Get Granular About Your Career Change
21 August, 2017
After careful consideration, you've finally decided what career path you want to change to. No more uncertainty, no more being stuck in a job you don't like, and no more worry that you're wasting your time doing the wrong thing.
So what next? Your next step is one of the most important: get granular about the career change you want, and know what it will take to achieve it.
Exactly what job are you going for, and are you sure you want it?
Switching to a different career track is like joining a new team. Ask yourself what role you want to play on it, and how you want to show up in that particular capacity. For example, if you want to become a lawyer, which part of the law do you want to practice in, at what kind of firm, and working with what types of clients? Search for the profiles of a few people with the job you aspire to. Look at their organisation and the types of cases they've worked on.
Investigate what the typical day-to-day looks like for people who have the job you want. You might have been wooed by the stories that friends trot out at dinner parties, or the lifestyles associated with particular jobs. If it turns out that you actually hate the day-to-day aspects you might just end up where you started: looking for a career change again.
Where you know people who have the job you want, ask them about the aspects they like, and the parts they're less enthusiastic about. Ask them if they would change job, or what they wish they could change about their career. Their answers may give you insight into potential pitfalls or unexpected highlights on the path ahead.
What will it cost you to make the transition?
Once you know more about what your new job looks like in practice, start to investigate what you have to do to change career. Be honest with yourself about the amount of time and money you may need to invest. If in doubt, overestimate what it will take - there's nothing worse than leaving your current role, only to have to abandon your transition halfway through.
Consider the opportunity cost of your career transition: if you spent that time and money on something else, what would it be? With a clearer idea of the trade-offs, you might choose to stick with your current career path for the meantime, and to invest in a new interest or goal on the side instead.
When thinking about opportunity cost, remember to factor in any periods of time during which you can't work. What is your financial plan to tackle this? Might your retraining affect your partner, family, or important people and commitments in other parts of your life? You could consider using evenings and weekends to train - so long as you can afford this withdrawal from your leisure time.
Explore different paths to making your career change. For certain career tracks, you may be able to choose between vocational and educational training methods. When making your choice, think about how the decisions you make will impact your options for career development 2-3 years on.
Are you okay with the financial implications of your career change?
Sooner or later, a lot of final decisions regarding career change come down to money. So before you take the plunge into a new career, or even kick yourself with, "I should already have handed in my resignation notice", or "I should've already signed up for that training", stop and look at how the numbers add up again.
What do you currently spend? If you stripped away all the things you could live without, how much do you need to be earning every month? And when you look at what's left on your budget, do you really think you'll be happy living the more frugal existence you've sketched out to "do what you love"?
Think seriously about how your earning potential in the early years of your new career compares to what you earn now. If you'd be taking a cut on your income to do something you're more passionate about, make sure that you can afford the minimum lifestyle standard you want if you earn less. And then check again.
We often see clients who want to leave jobs in finance to explore creative options in other industries. 8 times out of 10, they end up staying in finance. It comes down to friends, lifestyle, and neighbourhood. Their mortgage or rent depends on their high-level of income, as does their ability to live in their preferred neighbourhood in London, New York, Hong Kong or wherever. Their friends live nearby, and they usually meet at nice restaurants, visit the latest exhibitions, go shopping together, etc. It's not, "no money, no friends", but when you take away the "site" for friendships, it's often hard to keep as close ties as before.
Perhaps when you step back and look at what the "job-you-don't-like-that-much" affords you, you might start to view it differently. Equally, you might become more creative about what direction you take it in next. We've had clients decide to literally "take the money and go": they decide to turn up at work, put in the effort to get the job done and stay on track, and to save their best energy and focus for hobbies on the weekend, training to run marathons, or mentoring kids from under-performing schools. We've also seen clients who decide they hate their current job, but they wouldn't mind sticking with it for the next year, because if they get that experience on their CV, they can then go to work in a similar business area but in an industry they're actually excited about, for instance luxury cars or tech.
