Changing careers is scary. Being out of a job for any period of time is even scarier. But staying in a job that dissatisfies you or is limiting your career progression or is making you plain unhappy is worse than being scared. Accept that the process of changing careers will be challenging and time-consuming and it instantly becomes less daunting. Here’s how:
Make an exit plan. Give yourself at least six months before you resign to research your strengths and skills and passions; find out about possible new career paths and the best ways to break in; figure out how future careers may shape your lifestyle and work/ life balance. Appreciate the breadth of choices you have. There are numerous websites dedicated to every career imaginable and plenty of free online study courses. Coursera with London University offer an excellent course called Enhancing Your Employability; it covers all aspects of the job hunt process from application to CV and cover letter to interview. Buy ‘How To Build Your Own Rainbow’, a practical workbook which analyses every aspect of your life and work and crystallises your thinking. It’s only £12.99 on Amazon.
Consider a career coach; they encourage their clients to explore fixed mindsets and assumptions that may be holding them back. I was lucky enough to get three two hour sessions (for free – networks are amazing); as with any coaching, it taught me to think in new ways. Career coaches can be a brilliant way of helping to develop focus but they are expensive.
Build your network and personal brand. LinkedIn is the best platform for your professional life; there are plenty of online blogs and websites giving practical advice on how best to use it. Create coherence across your social media presence but understand how each platform works best and keep your personal (Facebook, Instagram) separate from your professional (Twitter, LinkedIn).
Save money. Reduce your financial commitments where possible and start putting money aside for rainy days. Looking for work is always challenging but it’s worse if you are also penniless. Bear in mind that employees who voluntarily leave their place of work will get no financial support. We get used to the comfort of a monthly salary and it doesn’t take long, once the savings start to dwindle, to learn the value of even small things. On a very low income, a really good coffee feels and tastes as good as the most expensive champagne on your expenses account.
Sort your CV. Employers now use software to filter the huge number of applications they receive. Applicants are selected for interview based on specific keywords; spelling, punctuation, grammar, layout, even contents are less significant than they used to be. So know the keywords for your ideal job. Here’s a useful trick to try: find ten advertisements for your chosen role and feed them into Wordle (it’s free). This will create a word cloud of keywords for your chosen role.
If you’re really struggling with your CV pay for a professional writing service. Most services will offer a telephone consultation of 30 – 40 minutes based on your basic CV and then re-write it. You can be confident that your biggest personal brand tool will be ready for action. CV writing services are expensive but, if you applied for an interest free – credit card before handing in your notice (and there are currently plenty of options available), it becomes a long term investment. Off-set the £150 cost of the CV against the loss of earnings if it takes you four to six months (the average time) to find a job.
Get registered with recruiters and job sites. Create a profile and upload your CV and covering letter. Set alerts for jobs that interest you. Many of the websites hold the same job advertisements so there are a lot of triplicates to wade through. And most of the job applications use very similar wording so there is little differentiation. To have any chance of success tailor your CV and cover letter as much as possible to the company you are applying for, if you have that information. Which, mostly, you don’t. For every job, there will often be over a hundred applicants. The one-click online application process may be easier (though for who, I wonder?) but it is also impersonal and lonely, and in my humble opinion, mostly ineffectual. Get online anyway. It gives you focus.
Better yet, research the companies that really interest you; set job alerts (most big companies and corporations have this facility now) so that you are immediately notified when a job is posted. Adapting a CV and cover letter to a role within a company you know a lot about increases your chances of success exponentially.
Create a daily routine. Keep regular hours Monday to Friday and commit to being at your desk by 8.30am. The early bird is much more likely to catch the worm. Develop a system so that you don’t start the day by wondering where to start. Better yet, find a coffee shop with good wifi or use your local library to get you out of the house. You can fool your mind and body into believing that you are going to work and it stops home feeling like a prison. Dedicate a certain number of hours to job hunting each day then walk away; like revision (only harder, because you are not working to a deadline), you can only do a certain amount and still have an impact. Treat yourself at the end of each day, even if only with a glass of wine.
Get used to your own company. Your partner, friends and family will mostly be at work and the social interactions you had previously with work colleagues will leave a huge gap. Your world will quickly shrink right down. Getting out of the house will remind you that the world is turning and you are still part of it. Being out of work leads to a startling and sudden lack of status; it is very easy to begin to doubt your decision to leave and loss of self-confidence can quickly follow. To avoid this happening, keep busy and purposeful. That rainy day money comes in handy now; look for meet-ups in your local area, search free things to do, see movies on cheap tickets. Whatever you choose, you will end up doing a lot more alone. Get used to it.
Get volunteering. Start with one charity in your local area, one day a week. It can quickly open new doors to opportunity. And it looks really good on the CV. It’s another way to get out and about and build your network. Some of the best opportunities I had in my two months out of work were gained through volunteering.
Ultimately, my new job came unexpectedly. I followed up a failed application (for a company and a job I really wanted) with an email asking for a month’s internship. In return, they invited me to interview for a newly created role more suited to my skills. Two interviews later and I was in. This reminds us that we don’t need to play by the rules; when you see an opportunity, take it. It’s also a timely reminder that the personal connection matters most. They liked my CV and my commitment to ‘making a difference’, clearly evident from my volunteering roles; I was a good cultural fit. Find the company whose values and ethics match your own, get your foot in the door and show them who you really are. A good cultural fit is more important to the workplace now than ever before; a recruiter will overlook gaps in your skills and CV if they know they are getting a passionate and committed employee who really wants to be a part of their team.
Ultimately, if you decide to take the leap and change jobs or career, make it a positive, dynamic choice, one that works for you.