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How to change your career – A step-by-step guide

2021 offers an opportunity to build back better after the pandemic, and for many that might mean a career change.

There are a lot of reasons you might need a career change. For some people, they might simply realise they’ve been going down the wrong route and want a fresh start in the world of work.

Others don’t have the same luck and are forced into the decision, be that due to redundancy, relocation, or other personal issues. That is the sad reality many people face during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Chancellor Rishi Sunak has admitted several times during the crisis, he can’t save every job.

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Perhaps you will find your new calling on The Big Issue jobs board? But whatever reason you have for changing your career, you’re not alone. Almost 10 percent of the UK workforce change jobs in any given year, and more than half of us are planning to make a change within the next five years. So shifting careers is by no means uncommon.

Covid-19 has amplified many of these factors, of course. Some companies and industries are far less secure than they were at the start of 2020 and the seismic change the pandemic has had on society means many people are looking at their lives in a new light. Is it time for a change?

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A career change might seem daunting, particularly if you’ve never worked in an industry before – but it’s absolutely achievable. Here’s everything you need to know about a career change, whether you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s or beyond.

How can I change my career with no experience?

So, if you do find yourself in a position where you need to change careers, where do you start? According to Mel Barclay, head of career transition at training and development firm LHH, the first thing to do is to confront any feelings of doubt or failure. 

“If you have changed career direction it can be easy to feel like a fish out of water,” she explains. “If you have spent the majority of your working life progressing up a ladder within a certain organisation or sector, it’s only natural to feel like you are starting from square one.”

Map out your skills and experience

However, even if you’ve come from a completely different background, you will still have gained relevant skills and experience.

“Begin by creating an inventory of your top skills and passions,” advises Amanda Augustine, a careers expert at TopCV. “Then search for opportunities that would allow you to leverage these talents.”

It might seem daunting, but start with a simple spider diagram on a blank sheet of paper where you just write down as many skills or passions as you can in two minutes. You can then start to broaden the diagram out with tangible examples of times you’ve used these skills, giving yourself a handy visual map of areas you know you can excel in.

Don’t restrict your diagram to paid work either – if you’ve gained experience through volunteering or extra study, make sure to add these in as they’re just as valid. You might also find tools like the Government’s online skills assessment and career profiles useful. As well as suggesting relevant careers, it also gives broad information on expected salaries, working hours, and any specific entry requirements. 

Invest in training to fill your knowledge gaps

Conversely, if you’ve got a career in mind but find your experience doesn’t quite match up, it could be worth thinking about ways to upskill and gain experience. This doesn’t necessarily have to cost any money, and can also also be done around a full time job.

“Training is available online for career shifters who would like to expand their skills in new areas,” says Darain Faraz, a careers expert at LinkedIn. He points to their own tools and courses, which focus on providing skills for in demand jobs such as IT administrators, graphic designers, or data analysts.

It’s also worth checking out the Government’s list of free course providers, with everything from refreshers on your English and Maths to in-depth digital skills, as well as established online providers such as FutureLearn and Coursera. While some of these websites offer paid courses, there are more than enough free versions to stop you parting with any cash.

Depending on the industry, you might also want to consider picking up work experience. It’s not just for students. For example, you may be able to volunteer with local charities in a similar sector, or it might be possible to pick up more traditional work experience or shadowing with smaller, local businesses.

Ask for advice from friends — and even strangers

It can also be as simple as asking for help, advice, and introductions from people you know. 

“We’d encourage people to ask [their] contacts for support or useful introductions,” adds Darain. “If you’ve been working for a long time, the established network of colleagues who know and trust you remains extremely valuable.”

Don’t be afraid of asking anything stupid either – if you know people in the industry, it’s a great chance to get as much information as possible.

Many different industries will also have their own networking groups, or even just social media groups of professionals on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Thanks to the pandemic, even more of this has now gone online, so it’s worth doing your research and seeing where you can find support from like-minded people.

“Spend time researching the new world you will be stepping into,” urges business coach Erica Wolfe-Murray, “this work is never ever wasted.”

Take a skills-focused approach

When it comes to actually putting in job applications and CVs, if you’re looking to change your career, taking a skills based approach is vital. You want to make the best information about you as accessible as possible, so employers can see it at a glance.

For career changers, this means focusing especially hard on the skills you have which are relevant to your new job. This could mean designing your CV slightly differently, for example, putting a key skills section at the top, or using bold text to highlight specific focuses within particular elements of past employment.

“We’d advise to keep [your skills and experience] open and broad, so employers can see how they might transfer into a different role or industry,” adds Darain. 

And, finally, remember that your old career isn’t anything to be ashamed of – it may actually help to give you an edge.

“You don’t have to leave your previous experience at the door, if anything it’s an asset,” agrees Mel. “You’ll be bringing your previous industry experience and a fresh perspective to your new career.”

What are the best jobs for a career change?

It’s difficult to provide a one size fits all list for people looking to change careers, as success will primarily depend on the skill set you’re able to bring from your previous career.

However, there are some careers that are particularly welcoming for career changers.

Teaching, social work and software developers

There was once a recruitment crisis in the world of education but, since the pandemic, more and more people are looking to use their experience to help the younger generations. Those looking to get into teaching can take advantage of Government bursaries of up to £24,000 a year to help them train,

Ruth Allen, chief exec of the British Association of Social Workers, wrote in June that referrals to social services are likely to boom after lockdown so there will be more need than ever to support vulnerable people. Training for aspiring social workers is at hand and the ThinkAhead programme is specifically targeted at people looking to pivot into mental health social work.

And everyone laughed at the Government ads encouraging ballerinas to “retrain in cyber”, but many people are looking at digital industries for a career change. Plenty of providers offer ‘bootcamps’ to get you off the ground in just three months. 

Looking at the job market

Generally speaking, you’re most likely to find success in sectors which are particularly in demand.

“Whether you’ve been wanting to change careers for some time, or the current market has forced you to seek employment outside your chosen career path, it’s important to explore available vacancies,” says Amanda. “Look at companies in sectors who are hiring to meet pandemic-driven demands, and use that information to help shape your short term job goals.”

When should I change my career

So, you’ve got the plan, you know what you want to do – but when should you do it? And is it ever too late to change your career? What if you’re already in your 30s, 40s, or 50s? In short, no – it’s never too late to make a change.

Changing career in your 30s, 40s or 50s

“There is no good or bad time to change career,” agrees Erica. “If you are really unhappy it’s best to change sooner rather than later. Market changes, new trends, company openings – all of these can provide good opportunities to shift careers.”

In fact, changing careers later rather than sooner can actually help your case. “One of the biggest strengths workers in their 30s, 40s, or 50s can offer an employer is the diversity of experiences learned over a long career,” says Darain.

Over the course of a longer career, it should be easier to pull out specific examples which are relevant to new areas.

Have confidence in your abilities 

In fact, the main barrier to get over when changing your career in later life is yourself. “Changing career is challenging whatever your age, but later in life it can be particularly daunting. [It] can narrow your perspective and fool you into thinking that you can’t work effectively in other places.” However, put simply, this isn’t the case. By using a skills-based approach and identifying any gaps in your knowledge, there’s nothing to stop you pulling off a complete pivot.

“I’ve been surprised at how quickly I’ve been able to progress,” agrees Rebecca Tidy, who has just pulled off her own career change into journalism. I was worried that I’d be at the very bottom, but this definitely hasn’t been the case. I think the transferable skills have definitely helped.”

Career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:

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