The Career Conversation
Updated Nov 18, 2019

If you made your career decisions based on the motivational quotes regularly shared on Facebook, you would give up your day job to write a novel or refurbish antique furniture in a heartbeat. But advice telling you ‘to be whatever you want to be’ or ‘do what makes you happy’ isn’t necessarily based in reality. You can’t always follow your calling or turn your passion into a career and maintain the lifestyle you want.


Changing careers is a tempting prospect many people consider at some point. But working out if you should take that leap, and how to make a success of it if you do, isn’t always straightforward. This guide is here to help.

It’s true that lots of people feel trapped in a career because of decisions they made when they were young. You are likely to have very different aspirations and priorities when you graduate compared to when you reach your 40s and, perhaps, have a mortgage and family to support. A role that requires you to work hard, travel extensively and socialize late may have been great when you were a single twentysomething, but not what you need now. Equally your ethics may have evolved and you may become uncomfortable working for a company you feel no longer reflects your values.

There are many reasons why you might consider changing careers and if your sense of purpose and passion have gone, it’s definitely something to consider. But it’s not always easy: some people know they need a change but have no idea what to do next, others know what they’d love to do but no idea how to do it professionally.

Before taking the plunge, think about your job and why it’s not giving you the satisfaction you need. Could a change of role, manager or company solve the problem rather than a complete career switch? Read guide Why staying put can sometimes be the best way to move on to learn more. Also work out how much income you can afford to lose and, on the other hand, what opportunities could open up to you by trying something new.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to address any issues at work that are making you unhappy. Research has shown how you feel about your job is the second biggest influence on overall life satisfaction. If you feel anxious, frustrated or lacking in purpose at work, it will creep into your life outside.


You’ve weighed your options and decided this is the moment to go for it. Here are a few tips to help make your exciting move a success:

  • Be realistic. The perfect job rarely exists and, if it does, it probably won’t pay your mortgage. You need to work out what you really value and what compromises you are prepared to make. For example, would you accept less money if it meant you had more family time? Would you take on a role you don’t necessarily love to get a foot in the door with a company doing something you are passionate about?
  • Do your research. Talk to people in your network about what they do: what do they enjoy, what frustrates them, how did they get to where they are, what are their goals? and so on. Reflect on what they say and what appeals to you. Is it, for example, the company culture, the creativity of the role, the freedom given to staff or the work-life balance? Once you have a better idea what it is about these people’s roles you like, or dislike, it will help you focus on what you need and might open up career options you hadn’t considered.
  • Take a test but approach the results with caution.There are various free career preference tests available online that can help you decide which might suit you. Just take the answers with a pinch of salt – you might make a great lion tamer but is that actually the right direction for you?
  • Keep building your professional networks and experience. Enthusiasm won’t get you a new job if you have nothing to offer on paper. Develop experience that relates to your target career and build your networks before you leave your current job by connecting with people at companies you’d like to work for. A personal introduction from someone who can vouch for your skills is a good way to get a foot in the door. Once you’re face to face with a recruiter you can really sell yourself.
  • Identify your transferrable skills and rewrite your resume. Rather than listing your experience chronologically, group specific skills together and give examples of how you’ve used them in your career. This is sometimes known as a functional resume and is simply a way of repackaging the same information so that recruiters focus on your capabilities, rather than where you’ve been employed.
  • Know your value. Be able to clearly articulate why you are changing careers and what you can offer based on your past experience. Think about exactly what attributes, key skills and values you want to be associated with and demonstrate them in your resume, online profile and during an interview. Read guide Understanding, owning and talking about your strengths and weaknesses to learn more.
  • Take baby steps towards your new career. If your role is transferrable, think about moving into your target industry but staying in the same job. Once you are with a company in the sector you want to be in, you can apply for a completely different role further down the line. Employers are much more willing to take a punt on someone they know and trust.
  • Set yourself small but achievable goals. Rather than focusing on the ultimate goal of a new career – which in isolation can seem dauntingly out of reach – focus on the small goals, the baby steps mentioned above, you need to take to get there.
  • Think about your values. Consider what is important to you and will get you out of bed on a Monday morning, and look for a company that has the same priorities.
  • Get to know the people you will work with. Ask your contacts, research your target company and, if you get that far, ask to meet potential team members at an interview. For many, the social aspect of work is the reason they love a job, rather than the job itself.
  • Don’t be afraid to step backwards. To break into your new career, or pay the bills while you’re looking for one, you may need to drop down a level or two from your current position. Any experience is good experience and building your transferrable skill set will go down well with a future employer. Consider working part-time in one role to keep the money coming in, while volunteering or working on a casual basis in another to build up your experience and skills.
  • Remember every job is worthwhile. Even the ones you hate are a useful way of working out what you really don’t want to do.
  • Don’t let your age dictate your career choice. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re too old to start again, that change is too risky, particularly if you have accomplished a lot in your current career. But most of us will work into our mid-60s and beyond, which means, even in middle age, you have plenty of years to play with.
  • Build a financial buffer. Save as much money as you can before you start changing careers, to support you through the process.
  • Find a mentorthrough your company’s mentoring program, if it has one, or in your network. Ideally someone who has been in a similar situation who’ll provide you with impartial advice and support.
  • Involve your nearest and dearest. You’ll need the emotional, and possibly, financial support of friends and family. You’re also likely to have to make compromises and sacrifices that affect those closest to you, so it’s important they’re on board and understand where you’re trying to get to.
  • It’s ok to change your mind. Once you’ve made a decision to pursue a new career, don’t feel pressured to stick to it. Companies and people evolve, and some find their dream job isn’t actually right for them. So allow yourself to move on if you need to.

The path to a new career usually has several twists and turns, but most people say it’s worth it. All you need is the confidence and conviction to make it happen (and this guide, of course).


  1. Be ambitious, but be realistic too.
  2. Continue to build your professional networks.
  3. Try different things before making a decision.
  4. Know what you can offer and bring.
  5. Lean on the support of family and friends.