How to plan a rewarding career path
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted all corners of our lives, not least of all careers. It’s been a time of reflection that has left some of us rethinking our career paths.
‘I’ve found that the pandemic has given people the breathing space to decide what they truly want from their careers. They’ve spent the time exploring themselves and their alternative options,’ says Alice Stapleton, an accredited career coach of 10+ years experience, who offers one-to-one coaching for those in their 20s and 30s who really want to change career, but aren’t sure where to start or what they want to do instead.
So it could be a great time to explore new horizons, if you can financially afford a period of time to decide what you want to do next.
‘Try not to feel pressured to find a new role straightaway if you don’t need to. It’s OK to take a break and give yourself time and space to think through your next steps,’ says Stapleton.
Stapleton suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- Thinking about all areas of your life, what do you do well without much effort? These are your natural talents.
- What do you enjoy doing, and why?
- What motivates or gives you energy?
- What do you value or think is most important in life?
- From your answers, what themes seem to emerge?
- What careers or roles might align well with these factors?
She then suggests:
- making a list of your transferable skills and the sectors you’re most interested in
- using your network to start having discussions with those working in these roles and industries, gathering their advice
- setting a deadline to make a decision. For example, give yourself three or six months to network and explore the market. Then make a decision on your route forward based on what you’ve collated and learnt over that time, and
- setting goals based on how you want things to look in three, six, nine, 12 months to help keep you on track and moving forward. Otherwise, there’s the temptation to over-think and keep waiting till you feel you have all the information you need, which never happens.
Look to high-performing and recovering sectors
Your desired industry or sector might be hard to break into at the moment due to the economic situation, but some are reporting higher recruitment levels than ever before – for example, technology companies (e-learning, online meeting platforms, apps), food, health and fitness, legal services, sustainability, the ‘experience’ industry, etc.
There are also industries that, while hit heavily by the pandemic, will start to grow rapidly once people are allowed to circulate freely and economies open – for instance, travel, tourism and hospitality, retail, sports and leisure, the arts and culture.
‘However, with so many recent redundancies, current applicants do tend to have directly relevant work and sector experience, making it harder for complete career changers to break into new industries at the moment. The pandemic definitely presents an opportunity to plan for what you want to do next; it might just take longer to make happen than it did before,’ says Stapleton.
Therefore, be strategic and patient with any new career trajectory, consider how you might build your target skills and experiences in areas on the way to your chosen company, sector or field.
Things to consider before making big changes
‘Big career changes can take time,’ says Stapleton. ‘Accept that it will happen slowly and incrementally. It’s unlikely you’ll stop one career on Friday and start a completely new one with the same salary on Monday. You might need to reduce your hours in one role, while building up experience in another, step sideways or backwards to start with. But you’ll end up somewhere much more fulfilling in the long run.
‘It can be helpful to have a financial buffer, along with support from friends and family too. If you really want to make a career change, be prepared to feel uncomfortable and uncertain, but safe in the knowledge that you can ride those waves and reap the benefits in the long run.’
Stapleton’s preparation tips and exercises
‘There are some great career and personality assessments online — Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Strengths Profile, CliftonStrengths, VIA Character Strengths, Prospects — which can help build your self-awareness around what careers and roles might suit you best,’ she recommends.
Ask yourself more questions to find and understand you core values. What’s your perfect weekend? Name one person you admire and why? What’s one thing couldn’t you live without? ‘These answers often hint at what you value in life,’ says Stapleton.
Then ask what gives you a sense of purpose and feels a worthwhile and meaningful use of your time? What careers or roles would give you the opportunity to live out these values, use your identified strengths and allow you to do what gives you purpose?
Then start to explore these areas first. Find out what people do in them and where you might fit in with your background.
‘The trick is to then test out some of these careers in some way. Rather than trying to figure it all out in your head, act it out, shadow someone, sign up to a short course on a related subject, volunteer, arrange a week’s work experience, etc. How does it feel immersing yourself in these options? Reflect on that learning and take it step by step from there,’ says Stapleton.
Author: Neil Johnson, journalist
This article was first published in Student Accountant in June 2021