How to make a career change

5 Aug 11
Times of change are always unsettling, so it is more important now than ever to make sure you are moving job for the right reasons. Ann McFadyen shows you how to look before you leap
By Ann McFadyen  | 1 August 2011

Times of change are always unsettling, so it is more important now than ever to make sure you are moving job for the right reasons. Ann McFadyen shows you how to look before you leap

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Changing circumstances in organisations often kickstart people into considering their career options. So, given the pressures and uncertainties created by the current economic climate, many professionals might be considering a change of job.

But as with any other life-changing decision, you need to take time to look at the bigger picture, untainted by daily stresses and strains, before taking any action.

Whether you are considering moving up, along or out of your current role or career, it’s vital that you sit down and plan. Too many people take the decision to change career as a reaction to something that is going on to disturb the status quo, without allowing sufficient time to consider all the options available.
If you are not careful, you can find yourself in a worse situation, because the desire to get out of a role can cloud your judgement as to what the next position should look like or feel like. Having said that, procrastination is the thief of time, so if you still feel the same way after reflecting on your work life, don’t let inaction steal opportunities.

While there is always the option of getting professional help and assistance, the following ten tips offer a good starting point for making sure that you’re on a career path that’s right for you, your personal preferences and your individual circumstances – regardless of whether that’s in your current workplace or pastures new.

1. Always check your frame of mind
Before going any further, you need to stop for a minute and ask yourself a simple question: ‘Am I just in a negative frame of mind?’ Put things into perspective – don’t just do something – sit there and take the time to reflect. The right job just might be the one you are already in – have you really explored what it could be like? It’s easy to get frustrated with the politics or some of the parts you don’t like, but how much of your job do you like? The answer might be to address certain aspects of your work and not the whole of your career.

2. Don’t hold back if it really is Time for a change
Once you’ve thought about it, if you are still sure that change is what you want, then don’t just sit there – do something. Most of us gaze in wonder at those bold souls who leap from career to career, but it is not as difficult as it appears. As the careers market changes, your dream job might be very different from the one you start in. Working lives are getting longer, so if you’re are bored, unhappy or harbouring a secret ambition, don’t wait for that opportunity to be handed to you on a plate – now is the time to take action.

3. Identify the type of organisation that would work for you
Stop trying to find the ideal job and agonising over job descriptions and start to think of the type of organisation that you would like to work for in an ideal world. Be very clear on your psychological preferences and find the type of organisation that you feel ‘fits’ you as a person. What things do you like doing most when you are at work? When are you the happiest and most fulfilled? Do you like working with logic and numbers or do you prefer challenge and people? When considering change, get a psychological profile done and understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than relying on the ‘what’.

4. Carry out a personal skills audit
Have you got what it takes? Can you really do it? Ask yourself, honestly, whether you are good enough to do the job to the required professional standard – don’t talk yourself into a position where you set yourself up for failure. The main hurdle that many reactive career movers face is their lack of capability. Make sure that the desire to ‘escape’ doesn’t lead you to a much worse place than you are currently in.

5. Don’t get bogged down with job descriptions – think culture
Investigate all areas before you take the plunge. Find a person who works in the organisation or, better still, is currently in the job you want and ask them what it is really like, what they would change and why they are moving on. Remember to ask about the culture of the organisation, not just the activities of the job. What are the team and co-workers like? The main reason people leave a job is because of poor working relationships.

6. Fail to plan and you plan to fail
Want to make a complete change? Then plan and think about the steps you will need to take to get there. How long will it take? What will it cost? Could you make that change within your existing organisation? Do you need to get a career development loan?

7. Take smaller steps towards an informed decision
Still not sure? Then set up some stepping stones. Do a course or volunteer for unpaid work before you take the plunge. Move to interim or temporary work while you make the transition. Network with people who are in the arena that you want to move into. Seek experiences – within your current organisation or outside. Volunteer for projects that are outside the sphere of your current role.

8. Don’t fall prey to a one-track mind
Change always involves a sense of loss. Consider all the options – a full-time, full-blown career is not the only route. Maybe this is the time to consider going freelance? Could you develop a ‘portfolio’ career, working with more than one employer? Is there a chance of secondment from your current position? If that is the case, formulate a strong business case and present it to your employer.

9. Brush up on your networking and Make the most of who you know
If you don’t already, make use of professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn. But don’t be tempted to post your entire CV on there, rather develop an interesting profile. Be selective about who you network with – use people you know or who are referred by friends, as there is no way of knowing whether strangers are valuable to you. Only join forums or message boards when you have something to say. And be aware of your audience, as recruiters and companies also look at these websites. Think twice before you accept invitations – are these the sorts of people you would wish to be associated with?

10. Spread the word and let opportunities come to you
Don’t keep it to yourself if you are considering change – let people know about it. They are your eyes and ears, and opportunities crop up in the most unusual of places.

Ann McFadyen is head of business and product development at CIPFA Business Services

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