Would you actually be good at what you think you want to do?
We work with a lot of high-potentials and high-performers. That's why this all-important question only arises over halfway through this article. Most of the things our clients turn their hand to end up working out and/or being good. That's not to say that whatever they do comes easily to them. But it is to say that when they apply themselves, and their often Herculean work ethic, they tend to get good results.
This is no reason, however, not to seriously consider whether you have a natural aptitude for the career you're about to change to. If you can achieve good results with some effort, how much could you achieve if you also had a natural talent for something? Put another way, if you can turn water to wine, why not focus on something you're actually predisposed towards? This point matters when prestige, wealth, status, a high-end lifestyle, renown, and any other corollaries of reasonable success per se matter to you. All of those factors, equally, relate to your personal life and, quite literally, the types of experiences you'll enjoy in your life.
The major exception to "optimising success regardless of your employment" is when you are following a calling or where the journey is part of the draw for you. Here, clearly, it doesn't matter if you're maxing out on your natural strengths, but it does matter that you're doing something that is meaningful to you.
How might you develop an understanding of whether you'd actually be any good at what you intend to do? You can take psychometric tests for ability and personality traits, map proven capacities in your professional background to required capacities for your intended future, and ask people who do the job and know you whether they think you might be good at it. Each method has its own caveats. Equally, you can actually try the job, although a) it's unlikely that any experience where you can "try the job" just like probably won't expose you the realities of the job you actually want (i.e. you want to work as a management consultant at a Big Four firm, but can only get experience shadowing elsewhere for a week), and b) if you're in full-time employment this wouldn't be a viable option.
The best option here is to take a full sweep across all "checking methods" and see what comes back. A fail on any one might raise serious questions and cause you to take pause. Equally, favourable indications from all quarters might suggest you're actually onto something. Of course, you can consider working with a career strategist or coach.
"You might have to go back a few steps in order to go forward. Are you okay with that?"
A quick note: if you're changing career track, you might have to start at the bottom again, or at least a few steps back from the level of seniority you've already achieved. Are you okay with that? Where you need to re-train, you may find yourself back at university with students a few years younger than you.
Where do you want to be in about 10 years' time?
A real blue-sky question, but an important one nevertheless. Where do you assume yourself to be in 10 years' time? Owning a house in your preferred neighbourhood? With a family? Working in a senior leadership position? With a healthy pension tucked away? It's important to look at the career choices you're making now in the context of your trajectory as a whole. If your career change runs the risk of not getting you where you want to be by age 40 or 50, think carefully about whether the risk is worth it. Articulate exactly what would make it worth it - if you can't do this, rethink your plans to change career.
Apart from work, what else is important in your life, and would your new career respect and foster that?
Changing career can be a wholesale change to your life. Beyond what you actually do for a job, think about what's most important to you. For some of our clients, it's being there for their kids; for others, it's about working somewhere that accords with their values about how people should be treated. These are big and important questions. In most cases, however, it's possible to skip the existential exercise, and to simply ask yourself two simple questions:
- What do I spend the most time thinking about, whether agonising or dreaming about it?
- What's the worst-case scenario for how my career change could impact it?"
If you can't stomach the answer you get to question two, or if the impact of the worst-case scenario isn't worth it, perhaps this career change isn't for you.
Career change is no small undertaking. It often involves sunk costs, trade-offs, and some stalling before you hit your stride. That said, if you've worked your way through the above, and are still enthused about your new career, switching path might be one of the most prudent decisions you ever make. The truth is that no matter how carefully you weigh up your career change, nothing will conclusively tell you whether it's the right decision, save you actually starting to do it. No matter where the journey takes you, there's always a way forward.
The Pings and Pangs of Self-Employment
How expectations match up to the real-world outcomes.
How Does Your Interviewer Like It?
Know who you'll be interacting with and how it matters.