How to change your career

I have ‘changed career’ FOUR times in my life (so far). And successfully. You could say I am an expert at it! This article is going to explain exactly how I did it and provide you with the steps to take a career change for yourself. I have even included a handy infographic and check list (scroll down, take a look)! If you are feeling the itch, don’t feel guilty for wanting a change.  You don’t have to stick it out with the same career for the rest of your life!

Grand aspirations

At the age of 13 I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. By the time I had finished my degree (which I really did not enjoy), and completed the subsequent one year qualification it was ten years later and guess what? I didn’t want the same things as I did when I was 13 years old! Big surprise! It took me a long time to discover what I finally wanted to do, and still that changes every year.

My career change: lawyer to personal trainer

After trying to make it work as a lawyer, but hating every day of it, I made my first career switch. I went against every career expectation of me and decided to do a personal training diploma. I had zero experience of personal training, but health and fitness was my life. One day after quitting my job I was sat on the sofa at my mums house googling the top gyms in London. I saw a receptionist job going at The Third Space and immediately applied. By the end of the week I had been hired.

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The Third Space usually requires 5 years worth of experience before you can apply for a job as a personal trainer. I decided to get in through the back door. I did my shifts at reception and I got to know the trainers and clients. I worked through the modules and qualifications of my diploma, and let it be known that I wanted to be a personal trainer. Just over one year later (and a little bit of personal training at a not so great gym), I was being asked in for an interview at The Third Space for a personal training role.

My career change: ignoring critics

In one week I went from aspiring lawyer to a receptionist, earning about £900 per month. I supplemented this by doing a spinning qualification and running around London doing random spin classes. Did I feel like a boss? Was I immediately happy with the changes I had made? No. I knew I had made the right decision leaving law but this time in my life was hard. I had always done very well across the board at school, and there was very high expectations of me. Not least from myself.

When I met new people and they asked the inevitable question ‘what do you do?’ I found myself explaining that I was going to be a lawyer but recently decided to move into personal training. Friends and family quickly accepted my career change, whilst it was in fact myself that clung to the old image of me in my power suit, in the court room. I had no doubt that I would get the job I wanted, but I was also my biggest critic.

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My career change: personal trainer to public health practitioner

Six months into personal training and I was getting the itch again. I realised I loved the challenge of setting myself a goal, and crushing it! But once I had my ‘dream’ job I wasn’t so sure it was exactly what I wanted. Yes health was still important to me, but training wealthy business men and yummy mummies was not actually that fulfilling. I missed the academia of law. I was as impulsive as ever, quitting my job and taking up a researcher role at a client’s firm. It was during this interim period that a friend of mine told me about a Public Health Masters her boss had done. This seemed to be the perfect marriage between health and the academic life I craved. There was literally one day left to apply to the best university for this masters in London. I booked a meeting room during my work day and spent two hours filling out the application form.

My career change: How I got the job I wanted

I was admitted onto the course and started only one month later! I chose to do the masters part time whilst I worked. All of a sudden I was back to the same position of needing to find a job, and needing to find a job applicable to my new career choice. I did the same thing as I did back in 2011. I googled all the different places I thought would be great to work at and sent them an email. The Hackney Public Health team got back to me with an interview for an internship. It was unpaid but I knew a great opportunity. I got the placement and made the decision that I was going to become such a valuable member of the team that they would have to offer me a job.

One month and half in and I was interviewing for a Public Health Practitioner role. I ended up working across Hackney and the City of London Corporation. It was fantastic experience, and helped me transfer my masters work into real life situations. However, I was working full time and studying.

My career change: do not be a sheep

The head of Public Health at my university had made it clear that part time study does not mean half the time. It was hard work and we were expected to show for all our lectures and seminars. But as I said, I was working full time. I made the decision that for me, not attending classes was the best course of action. I literally did the whole two years studying solo. One module had to be done as part of a group, and I took unpaid leave for those six weeks. Otherwise I listened to the lectures online and did all my reading. I passed every single test, exam, essay, project and completed my dissertation.

Just because someone tells you that you NEED to do something, does not mean you NEED to do it!

My career change: Not quite happy yet!

I had been working successfully as a Public Health Practitioner for over a year. I was weeks away from getting my masters. But I had the itch – again! Whilst I loved the area of work, I didn’t love my work environment. I enjoy fast paced and dynamic work. Being in the public sector was a little too relaxed for me.

I decided to apply to private consultancies that worked within the health sector. Whilst I was working full time and preparing for my final exam I went through a four round interview process for a strategy role with a consultancy focused on improving health care in England. I won’t lie, I was exhausted and felt physically sick at times. I gave each task my all and one day after completing my final exam I was off to Rome, where I got the call saying I had the job.

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My top tips for successfully changing career

Check out my handy infographic at the bottom of my post, and my handy check list.

1. If you are unhappy delve deeper into the why

Each time I felt unsatisfied or unhappy in my current role I asked myself why. Was it the location, the commute, the people, the hours, the actual work? If you don’t know what exactly is wrong with your current situation then you can’t expect to successfully change it.

2. Decide what you want

Each time I made a change I was very clear on what I wanted to achieve by changing. Again, if you don’t know what it is you want, you can’t complain if you don’t get it! Make a list of all the things you want from your job and life. Nothing is too small or too outrageous. If you want five dogs, a private jet and the ability to work from Starbucks then write that all down. You may not get there in your first year but there is no reason you can’t get there eventually!

3. Do your research

You do not need to know the exact career you want to move into. It may be that you have a passion for something and don’t even know whether it can be made into a job. That is why you need to do your research. Here are a few research points to cover:

  • Does the job role exist
  • Are there people or companies you would love to work for
  • Are you skills transferable
  • Is another qualification necessary
  • Would you need to take a pay cut
  • Would you need to take unpaid work
  • What is the natural career progression of this new role
  • Do you know anyone you can contact about it

4. Be prepared to go backwards

As you can see from my own story, twice I had to move from a well paid role to a ‘lowly’, poorly paid role – or in fact unpaid role! Becoming a receptionist was hard for me. Financially I had support, but mentally it was tough when celebrities or titans of industry walked past the gym desk and treated me like I was nothing. I knew I had an end game, but every day I had to give myself a pep talk.

5. Plan out your goals

Whilst I am extremely impulsive I balance this out with being an extreme planner! I think risk is an integral part to success, but you also need to have an element of control. Plot out your estimated route from your current role to your dream role. Things do change, but if you know set stepping stones with actual deadlines you are making success far more likely.

Related: Why you need a goal planner and free goal planning workbook.

6. Work your butt off

What I realised is that every time I made my career change I had already accumulated skills and knowledge that people 5-10 years younger than me did not have. Therefore I was already ahead of them, despite coming to the game a little later. I coupled this with putting in the hours and talking with the right people. I made my intentions clear. As a receptionist and as an intern I let everyone know what job I wanted in the end. Then I showed them why I should have it. If people like you, and they see that you can do the job, guess what? They will give you the job!

7. Find the right fit

You could say that I only made one career move, from law to health. That once I was within the world of health I actually just had to find the right fit. Every year you change. Your wants change and your priorities. Allow that to influence what you want from your job role too. Keep looking. Keep the things that work for you and get rid of the things that don’t.

And I am not finished yet…

At the start of this article I said I had changed my career four times. If you have diligently read my post you will say ‘but Zoe I count only three changes’. Well now I am moving into the fourth change. But this is more a career addition. I am now working on establishing my own business, whilst also working as a strategist. I don’t believe you ever have to settle, or say no to your dreams.

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