This article originally features on Total Jobs
A recent survey by London School of Business & Finance revealed that almost half of all workers in the UK (47%) would like to change careers*. This statistic was even higher for workers in London (55%) and millennials (66%).
Career switching is becoming commonplace in the UK job market as more and more people aspire to have a job they love. But how do successful career changers do it? And is finding work you love possible for everyone? Totaljobs turned to the experts to answer these questions and more.
How do I know it’s time for a career change?
Jane Sunley, business author and CEO of employee engagement experts Purple Cubed, recommends the ‘Monday morning test’ to determine whether you may be in need of a career change:
“One of the main signs that you may need a new challenge is the ‘Monday morning sinking feeling’ – especially if it happens on other days of the week!
You constantly need to ask yourself these three questions:
- Do I love my job (or at least like it a lot?)
- Am I making a difference; contributing in a way I can feel proud of?
- Are my values being met?
Remember that unhappiness at work can lead to poor performance, lowering of productivity, increased conflict, stress and even illness. You owe it to yourself to recognise the signs, take remedial action and or make the necessary changes to get yourself ‘back on top’.”
‘Dream job’ coach Louise Jenner points out additional signs of unfulfilling work:
- “Going on a day off or a holiday and immediately dreading your return to work
- Over-spending on treats like meals out and holidays “because you deserve it”
- Over-indulging in alcohol or over-eating
- Boredom in the work – even though you do it well
- Deterioration in your health, particularly chronic aches and pains and stress-related illness
- Irritability with clients, colleagues, friends and family-members”
Matt Trinetti from Escape the City suggests another more straight-forward test to answer the question:
“There’s a pretty simple test I like to call The Bathroom Test: Is the best part of your day is when you need to use the loo? If yes, then it’s certainly time for a change. This may sound ridiculous, but I found it to be pretty universal.”
How can I start planning my career change?
Jane Sunley recommends firstly investigating opportunities in your current workplace:
“First you should consider whether changes could be made within your current role that will fulfil your needs. Having an honest conversation can really open up the possibilities. Your next formal review would be a good place to start – you should allow your employer an opportunity to improve things for you. If that does not or cannot happen then perhaps it is time to move on.”
If that does not come to anything, there are three factors to consider:
- “What is it you’re looking for? Many people know what they don’t want (in particular what they might not be happy about in their current role) though often they haven’t worked out what it is they do want.
- Are the circumstances right? It may be that your dream role or occupation isn’t feasible without certain experience, qualifications or specialist knowledge. It’s usually better to accumulate those things along the way than to take the leap and then try to catch up.
- Is the time right? Although there will be an element of risk within any change, calculated risk often makes it easier to take the leap.”
Can anyone make a career change?
Matt Trinetti from Escape the City gives a positive answer:
“If you’re willing to put in hard work, prepared to make sacrifices (financial, relationship, time) and motivated enough to treat a career change like the marathon that it is, then yes it’s possible. Often times it will require you to keep making tiny steps forward despite not knowing exactly where you’re heading. That can feel really uncomfortable and painful. I’ve yet to meet someone who’s made a big career change who hasn’t had to learn to dance with the challenge and uncertainty that career change brings.”
What are the steps to finding work I love?
Natasha Stanley, Head of Content at Careershifters, details the steps she recommends to change careers and find fulfilling work:
“Start with the ideas and interests you have and actively explore them – go to workshops and events, reach out to people with interesting careers and talk to them about what they do. As you surround yourself with new environments and fresh perspectives, you’ll be able to get a stronger, more tangible sense of what’s enjoyable and realistic for you. Plus, you’ll probably have a lot more fun!
As a career changer, you’re unlikely to have a CV that will ‘fit’ the usual person specifications on job applications, so the key to breaking into a new field for you will be in connecting with people. Look at your existing network and ask for introductions to people who are involved in the work you’re interested in. Get curious. Ask questions, and offer value and appreciation in return for their time.
And wherever possible, don’t try to tackle this alone. Career change is a huge upheaval and transition, so surrounding yourself with supportive people (friends, family, or a coach, for example) will help you stay positive and make progress much faster”.
Matt Trinetti details his experimental approach to changing careers:
“It’s tempting to think that a big career or life change can be accomplished by setting a goal and making a ten-step plan to achieve it. It’s much more complex than that. For destinations unknown (career change, unproven business idea, life transformation) try approaching your transition like a scientist.
