Surveys conducted over the past 12 months show that between 30% and 60% of people in the UK have thought about making changes to their careers a result of the pandemic.
That’s a lot of people who, trapped in their homes, have begun thinking about whether there’s more to life than what they are doing at the moment.
It seems stability can lull us into acceptance of the status quo, while chaos stimulates us to question what we’re doing and why.
This article looks at how you go about finding a new career.
But first, what is a career?
The broadest definition of career is simply a history of jobs someone has held. But I’d argue career means much more than that. It implies some sense of continuation, perhaps even progression.
Let’s compare the word career with some related terms, like gig, job and vocation. They all vary by the levels of flexibility and commitment (both for the individual as well as whoever they’re working for).
At one end of the spectrum you have:
Gig – short term, flexible, low commitment. Eg. freelance designer, delivery driver
At the other, you have:
Vocation – lifetime, rigid, high commitment. Eg. priest, doctor
In the middle are “job” and “career.” Job is closer to gig in terms of permanence and commitment, while career is closer to vocation.
But they aren’t simply different shades of grey. People may speak casually about their jobs, and make a clear distinction between themselves and their job.
But no one says: “It’s just a career.”
Career is intimately tied to your identity.
So why you might want to find a new one?
A looong time ago, I was an English teacher in Taiwan. It was fine as a job, but when I looked at those around me, I couldn’t see an appealing future for myself. Some people seemed to stick with it for many years, but it didn’t work for me as a career.
Basically, I had to choose: Cruise or Move.
The main point here is there doesn’t even have to be anything wrong with the current job. The problem is feeling uninspired about where you’re heading.
Some people don’t mind working unfulfilling jobs and get their satisfaction elsewhere. But if you have any amount of ambition, the lack of certainty about what comes next can be excruciating.
Yet switching careers is no small task. It means, potentially, taking a pay/authority cut. But it also means taking on a new identity.
Where to start: The LEVi Diagram
You might be tempted to start looking at interesting jobs in other functions/industries, so you can get an idea for what a different career might look like.
But my guess is, you’ve already been doing this for some time, and nothing’s changed.
So the place to start is yourself, and the LEVi Diagram.
It’s not named after the jeans maker, but rather the key elements that need to be included in your next career move. It stands for:
So get a piece of paper and write down EVERYTHING you can think of in each category.
This is needs to be a list of all the things you like. When you get busy, it can be hard to think of or remember everything you like, so here are categories of things you do that should bring you joy. See how many you can write for each one.
Tasks at work (be specific – there should be loads here)
Things you did before
Things you do in other seasons
Things you look forward to
Again, you’re looking for a comprehensive list. You don’t need to necessarily like the experience. Go through each category and list out as many as you can.
Job tasks (be specific – there should be loads here)
This could go back a long way. By all means have a look at your CV, but don’t be limited by it.
This one is a little more difficult, because it’s not about you anymore. This category is what the world finds valuable – in other words what it finds valuable enough to pay for. I suggest you do this off the top of your head first, and then do a little research to fill it out.
First think about what you’re experiencing first-hand – this is useful because it will give you an idea of the most practical things you could move into:
What jobs seem hot right now?
What are your friends doing?
What do you see around you?
Then you can think more broadly by doing a little research. Some places to start might be:
Don’t forget, you’re not looking for the “right” answer. Just broad trends that you might be able to capitalise on.
You should now have three lists of things you like, your experience, and what the world is finding valuable right now.
In the centre, you’re looking to combine these elements to create ideas for what you might want to do. You may find this easy, and the ideas flow. Or you may need to be more methodical, by taking something you like, combining it with your experience and seeing if there is any way to create value from it.
It’s a messy process, because there are overlaps, contradictions, different levels of looking at things (micro vs macro).
But again, you’re simply looking for ideas to explore.
Here's mine from a few years ago:
Narrowing your options
That was an exercise in divergent thinking. This means getting out of the rut of your normal thinking patterns to consider alternatives.
Now it’s time for assessment and narrowing down. In other words, convergent thinking. For each of your career ideas, write down:
What skills do you already possess?
What related skills could you adapt?
What is the outlook for this career?
How excited are you thinking about this career?
What is the gap do you need to bridge to take your career in this direction?
In my life, I have lots of ideas. Some of them I get to test out, and find out they’re rubbish. This stage of analysis is to try to help weed out the rubbish ideas before you go to the trouble of testing them out.
I was for many years in financial journalism. But as an industry, the prospects weren’t that great. So I was trying to figure out my next move. I came up with some ideas that looked like this:
You can see, technical writing is feasible, but uninspiring. Political risk analysis was more appealing, but a bit more of a stretch for me to transition into. Public relations was the most appealing option to me at the time.
Making a plan
The final step is to take action. Taking the above example further, I verified with friends and acquaintances that a move into public relations was feasible, but the job market was thin. Wafer thin.
So I networked like a banshee. I let as many relevant people as possible know I was on the market, and kept myself top of mind.
This process also helped me clarify, in an industry I was only just getting to know, what was important to these people, what language they used, and what I really wanted.
It took a while, but within three months, I’d got my first public relations job.
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