How to make a confident career change

I know what it's like to be in a job that's just not right and you don't know what to do next. There's so much advice online and it's hard to know which to follow. That's why I've put together this guide on how to find direction in your career.

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I know what it's like to be in a job that's just not right and you don't know what to do next. There's so much advice online and it's hard to know which to follow. That's why I've put together this guide on how to find direction in your career.

Take the best career tests and psychometrics

You want to get clear about what you want and get matched to careers that excite you. And quickly. There are any number of career tests out there - from personality questionnaires to strengths tests, from interests tests to motivation and values questionnaires. The best ones will synthesise information only known to you into important insights. The best thing is they usually take less than half an hour. That’s when hundreds of data points match specific careers to your particular profile. You’ll be relieved to know they’ve come a long way since your school careers tests that relied on not redible forced choices between say neurosurgeon or game-keeper.

Sokanu will match you with a short list of your top jobs based upon your experience, personality, interests and achievements. Omnifolio looks at personality traits, key motivations, likely team-role & leadership styles and activity preferences. It has a useful feature to compare any job to your unique profile. Both use accurate data on real workers compiled by the US Government funded ONET. Awato is another career matching tool that uses a dynamic assessment method in order to dig deeper into your interests.

Whichever tests you opt for you’ll get the most out of these when you:

  • Ensure that you select valid and reliable tests that are fit for purpose
  • Don’t use a test that wasn’t designed for careers like many personality tests
  • Find someone experienced in the test to give you appropriate feedback and to create the opportunity to explore any apparent inconsistencies in the test results
  • Complement test results with other sources of information about you

Get clear about what you want to change in your job

You know what engages you, what gives you energy and what drains you. It’s your career. Your life. You already have all of that experience of work to know exactly what you want to change in your next career move.

Yet it's really hard making decisions when there is a lot of complexity to the constituents of a career that make it fulfilling. Is it just about those long hours you are working that ruined work or is it the work itself just doesn't engage you any more? Would it be enough to get away from your awful team or are the problem-solving, decision-making and creative activities in this role just not what you’re looking for?

We already know that the most accurate predictor of job satisfaction is you. Yet the established measures of job satisfaction don’t allow you to figure out exactly what you want to change at work.

That’s why we put together the Career Fulfillment Score - in five minutes, you can understand what you really want to change at work.

The nine career fulfillment factors based on 56 work studies show you want you most want to change. Get clear about what you want.

Identify the skills you want to use next

Everyone talks about how important transferable skills are. Ideally, your transferable skills are those that you’re good at and you enjoy. Of course you don’t need to enjoy them. You can get good at things you don’t enjoy, but you’ll be miserable.

You need to go beyond generalities like being good with people. Is it instructing, persuading, negotiation, service orientation or social perceptiveness? Then find matching jobs. Prioritise those skills that are more in-demand, specialist and technical. They're rare and valuable so your next career move will be easier.

Build on your current ideas and discover new, exciting career paths

There are so many great idea generation exercises. I'll focus on those that are career-orientated. A solid place to start are the career tests mentioned above that match your profile to a specific career. They save hours of research by shortlisting the best job opportunities across multiple factors.

The more information you have about the similar roles and industries to your current position, the more fertile your idea generation will be. Happily, O*NET OnLine has detailed job descriptions by role and industry that you can sort through quickly. You need to understand their categorisation of jobs by abilities, interests, knowledge, skills and work activities. Then:

  • Start out with the Related Detailed Work Activity (DWA) Search and Related Task Search, which will give list of jobs that are closely related to yours. You can select more or less in order to narrow or wide your search
  • Then you can move onto a related skills search
  • Try out the industry search when you’re likely to be interested in similar activities, products, or services
  • And browsing by career cluster containing occupations of similar, industries, skills, interests and, role
  • Look through the Job Families, groups of occupations based upon work performed, skills, education, training, and credentials

Identify and test out your best 2-3 opportunities quickly to be sure about the right path without any risk

Everyone wants to find the best opportunities they can but not give up the day job to do so. It's a huge leap of faith to jump right into something and there's always that's lurking doubt - what if it's the wrong thing and you're wasting your time. This is where the career design process comes into its own. You can be clear about the conditions that must hold true for you to commit to this particular path, then test these with the minimal time and hassle. Start with desk based research, go on to conduct informational interviews with experts and recruitment decision makers, and, finally try out the actual experience of being in that place through shadowing, internships and volunteering. Then you can make a confident decision.

The trick is to be expansive in your first idea generation. You must be ruthless to narrow down to 2-3 ideas so you can investigate them in-depth. In that way you will not lose momentum or get sidetracked by endless options.

Land your dream job

You have to be credible and likeable in order to get job offers. Always consider how you will be assessed from a recruiter's perspective and the best way to overcome application barriers such as career transitions. Then consider the support you need to create your perfect marketing materials (your CV/resume, LinkedIn profile and covering letter), and optimise your time across informational interviews, networking, CV/resume adapting, applications and interview prep.

Martin Underwood

Head of Career Strategy, Life Productions

Martin Underwood helps professionals make their next career move with an online, guided course at Before this, he made a successful career change to be Head of HR at one of the UK’s fastest growing companies. Here, he doubled the team and learnt what it takes to get hired. Qualified in psychometric career testing and career coaching, and Career Consultant to a top university, he has helped 1000s of people with their career. Before his career change, he graduated from Oxford University and was a criminal law barrister.