This means testing your way into a new direction through small consistent actions forward and viewing your career change like a series of experiments. Your mantra should echo what Roman Kznaric says in his book How to Find Fulfilling Work: “Act First. Reflect Later.”
With each step, each little test, each small project, ask yourself: What am I leaning? About myself? About my ideas? About new possibilities for myself? About what I enjoy? What I don’t? What I’m great at? What I’m not so great at? How the world responds? And how does this inform my next small steps forward? Most importantly you need to be willing to act without feeling like you’re ready.”
What about the lack of stability? Should I be worried?
29% of UK workers do not change careers due to fear of financial insecurity (LSBF survey*). Jane Sunley explains that risks can be mitigated with good preparation:
“You will need a buffer. This might be three-six months’ salary in the bank, a fall-back job or a financially supportive partner. Think carefully about how you’ll fund your new venture if you’re not thinking of moving to another salaried role.”
Matt Trinetti also offers his advice for a successful escape from unfulfilling work:
“Career change is a much longer process that people think it should be. Be prepared for it to take at least 3-5 years, some of which may be lean years. As you transition, be prepared to balance your Soul Work (the work you would love to be doing) and Survival Work (work to pay the bills and keep yourself and your family fed). Here are three ideas to help ease your financial impact:
- Slowly build up an Escape Fund while you still have a salary. Set a goal and a deadline. Use that to calculate how much you need to save each month to hit that goal.
- Become more conscious in your saving and spending. Audit your spending and see what you can cut. It’s surprising how few people monitor their spending like this. You’ll be able to save more than you think.
- This is more of a psychological one, but it’s super important to surround yourself with a tribe of likeminded people who are going through a transition something similar to you. Drastic career change can be difficult and a community will help you sustain and keep moving forward.”
Any final advice?
Jane Sunley warns against over-thinking your career change:
“Endless worrying will sap your energy and divert it from being put to more productive and positive use. To be brave and make bold choices there has to be a certain amount of optimism and self-belief. Sahar Hashimi OBE, the co-founder of Coffee Republic, said “Leap and the net will appear”.
Natasha Stanley also endorses a proactive approach to changing careers:
“The key to figuring out what you want to do next in your career is action. So many people get lost in the trap of scrolling through jobsites and making lists. But you’re very unlikely to be able to ‘figure out’ your ideal career by thinking about it, because if the answer was in your head, you’d probably have found it by now”.
Helen Graves’ Story: How I went from academic to food writer
“I used to work as an academic at King’s hospital in SE London in a team that focused on psychological approaches to improving care for people with type 2 diabetes. It was really interesting and important work but there just came a time when the desire to write about food full time was too great a pull for me. I am still writing my PhD in psychological medicine however and I genuinely enjoy it.
I’ve been writing about food on my own website now for nearly ten years; I was always doing it alongside my ‘real’ job. The popularity of the site was building and I started to get more paid opportunities. I gradually came to realise that I would be happier if I did it full time. I wasn’t getting enough job satisfaction and felt like I would always wonder what would happen if I made the leap. When my contract came to an end, it seemed like the right time to make the change.
I am now much happier in general. I have more energy and I’m healthier. I have a schedule now which has naturally emerged as the right one. In the morning I spend an hour or two setting up my day, planning and answering e-mails. I then spend an hour exercising (essential for any food writer!), then it’s onto more absorbing work and perhaps some cooking or recipe writing in the afternoon. Yes, I often work evenings and weekends too because it’s hard to stop when you’re a freelancer, but I’m doing something I love, and I don’t feel forced into a way of life I didn’t choose any more.
Of course the lack of stability is a constant worry. Getting people to cough up the money they owe can be a nightmare. I need to be very organised when it comes to my finances. I also work for the Londonist for part of the week, so I have some social contact there which is essential. Finally, turning down work that you know isn’t right for you can be difficult, but it’s necessary.”
Helen offers her advice for aspiring career changers:
“It’s hard to make that leap but there comes a point when you just need to get on with it, and you won’t be able to move forward until you do it. There is one way in which you can be well prepared however, and that is financially. Get some money put away before you make the change. I know it’s obvious, but it’s worth saying. There’s a period of readjustment where you potentially won’t be earning so much so be ready for that. Other than that, trust your instinct! You only get one chance, so go for it.”