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5 tips for changing career in a pandemic

It goes without saying that this year has been a nightmare in so many ways, and for so many people.

But if we can take one positive away from the experience we’ve had this year, it’s that the enforced changes that we’ve seen to our working lives – working from home, working unusual patterns, maybe even the unexpected time away from work – has meant that many people have been reflecting on their work lives in a way that they hadn’t before.

Questions such as

- Is this really it for my career?

- Is this how I want to be working?

- How can I balance my home life and my work life more effectively?

And for many people, this reflection has led to some quite startling realisations – the career that they’ve had for the past 5,10, 20 years isn’t one that they still want to be doing in years to come.

I’m not going to gloss over it – career change during a global pandemic is not straightforward.

But to be honest, there is very little that is straightforward right now!

With that in mind, career change right now is not impossible.

There are a whole host of things that you can be doing right now to start moving towards a career that feels like a good fit for you.

It might mean taking smaller steps, rather than one big leap.

It might mean building a side business alongside your 9-5 for a while.

It might mean taking things more slowly so you can keep a positive balance on everything going on.

But is it impossible to do? No.

As a career coach, I am not going to ever (pandemic or not) encourage anyone to put the security of themselves or their families at risk by quitting a job that they rely on for financial stability – that’s just crazy.

What I can do is offer ideas and suggestions about how you can start considering what you next steps might be in a way that is as risk free as possible.

So what can you be doing right now to kickstart your career change?

Here are my 5 top tips - the first 2 tips are about looking at you as an individual, and reflecting on your needs and wants, and the last 3 are about taking action.

1. Take stock of where you are now

So, the first thing is when thinking about why are you considering a career change right now? Is it something that's been on your radar for a while?

Or is it something that’s come up as a result of working through a pandemic?

If your role has changed during the pandemic, have a think about whether it’s likely to change back again in the future. It wouldn’t be a great plan to make a massive career decision based on what might only be a temporary blip in your working life.

Related to this is the idea that you might be dissatisfied with the way things are because of the impact of COVID on other things around you – for example, when we are trying to juggle the dreaded home-schooling, or when we are forced to work sat at the kitchen table, or you may be frustrated with the online nature of working right now.

If you can separate out why you are thinking about a career change, and explore whether you may be happy at work again after the pandemic, it may save a lot of unnecessary upheaval.

But if you’ve been considering trying something new for a while, and 2020 has just heightened these thoughts, then it may be time to start exploring new options.

2. Where are the gaps?

Look at what you feel is missing from your working life or your career right now and what would you be hoping to gain from a career change.

And that can be practical things such as, you know, I want to be able to do the school run again or I want to be able to go on holiday next year so I need to earn more money.

It might also be less tangible things such as “I want to feel like I'm making a difference” or “I want to be able to be more creative in my work”. When we use these kinds of words or phrases, make sure you take the time to really explore what those words mean for you.

What kind of actions or roles would help you feel like you were making a difference? How would you know when you are being more creative? What kind of roles would give you the experiences and feelings you are looking for?

It can often be quite hard to pin down, but it’s worth exploring, perhaps even with a friend as it can help direct you to the kinds of things that you’d like to be doing.

3. Start with what you know

If you are considering a career change (rather than a shift into similar role in a new company), it’s likely that you want to be doing something different to what you’ve done before.

So during this time of uncertainty, go back to what you know about yourself – think about the things you love, the interests you’ve always had, and throw yourself into them. Try not to think about job titles straight away, but instead, explore what lights you up.

This might seem a bit scattergun, but if you are at a loss as to where to start, then starting with the things that already bring you joy is as good a place as any.

Look at the things you love – what could they lead to?

Are there (probably online) courses you want to try out?

A new virtual group you could join?

Books you could read, and maybe share with others?

During the initial lockdown, lots of companies put resources and short courses online for free, so it’s worth having a google and seeing what you can come up with.

Just take the plunge and see where it might lead.

There is another reason for me focusing on doing things you love right now. As we battle through this lockdown, and whatever may follow it, we need to be mindful of our mental health, and doing the things you love will give you a boost, which we all so desperately need right now.

4. Give yourself permission to test ideas out

So you’ve had an idea of a career, or job you’d like to try, but you’ve read all there is to read about it, and now you’re stuck.

What next?

Figure out how you can test out your idea.

A recent client of mine lost her job early on in the pandemic. She was lucky enough to find a local part time ‘just pay bills’ type job but she knew she wanted to be doing something else long term. We explored what she loved doing, and one of the things was sewing. She had previously only done bits and bobs for her own family but it was something she was really interested in (especially after the BBC show Great British Sewing Bee!). I encouraged her to start exploring what she liked sewing, and just try things out without the pressure of thinking of it as a new career.

One of the first things she made was face masks!

The pandemic has actually had a silver lining for her – she has made and sold huge stash of face masks, and has gained the experience of setting up an online shop, managing orders etc.

My client knows she doesn’t want to be making face masks (or even sewing things to sell) forever but it’s given her a boost of confidence to know that she can try something out, and just see what happens.

So have a think about what you could do – in a low risk way – to test out any career change ideas you have?

5. Be open to opportunities, and ask for help.

So my final tip is about reaching out to people – people who do interesting job, people who have tried something new, people who like the same things you do.

When you are changing career, people really do hold the key. Connecting with those who share your excitement about a topic, or people who can help you make the jump from A to B will be the difference between moving forward and staying stuck.

Search out people to have a chat with – drop them an email, connect on LinkedIn, ask them to share their thoughts with you. It can feel scary reaching out, especially when you are just exploring and testing ideas, but I’ve always found people to be more than happy to have a chat with people who are genuinely interested in them.

Why do I recommend talking to people rather than just googling?

Firstly life is always better when you connect with people!

Secondly, you will get a feeling from talking to someone as to whether this is going to be a good move for you – you can ask all the questions you need to, and really get to the nitty gritty, which no amount of googling will do. So that’s why I always recommend talking to as many people as possible when you are exploring your ideas.

Right now, we can’t do face to face coffees, but zoom chats will work just as well, even if we are all feeling a bit of zoom fatigue right now!

So there you have it – 5 top tips for kickstarting your career change during a pandemic.

What are you going to do first?

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