The 3 Golden Rules of a Career Change

If you want to make a career change, you may need to go a few steps beyond the basic career advice. I learned this first through personal experience and secondly through my work coaching hundreds of others who want to find work that’s right for them.

Prior to coaching, I was a business consultant in the financial services, retail and government sectors. On the surface, I had a good job in a big company, a mortgage and great prospects. Inside, however, I was deeply unfulfilled. Eventually, after working as a ventures consultant for social startup, I decided to put my experience to good use at Careershifters, which works to help others find more fulfilling jobs. Here are my three key approaches to finally making meaningful progress toward a career you love:

1. Don’t go it alone

A major career change can be a scary undertaking. I was petrified about stepping off the ladder I’d worked so hard to climb, away from the salary and status I was used to. I feared what my friends and family would think. And, because I was working most hours of the day, I simply couldn’t see the other opportunities that were available. I was my own biggest obstacle.

It was only when I started surrounding myself with others – colleagues who were also plotting their escape, coaches, and people in different circles – that things began to shift. They snapped me out of my fears, opened me up to new opportunities and kept me motivated.

It takes time, you’re never quite sure how it’s going to turn out, and there are many emotional ups and downs.  Your fears (particularly about failure and money) and your lack of knowledge about what else is out there are likely to be your biggest obstacles. And these obstacles are incredibly difficult to overcome on your own. So build a team around you. Start with friends and family, but cast your net much wider, too.

Seek out other people who are also looking to make a change. Choose supporters; avoid the naysayers. Find mentors who have done it themselves. Approach people in fields you’re interested in for help. Start hanging out with the people who know more than you about your chosen industry – they’ll lead you to more ideas and more connections. And find accountability buddies who can keep you on track.

2. Stop trying to figure it out

In the depths of my despair, I used to come home from work and go round in circles in my head trying to figure out what else I could do. Rather than helping, it just made me feel more and more despondent. It was only when I started to take small actions that things began to shift.

When you don’t know what else you want to do, it’s easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis. Making lists, racking your brains and searching more job sites isn’t likely to help. You’re smart, and you’ve probably spent a lot of time on this problem.

Take action in the real world. Join a new class, hang out in different places or shadow someone whose job you find interesting. As Seth Godin says: “Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide”. When you find an area of interest, run small experiments without leaving your current job to test whether it could work for you and reduce the risk of you making the shift.

3. Don’t look for jobs

As a career changer, you may be at an immediate disadvantage in the job market. Recruitment consultants aren’t likely to be able to help – as I discovered when they brought me more of the same kind of roles I was desperately trying to get out of.  Your CV, especially if it’s not targeted effectively to the new career area, won’t make it far against others with experience in the field; recruitment consultants are likely to want to place you in similar roles; and job sites may leave you wondering how you’re ever going to be suitable for what’s advertised.

Instead of looking for jobs, look for people. People are your best route to new opportunities. Not only is there is a huge hidden job market (an estimated 75% of jobs are never advertised), but connecting with people allows you to present yourself in a way that you can never do on paper. And this doesn’t have to mean going to networking events – start by looking at who you’ve already got in your community who might be able to point you in an interesting direction.

Which of these principles do you think could make the biggest impact in your search for fulfilling work?

About the Author:

Richard Alderson is fascinated by how we can shift our mindsets about what we believe is possible- and, through doing so, make more of a positive dent on the world.

He’s the founder and CEO of Careershifters, which is on a mission to help one million people move into more fulfilling work by 2020. With a belief that life is too short to be unfulfilled at work, it helps mid–career professionals with the tricky parts of making a career change: figuring out what they really want to do and overcoming their inevitable fears through workshops, courses, and coaching.

Previously, he’s founded/co-founded Journeys for Change (immersive journeys for leaders and career-changers in India & Brazil), UnLtd India (an award-winning incubator for social entrepreneurs), and Impact DNA (a profiling tool to help changemakers multiply their impact in the world).

He’s also been an environmental researcher, journalist, and monk’s assistant. When not working, he can be found scouring the world for hats, cocktails, and the perfect mango.



Tags: , , , , , ,

Related Posts

Today's post was written by a guest contributor. We invite our community members to share their experiences and ideas on how to find a job that makes a difference. Want to contribute? Email us here Please note: We do not accept submissions from writers at content farms. Thank you for your cooperation.
Celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week 2016! Ask Cynthia: How do I tell my family I want to leave my stable career?


  1. I encourage people to consider their personality type (Myers Briggs) when making a career change. Work temperament and preferences can often guide you to a perfect career.

    1. Thanks for your insights, Patricia. We’ve recommended MBTI resources to Idealist Careers readers in the past. Definitely seems to be a popular topic!

  2. Wow I really needed this. If you were not speaking directly to me. Your advised is taken wholeheartly. Many thanks..

    1. Great feedback- we are so pleased to hear that you have found this article helpful!

    • Garvin Reid
    • February 23, 2016

    This is so on point! Thank you for sharing.

    • Victoria M.
    • March 2, 2016

    This is exactly me! I went back to school to get a masters degree in global development (graduated several months ago). With no experience in the field and 258 applications later, the only interview I got was in a field I’m currently trying to get out of. Thanks very much for the article – I definitely needed the advice.

    1. Glad it was helpful!

Comments are closed.