Can I change careers if I change my mind?

It’s not unusual to stay in the same career all your life. Nor is it unusual to change career direction either – maybe more than once!

Sometimes jobs don’t work out. Sometimes careers aren’t what we expected. And sometimes our lives can take a change of direction. Perhaps because we discover something more interesting along the way or things happen outside our control… like Covid-19.

It’s estimated(1) that today’s workers will have about nine jobs across a 50-year working life – including one major career change. So if you’re having doubts about being in the right career, don’t panic! It’s all about taking stock, refocusing, and getting yourself back on track in a job that brings you satisfaction. Read on to find out how…

Is this working?

Everyone has the occasional off day when work just doesn’t feel right. It can happen for all kinds of reasons – and it might have nothing to do with picking the wrong career path.

For example, your business could be going through a tough time. And this could be putting you and others under stress. Or you might have found yourself without the support you need from colleagues or managers. Or perhaps you feel like you’re not being given the opportunity to progress up the ladder?

Sometimes, though, things may feel difficult or unrewarding in more fundamental ways. And there’s no shame in realising you’re not in the right job. It can happen for all sorts of reasons:

  1. It’s hard to test drive a career. While research, work placements and even an interview can give you a lot of insight into a career you like the look of, the only way to be sure that it’s the right one for you is to actually do it… And that’s when you might realise it’s not for you.
  2. Things change. The way we work is evolving… Email and the internet didn’t really exist 25 years ago! Some jobs are disappearing, while others are changing to reflect new demands. Perhaps what first attracted you to a job is no longer a core part of the role. Or another career that was of less interest to you before, now looks more appealing because technology has changed it.
  3. People change. Most of us choose a career path in our late teens. So it’s not surprising that we might feel differently about it in our twenties and beyond. What you want from a job – and life – might change. Or you may need to react to changing circumstances, like becoming a parent.

 

If you’re having doubts about your career path or the route you’ve chosen, don’t worry. What’s important is that you do something positive about it. Many skills are transferable between jobs – even industries. And employers are often interested in people who have experience gained in other fields. Being a few years older isn’t a barrier to breaking into another career either.

I never thought I’d be accepted onto an apprenticeship in my 30s. So my tip to anyone considering an apprenticeship is, ‘just go for it’. Whether you’re young or older, it will be the best thing you do.

Kye, steel fixer apprentice

How to take the initiative

Sometimes things improve by themselves. But usually the best way to address a challenge in your work life is to seize the initiative. By showing ambition, confidence and – sometimes – taking a risk, it’s possible to get yourself into a better place.

To start, review where you are now:

1) Work out what’s wrong

Begin by trying to get the clearest idea possible of what’s not working for you. Think about how you feel. For example, perhaps you’re feeling unfulfilled or under-appreciated. Perhaps you just don’t enjoy the work.

Think about possible causes. Are you unhappy with your career path and where it’s leading? Are you working for a company that doesn’t inspire you with passion? Or has change been forced upon you due to external circumstances?

It may help to talk to trusted friends or take a few days off to reflect. If you’re attracted to a different career, do you know people you can ask to find out what it’s really like? If you suspect your particular job is the problem, would a more subtle change – such as going to another company or starting up on your own – make it better?

Now you’ve found the cause – or causes – of what’s wrong, think about how you move on from here…

2) How will you fix it?

If the problem is your job, you can look elsewhere. It never hurts to see what else is available in your industry.

But could you make things better by tackling what you don’t like within your workplace? Could you help to improve the business yourself? For example, by identifying an old paper-driven way of doing things and replacing it with a faster, digital process? Showing commitment to what you do – or responsibility in your role – can be rewarding. It can also get you noticed for the right reasons.

At the same time, you can show initiative by developing hard skills that will help you progress within the same, or a similar career. If you’re a multi-drop delivery driver, you could study for an HGV or PSV licence. Or train as a crane or forklift operator.

Remember: many things you can do to improve your job – such as learning new skills – will also help you get your next job. Developing skills like communication or problem solving will help you with practically any position – whatever stage of your career.

