Anyone who has toyed with the idea of a major career transition is likely to have had doubts about stepping outside their comfort zone.
The drive can be a yearning for a higher salary level, a lack of fulfilment in the current position, or an urge to explore a new industry. Whatever the motive, such a move may not be as difficult as imagined, recruitment specialists say.
Angela Spaxman, a Hong Kong-based career advancement coach, says the starting point for her is the assumption that there is a perfect role for each person. She says the transition is best performed at a steady pace meticulously over several years.
The secret to a successful career transition is research, she adds. “The first, most important research topic is to know yourself. What do you love to do? If you didn’t need the money, recognition or achievement, what would you do? What are your biggest strengths? What keeps you motivated?”
Ask yourself what it takes to get where you want to go – what sort of education, skills, training and experience are required, Spaxman says, instead of focusing too much on what qualifications employers may be looking for. Consider the challenges and what traits, strengths, preferences and types of mindset nurture success.
It is also important to consider the downsides and limitations to the transition you have in mind. For instance, in the case of a transition to self-employment, many people are seduced by the prospect of freedom and flexibility. “But are they really willing to earn less money, or to have less day-to-day certainty about their income?” Spaxman asks.
Research enables you to find the best possible match, she says, asserting that doing your homework is the only way to truly discover whether the dream is doable.
Hiring a coach will help in gaining clarity by serving as a neutral, non-judgmental, supportive listener – as few friends or relatives can, Spaxman says. Otherwise, it’s easy to make a misguided leap into a career that is depicted in the media as romantic – being an entrepreneur, for example.
The entrepreneurial lifestyle might be associated with freedom, autonomy and the opportunity to make big bucks, but Spaxman says: “No one mentions the suicide rate among entrepreneurs, the loneliness, high pressure, risk and challenge to be successful.”
Nevertheless, Spaxman says, a dream job is not necessarily “rare”. She says a genuine, well-grounded desire to land a dream job is an excellent credential, adding that jobseekers are dogged by all kinds of limiting beliefs.
There is nothing to stop an audit manager becoming a lyricist, for example. Likewise, a customer service manager could become a trekking guide, and a chemical engineer could become a life coach, says Spaxman. It all comes down to motivation.
Be prepared for the highs and lows, and ensure you can deal with uncertainty and the unknowns.
Don’t be put off by the idea that a drastic career change will harm your future job prospects by making you less employable.
“The opposite is true in the long run, because of how much you learn and grow during a major transition. The greater perspective, increased confidence and greater self-awareness are huge benefits in terms of long-term career fulfilment and success,” she says, adding that one possible obstacle can be time.
“No matter how many changes you make in your career and how nonsensical, random or inconsistent it may seem, there is always an underlying story you can tell that makes it all make sense,” she says.
Today, the average person swaps jobs 12 times in their career, according to the Balance Careers job search advice site. Many workers spend five years or less in a job, it says.
Following your passion without doing the research can be an unwise move, according to research conducted by Cal Newport, author of self-improvement book Deep Work. Newport argues that following a dream is a particularly bad idea for young people because most of them are not experienced enough to know what true satisfaction is.
It can be doable, however, make sure you adopt a practical strategy and exploit the established “career capital”.
We do our best when we shift to roles that let us creatively tap the smarts we have amassed over the years, says Newport. “Put in the hard work to master something rare and valuable, then deploy this leverage to steer your working life in directions that resonate,” he writes on his blog.
Kully Jaswal, who runs the career advisory service Ignition in Hong Kong, argues that successful transition hinges on a balance of factors, including passion but, as Newport and Spaxman point out, supplemented by transferable skills.
Jaswal has her own success story. She went from being a director for the London branch of consultancy company Deloitte to her Hong Kong coaching job with limited experience in the field, she says. Despite this, her background gave her relevant transferable experience. She also made sure she was trained for the role, bagging an executive coaching certificate and practising until she felt comfortable that she had made the right move.
Now, Jaswal shares her story with clients as an example of how you can switch careers, as long as you have some grasp of the new field, acquired through education or experience.
“I always suggest: try it first. Talk to people in the industry. Attend relevant events. Do a course to get a feel for the new choice,” she says.
That way you can be sure the role on your radar is more than just a passing interest. Either way, she says, you must be resilient. “Be prepared for the highs and lows, and ensure you can deal with uncertainty and the unknowns,” she says.
Self-esteem is crucial when making a career transition, Jaswal says. Be bold, yet open to feedback and willing to improve. You may have a strong technical aptitude, but in some areas of your new field you may have to lift your game, she says, citing the need for soft skills such as the ability to build relationships.
An open mind is vital, she adds. Act like you know it all and you will fail to learn – or even flop.
Like Spaxman, she says that motivation is key to making the full transition between jobs. You must be self-motivated and able to manage your stress levels, whatever your age.
If you are prepared to take a risk, you can jump in regardless of your finances, and at almost any age.
“I have supported clients switching careers in their 40s, 50s and even 60s. If you do your homework and are prepared to work hard and are committed to make your dream a reality, anything is possible,” she says.
Being happy and enthused about your work is key to physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Jaswal adds that success has a powerful positive knock-on effect. “When you enjoy your work, you are more likely to have more energy, be more focused and ultimately happier. It doesn’t feel like work,” she says.
Be warned, however, that you may be underwhelmed by your new job. “Often the grass looks greener, but in reality it’s not all rosy,” Jaswal says.
Even if the new job fails to live up to expectations, if you left your old firm on good terms there is a chance you can return.
Spaxman frames the gains that can be achieved from successful transition as profound.
“What is life for? Why suffer in a career that isn’t fulfilling you?” she says. Even if the switch is harder than you had imagined, it can pay off eventually.
Adam Johnston, managing director of the Hong Kong branch of recruitment firm Robert Half, agrees.
“Being happy and enthused about your work is key to physical, emotional and mental well-being. If you’re switching careers to find a role you truly enjoy, then it shows you’re a candidate who has an innate understanding of how to set goals and strive towards them,” Johnston says.
“Seeking greater development opportunities and more personal growth by switching careers demonstrates that you’re a candidate that’s eager to grow and embrace change,” he adds. “Not only will your skills and experience expand from the change, but you’ll be seen as a self-starter and someone with great initiative by prospective employers.”
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