Making The Leap Into A New Career

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

If you find yourself dreading the sound of the alarm, dragging yourself into work and wishing your day (and life) away, it might be time to think about changing jobs – and maybe even totally transforming your career.

The thought of making a major career change is daunting. Changing careers requires time, money, commitment and temporary sacrifice – and with your mortgage, comfortable lifestyle and possibly little mouths to feed, it can all seem too hard, too late, and not worth the risk and effort.

But moving into what you really want to do may be the best thing you could do for your wellbeing (and sanity). It can make the difference between going into a job you hate every day and feeling energised, motivated and impassioned by your work and life – and avoiding a mid-life crisis while you’re at it.

Why change careers?

Today’s job market is a fluid one, with people changing job paths an average of three to five times during their lives.

There are many reasons for people to change careers: to get a better work–life balance, spend more time with their family, follow their passion, be creative, get out of the rat-race, or make more money.

Whatever the reason, there are many factors to weigh up: you may have to accept a lower income at least temporarily, there is a certain amount of risk involved, and if it requires extra study you will have to pay for tuition and discipline yourself back into study mode.

But these barriers are short-term and may be more about your own fears and assumptions than anything else. Many people contemplating a major career change fear that they may be too old and that no one will want to hire them – but that is not necessarily the reality. Countless people have made successful career changes and most say it was the best thing they ever did – their only regret being that they didn’t do it sooner.

Paul, 43, has already had several career transformations. He has worked in lumber trading, equity research, owned restaurants and most recently worked in corporate finance as a senior bank representative. He recently ditched it all, however, to start up his own business organising active holiday trips for adults at resorts throughout the world.

Previously, Paul’s main motivation in choosing and changing careers was to learn as much as possible and to build his business acumen – and now he’s using all that previous learning to do something he actually likes.

It’s not always easy, of course. ‘You don’t have a constant pay cheque. You’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to organise your own time schedule, your own goals, your own benchmarks, set up a routine. You need to have a lot of moral support and to have the rest of your life pretty well sorted. It’s hard, especially if you have other stresses in your life,’ says Paul. But the rewards can make it all worthwhile.

Finding fulfilment

For some, changing careers is very much a path to inner fulfilment. Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, 37, was working as a successful photographer before deciding to return to study and practise as a counsellor. She enjoyed her photography work but realised that it was the conversational element and personal connections that she found most rewarding – and counselling was a profession she had long been interested in. After experiencing the benefits of counselling herself following the loss of a loved one, she decided it was time to pursue a career which had long fascinated her.

‘I thought, “Wow, I’d really like to be a part of that process if there was ever an opportunity” – and I started thinking that maybe this was my opportunity, that maybe I could make the opportunity,’ says Gabrielle.

What you have to consider

Think about why you are dissatisfied with your career. If the bad vibes are coming from a volatile boss, fiendish colleagues or a poisonous corporate culture, then moving to a new company, rather than overhauling your entire career, may be all that is required.

If the problem runs deeper – you are a journalist who hates the news, a manager who hates people or an accountant who hates numbers – then a more radical overhaul may be necessary for you to live out the rest of your working days in happiness.

The first thing to do is think about what you really enjoy, since that will be the foundation of a successful career. Review past successful roles, projects, volunteer work and other experiences to identify what you love and excel at, and brainstorm ideas by matching up your favoured skills with careers that would utilise them.

Also, look inside. As Gabrielle advises, ask yourself: ‘What is it that you’re seeking? Get really clear on your vision and just be really brave in looking at all the possible alternatives that might enable you to achieve your vision. Courage is key – just try something out and you’ll see that it can really work.’

Do your research

Try to find out as much as you can about the industry you want to enter – research online, talk to your family, contacts and industry professionals, attend career and trade fairs, and keep an eye on job advertisements for job descriptions. Maybe you could work part-time or even volunteer to get a better idea of what’s involved before you make the leap.

Bridging the gap

Just because you’re changing careers doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch. Think of commonalities between your current and future careers, then make a list of skills which are transferable across both industries. Keep in mind that mature workers from any industry offer real advantages, including experience, reliability, loyalty and a strong work ethic.

If you haven’t had to write a resume for some time, then be sure to check out our article on how to write a career change resume to help you create a polished resume that will help bridge the gap and get you one step closer to the career you want.

The other thing you need to think about is re-training and gaining new skills that will enable you to make that career leap. You may want to gain a teaching or business qualification, or get the credentials to help others by studying health or community services. Check out the full range of courses available to get you into your dream job.

If you’re trying to start up your own business, Paul advises people to start while they’re still working, especially if it’s something completely different from what they’ve done before. It’s also important to write a business plan. ‘It forces you to think of pros and cons, opportunities and barriers, and it makes you come up with other opportunities. Having a business partner can sometimes be good, depending on your personality. If you do have a business partner you should make sure you have everything legally sorted from the beginning,’ says Paul. 

It also helps to have practical knowledge of how to run your own business.

Gabrielle’s transition from her previous career to study involved winding back her photography business while also taking on some administrative work to supplement her income. The subsequent transition into practice following her studies was surprisingly smooth. ‘It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I had no concept of how it would all come together but it just seems to have happened naturally – it’s been a wonderful surprise!’

One step at a time

Career changes don’t take place overnight – it can take two to six years to fully transform your career. Maintain a positive attitude and take the journey to your desired career one step at a time.

For Gabrielle, changing careers was the best thing she ever did. ‘It’s so enriching and I’m so glad I did it. A lot of the time it doesn’t really strike me as work.’

So don’t put off your professional happiness and fulfilment any longer. After all, this is the rest of your life – at least until your next career.

Check out the career-defining moves to make in your 20s, 30s and 40s

Have you successfully changed careers? Was it worth it? Share your experiences below!

Josie Chun

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