
I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.
With a clear structured path to follow, and a plan to discovering work that lights you up, you will make your career change far faster than I made mine.
And I guarantee that you will have fun doing it.
Which of these pieces of career change advice did you need to hear most today? Let me know in the comments.
You can get started on your career change today, even if you have zero workable ideas, or if all the ideas you have feel like dead ends. Find out more about my low-cost introductory course Career Hero: How To Come Up With 20 Exciting Career Change Ideas In Just 5 Days, available now at a limited-time-only discount, and sign up for instant access today.