How to change careers

Sam, aged 53, suddenly finds herself being micromanaged. She is given specific targets, deadlines, tasks to perform and receives no recognition for it. 

She is constantly being watched. She finds herself being the one placed on the public holiday shifts. 

Then the unthinkable dawns on her. 

The passion is gone, she has to get out. 

She cannot face this feeling of despair, and the crushing feeling of being worthless, another day. 

She feels paralysed. 

Where to from here? 

Could it be time to change careers?

Nic Sephton-Poultney, managing director of Robert Walters in SA, a specialist recruitment and outsourcing business, says changing careers is ranked as one of the most stressful things one can do – ranked alongside moving house, marriage and having children.

“We often undervalue and underestimate how difficult it is to make a career change as opposed to a job change,” he says.

Richard Alderson, founder of Careershifters, says changing careers, after having had a good job and being promoted several times, was one of the most difficult periods of his life. 

He was travelling for work and had great prospects ahead of him. 

But, he was deeply unfulfilled. He wanted to wake up and feel like his work was making a difference to someone or something. 

There were signals from all around him that he was not in the right place. 

He was embarrassed to talk to others about his work and, above all, he was petrified of not feeling proud of what he would have done with his life by the time he reached 60 or 70, he wrote on his website. 

See the signs 

Sephton-Poultney says the tell-tale signs that it is time for a change are how you perceive yourself, how you are perceived by management and what is happening in your work environment. 

You: Most of us have bouts of being uninspired, demotivated, feeling undervalued and anxious. 

But if these feelings persist for weeks, months and sadly, in some cases, years on end, it is clearly time to take stock.

Management: It is important to notice how the company is performing. 

If the company is potentially struggling financially, it has a knock-on effect in the way that management engages with staff and how the messages are being delivered. 

Importantly, from a management perspective, it comes down to how one is valued in the organisation. 

Crucial to this is how management recognises the effort that specific employees put in, as well as each employee’s output.As the employee, you should be honest with yourself about how much you are learning from your manager. 

What is your relationship with management and how are you developing your skillset through your engagement with them?

Culture: The culture of the organisation will play a major role when you contemplate a change. 

There is a strong push for corporates to evolve their corporate cultures by adopting flexible working hours, accommodating employees with families, allowing people to work from home and to attend their children’s school functions in work time. 

“However, if none of this is happening, and you cannot associate with the corporate culture, then it becomes difficult to walk in every morning and be positive, upbeat and give your best,” says Sephton-Poultney.

Alderson says he was “numb – uninspired by the meaningless work” he was doing, but he had no clue what else he could do. 

He only knew the industry he was in, he was scared to take a salary cut, and scared of losing the status he had worked so hard to achieve. 

Be aware of the obstacles

“These weren’t obstacles in the outside world; they were obstacles in me. 

It was me – my lack of knowledge and my fears – that was most holding me back,” says Alderson.

He started reading “every single career change book” he could lay his hands on, trawled the internet for guidance and did some profiling tests – but got no clarity.

He spent hours looking for “the job”, sending his CV and contacting recruitment agencies. 

“These are all functions of a traditional job market that isn’t designed for career changers,” says Alderson.Sephton-Poultney says organisations in South Africa are very quick to “pigeonhole” skills. "

If you have been an accountant for a few years, you are immediately pigeonholed into a specific role of functionality. 

That makes it hugely challenging to break out of that mould. 

It took Alderson more than four years to get out of his numbing career. 

“For most of that time, I was trapped in analysis paralysis.” 

However, when he started to act rather than analyse, things started to change.

Stop analysing, start acting

Alderson took a part-time course in journalism and shadowed a friend in public relations, and even shadowed a friend who was a Japanese yen bond trader. 

What he was doing was to step into different worlds, which sparked ideas and helped him to cross off some possibilities without having to leave his day job until he knew where he was going.

Sephton-Poultney says career changers have to identify their “transferable skills” and how they link to an interest. 

Your decision to make a change has to be linked to that interest.

Alderson experienced several “dead ends”. 

He started connecting with people rather than relying on job sites and Google. 

Sephton-Poultney says, from a recruitment perspective, many organisations are hiring through their own networks. 

They are not going through the traditional recruitment agencies, or traditional job boards. 

They advertise internally and there will often be a referral scheme where existing employees can refer people to the business. 

He also stresses the importance of fleshing out your network to connect with people outside your current industry. 

LinkedIn has played a big part in making this process easier. 

“It helps to connect the dots between who you know and who you should know. I would highly recommend that people ensure that their LinkedIn profile is up to date and that it has all the necessary information, and that it is factual and accurate.”

It will enable you to link with people who are in the field that you are interested in breaking into. 

Follow organisations that are associated with your areas of interest, follow trends, get news feeds on these organisations and what they are doing and what is topical in the industry, says Sephton-Poultney. 

Alderson’s advice: people first, jobs second. People feel financially locked in, and the fear of taking the risk can be overwhelming, but says Alderson, it is not just about your career, it is also about your life. 

This article originally appeared in the 24 January edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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