And if you want to move into a new industry…

3) How do you change careers?

If you’re looking for a new start, gain inspiration by searching job adverts that mention your existing skills and interests. Not sure what these are? Work through the checklist in our Next steps blog.

Also, take a look at the wide range of careers available on the National Careers Service and Start. If you see any job ads in the field you want to work in, take a look at what qualities employers look for in candidates. To see if they match with the skills and behaviours you already have.

Consider too whether there are any government support schemes that could help you into a new role – for instance, a traineeship, Kickstart Scheme or a free course through the National Careers Service’s Skills Toolkit.

4) Explore if a new career is for you

If you’ve found a new career path to pursue, spend time researching the minimum skills or qualifications you need to make the jump. The chances are you’ve already gained many valuable soft skills that will help you in a new career. So make sure you’re able to talk to employers confidently about your skill set. And you can explain how what you’ve learnt so far in your role can be applied to a new career path.

You probably lack some of the necessary hard skills – but this needn’t be a problem. Employers are often happy to train up the right person. You may even be able to qualify for an apprenticeship – they’re not just for school leavers!

Look on employers’ websites to see if they talk about the people and skills they’re after – and whether they offer apprenticeships. You may be able to get more advice or help if you contact an employer’s HR department. Or arrange to have a chat at a real or virtual jobs fair.

Find the relevant professional body for your chosen sector and see what they can tell you. Look around your LinkedIn contacts to find people working in the industry you’re interested in, and seek out their advice. See if any of them can arrange a job shadow for you to see first-hand what it’s like. Or maybe you could even volunteer in a related role first to find out whether it’s for you?

5) Gain the skills, make the leap!

In some cases, there’s no substitute for gaining additional skills. You may need to gain GCSE passes in English or Maths, for example. Or you may need to study for qualifications such as Level 2 Food Safety, or pass your driving test.

It might be tough to fit in getting new qualifications around your current commitments. But it shows employers that you’re keen and willing to learn. It also demonstrates adaptability – an attractive behaviour – and one that will stand you in good stead for dealing with any changes in life.

As you develop your skills, begin looking for specific jobs, apprenticeships or other opportunities to break into your new field. At an interview, be ready to explain positively why you’re changing career. And what strengths your past career give you. You might want to point to the soft skills you’ve developed in your current role too – and some of the behaviours you’ve demonstrated along the way.

“Work hard for what you want – and all good things come to those who wait” 

Mario Martins is a technical manager at Ainscough and worked on the HPC project. His career didn’t follow a linear path though – and it was only late in his 20s that he returned to his first love: engineering.

“I decided I wanted to be an engineer from Year 9 – when I met a civil engineer and he had all these exciting drawings and calculations on his desk. I was living in a small town in Portugal where my family were either fishermen or farmers. So when I saw an engineer, it was like meeting a rock star!

I applied to university and got in, but not to the degree I wanted. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but my option was for materials engineer. So I started this, but after two years I left due to personal circumstances. I started working for a pizza delivery company and then I became a manager. And then later on, I went to work at McDonald’s and became a manager. I did this for about six years.

It was only in 2000 – after I’d had a child – that I realised if I kept on doing what I was doing, I’d never become an engineer nor be a specialist in any field. So I decided to go back to university to study mechanical engineering.

I was studying, while working evenings at a bar. So I’d be home at 3-4am, then go to school the next day. In 2007, I got my degree and came to the UK to take up a job. In 2015, I began working with Ainscough and their heavy cranes team, and that’s how I got involved with the HPC project.

I think other kids could learn from my personal story – especially when they say, ‘I don’t have all the conditions to study, I have issues’. Everyone makes errors, but keep on focusing on what you want. And remember: there will always be challenges. Work hard for what you want – and all good things come to those who wait. That’s what I tell my son too!”

Useful links

Use the links below to find out more about the various alternative careers available, and discover the great apprenticeships and roles available at Hinkley Point C.