Original article in ABC Everyday by Patrick Wright first published on 2 June 2021
Katy* is considering a career change, but after almost two decades in the same industry she doesn’t know where to start.
She emailed us after reading one of our stories about career development and planning.
The 47-year-old is still working in her job in education, so we’ve kept her real name private.
“The time has come that I glean little to no satisfaction from this job and want to transition to something new,” she writes.
“However, I am not quite sure what the something else [is] and how to go about working it out.”
What can you do when your current job doesn’t suit you anymore? And how can you figure out what you might like to do next?
Understanding your motivations
Jane Jackson, a career management coach based in Sydney, says there are many factors to consider when planning a career change.
If you need training or further education, it might involve time out of the workforce.
It’s also important to consider your financial situation, as well as your skills, strengths and motivations, she says.
“Some people are motivated by a short commute. Other people, what motivates them is flexibility and choosing their own work hours,” she says
Once that’s done, Ms Jackson suggests thinking about your deal breakers or “demotivators” at work. It could be long hours, lack of recognition or a workplace missing a sense of purpose.
It’s an exercise that can help you get a sense of the values that drive you and what will make you feel good in a work situation.
Finding your ‘career anchor’
That reflective work, whether done by yourself or with a mentor, trusted friend or career development practitioner, can help give you focus and clarity.
Understanding your career anchors can help you better navigate your options, Jane Jackson says.
It can also help uncover what Ms Jackson calls career anchors: priorities and values that we find ourselves drawn to throughout our working lives.
The concept was developed by psychologist Edgar Schein who described eight different anchors.
- 1.Security/stability – if this is your anchor, you value jobs that are stable and financially secure above others.
- 2.Autonomy/independence – you want your work life to be under your own control, and resist rules and organisational routines.
- 3.Technical or functional competence – you are most “yourself” when exercising your special skills and talents.
- 4.General management competence – you want to rise to a high level where you can measure your competence by the performance of your team or organisation.
- 5.Entrepreneurial creativity – you’ve always wanted to create a business, product or service of your own, where success is dependent on your efforts.
- 6.Service or dedication to a cause – you see your career in terms of core values that you are trying to achieve through your work. For example, you might be motivated by helping people, saving lives or caring for the environment.
- 7.Pure challenge – you seek out work where you can strive to overcome “impossible” barriers and tend to define situations in terms of winning and losing.
- 8.Lifestyle – you want your work life to fit around the rest of your life, like family responsibilities and other interests, even if that means sacrifices to your career.
Not everyone will fit neatly into a particular category, but it’s a helpful tool to understand your desires and give you a sense of direction.
Building a transition strategy
If you’re thinking about a career change like Katy, it’s important to plan for a transition period.
“For some people, having one foot in each camp is difficult, so for them maybe it is more beneficial to take a leap,” says Helen Holan, a career and leadership coach based in Perth.
“But more often, there is a lead-time. There is a transitional period where there’s work to be done, and if we jump too quickly from one to the next, we haven’t done that work to pave the way for success.”
That work may include upskilling, filling a gap in your resume or growing your professional network.
Why ‘escape routes’ may not be the solution
Ms Holan says many people seek changes in their work lives when they are burnt out.
“That desire for a complete change is often just [looking for] an escape route,” she says.
Instead, it can be more helpful to seek out careers or opportunities that you’re naturally drawn to – or that fit in with your values and priorities.
“Often [that escape route] can be a reset, that serves a purpose, but then what? You might be back at the same point,” she explains.
Ms Jackson puts it another way:
“Don’t run away from what you have now, run towards what will make you happiest.”
One helpful tool is to imagine yourself at the end of your life, reflecting back on what’ve you’ve accomplished.
“[Ask yourself] ‘What do I hope to achieve before I can finally say I’ve had a really good life?'” Ms Jackson says.
“We all have a career and you don’t want it to just be a job.”
*Name changed for privacy