What’s the key to a successful career change?

January 22, 2015

For many people, the new year is a time to do something about your career. You may have renewed the resolution many times, and yet you’re still in the same old job that you don’t enjoy and aren’t quite sure how you ever got into in the first place. So will this be the year you finally get round to looking for a new career?

There are two ways of finding a better career: one is a reactive approach, the other is proactive.

In a reactive search, you look at every job advert you possibly can, pick out opportunities that you think you might enjoy and that you have some chance of being offered and you fire off your applications. In other words, you react to whatever opportunities come your way. You may get lucky, but there is no guarantee the job you end up with will be any more satisfying than the one you are trying to get away from.

In a proactive search, you take a step back to look at your skills, experience, interests and anything else relevant to your career. You have in-depth conversations with friends, your partner or even career professionals, trying to work out which career will be right for you. Then, when you have made a decision, you concentrate your job search in that area. If you do this systematically and thoroughly you stand a better chance of finding a more satisfying career. But, again, it is only a chance – there is still a possibility that your new career may be little better than your old one.

The missing ingredient in both these approaches is research. Without good research you’ll never know if you’re making the right decision.

Career research operates on many levels. At its broadest, you explore job titles and sectors. If you are moving into a new industry, or if you are hoping to do a completely different job, it’s essential to fully understand what the change might involve. You need to look at the tasks you’ll be expected to do, the knowledge you’ll need, the shape of your working day, the sort of people you’ll be working with, and the reputation and prospects of the sector.

You also need to consider whether the job is right for you on a personal level. Will you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile? Will this new career meet your needs for personal growth, and will it take you where you want to go in the long run?

It’s also important to research prospective companies. The same job can be fantastic in one company and a nightmare in another. So your research needs to include a look at organisations in the industry to understand how they function and what their culture is.

Start your career research by reading as much as you can about the career you’re considering. You can find information on the websites of industry associations and professional bodies. The Trade Association Forum and TotalProfessions.com will help you to identify these. You can also download industry guides from the British Library. Try to make a list of all the significant companies in the sector then visit their websites. Don’t forget to join LinkedIn or Facebook groups related to the company or its work.

Do financial research as well. Use a business information provider, such as Alert Data or DueDil, to investigate the health and financial prospects of the companies you’re considering. There’s little point making a career change into a company that is failing.

But the most important research you can do is to seek information from people who have direct experience of the job or company you’re looking at. Wherever possible, speak to people who work in the jobs or the companies you’re interested in. If you can’t speak to them, connect with them online.

Find out as much as you can about the levels of job satisfaction in these places. Try to discover what your day-to-day activities will be, what sort of environment you’re likely to be working in and, of course, what you’ll need to demonstrate to the employer to stand a good chance of getting a job. If possible, spend a few days shadowing someone who does one of the jobs – this is far and away the best way of finding out what a job is like.

Good research is critical to making the right career choices. It is the only way you can ever really find out what a new job may involve. If you don’t do your research, you’ll make an uninformed decision and run the risk of ending up in a job just as unsatisfactory as the one you are in now.

Harry Freedman is a career coach and founder of the Career Advice Centre. He is the author of How to Get a Job in a Recession.