Changing Career Answers

career answersLooking for career answers? This is where I respond to the career change questions you have posted.

Click the links below to read about each topic

Motivation | Money | Finding Clarity | Feeling Stuck | Using Maths Skills | Lack of Education | Change or Stay Put? | Work-Life Balance | Confidence | Too many ideas | Moving up to leadership | Changing to Market Research | Age Bias at Interview| More on Confidence| Finding your Passion| Fear of failure| What are you proud of?| Too old to be a tree surgeon?| Job loss at 61| MBA and can’t get a job| Switching to Market Research| Which Career?| Jobs without a degree

This page will be growing over time, so do keep coming back to see what has been added.

Clare from the UK asked about…

Finding the energy or motivation to make a radical change.

I have answered this point in the 1st July 2010 edition of the 5 Minute Career Coach. Click here to subscribe and read the answer.

How to deal with the need to earn money that can override the desire to take time to develop the parts of myself that I have neglected so far.

You will find lots of tips on the money issue elsewhere on this website. Just click here.

These issues are best tackled with a combination of practical steps together with a review of your underlying beliefs about money.

I also recommend you take a look at Michael Neill’s book, Money Made Fun. It is a great source of ideas and inspiration to help you overcome the ‘money issue’, which can often be a major (an sometimes imaginary) stumbling block for career changers.

And for a different approach, try Emma Jones new book, Working 5 to 9: How to Start a Successful Business in Your Spare Time. It is packed full of ideas to help you set up a small enterprise outside your normal working hours that will generate a bit of extra income. Could be just the escape fund you are looking for – or your ‘small enterprise’ could grow into a full scale business in time.

Bottom line? Life isn’t a rehearsal. If you know there are parts of you that you want to develop, start exploring now how you can do that. Whether this means revising your expenditure and starting to build your ‘escape fund’ now, so you can leave your job, signing up for a course or finding someone to discuss your development plans with – just get going. If you wait till next year you will just be a year older and no further on, so start now.

How to get some clarity about what is happening with my current job – ie am I going to be made redundant or not!

It is incredibly unsettling when you know there is the likelihood of redundancies in your company or organisation and you just don’t know when it will happen and whether you will be the next victim. You just feel helpless, waiting for the axe to fall.

Well, there is no perfect solution here, but a lot depends on whether you are actually looking to escape from the job anyway or would like to stay put if the job could be secured.

If you like the job, the best tactic is to keep positive and look for ways that you can prove your worth on the job. Make sure your anxiety does not demotivate you so that your performance deteriorates. If you continue to be a valuable employee you may be able to reduce the risk to your job.

If you don’t like the job, then (if you have some savings to tide you over) you can pre-empt the redundancy and resign, rather than waiting passively for it to happen. If you think the redundancy would be worthwhile financially, then wait to see what kind of deal you can get.

Either way, start planning now to put your career change into action. It puts you back in the driving seat, taking control of your life.

Vinita from India asked…

I have been working as a software engineer/developer since last 3 years in India. The work has become monotonous and I’m really looking for a career change but I’m stuck as I’m not very sure about the next job I should try for.

Start by looking at what you have done with your career so far. What skills, strengths and abilities have you developed from the various jobs you have done? What are the achievements you are proud of? What have you gained from your experience of work so far? Make a list of all these.

Then ask yourself what it is about your current work that you are finding monotonous. What is it that is causing you frustration? What would you rather be doing? If you could add some new elements to your job to make it more interesting, what would they be?

Then build up a picture of your ideal job that would allow you to use the skills and strengths you have already and that would incorporate the things that are missing from your current role.

You will find a lot of help on how to do this elsewhere on this website. Take a look at the Where Am I section and the Who Am I section to get you started.

Kendra asked…

I am an ESFP type. Currently I am a tax associate (accountant) working in a corporate accounting firm. I am really good with numbers, however, I have found myself not interested working in a competitive corporate environment. In fact, I would like to look for a position that I can have more interactions with people/clients in a friendly environment while I can utilize my maths skills. I found it really hard to identify my possible career options, is it possible that you could provide me with some ideas?

As an ESFP, I can imagine that a big corporate environment will not suit you very well, so what alternatives are there? I guess it depends on how you want the balance to work out between the maths and people elements of your job.

If you still want to have a lot of figure work, you could just look a to switching to a much smaller firm of accountants in a smaller town setting where you would be advising individual clients on managing their finances, making tax savings, dealing with finances for small business start ups etc. In this kind of setting you would be likely to get to know individual clients well and become a trusted adviser.

Another possibility would be to look at some kind of teaching – what age group would you be interested in? Inspiring you kids or teenagers, teaching undergrads advanced maths or helping adults who have never got to grips with basic maths? You could certainly do some of this kind of work on a voluntary basis to test the water before you abandon the corporate world.

Then again you could ask yourself how important the maths is to you. Are you a mathematician or a people person first and foremost? If the human interaction is more important to you, you need to ask yourself how do you want to be helping people? Take a look elsewhere on this website for a few more ideas of how you might work with people in different ways. Don’t tie yourself to the maths just because that is what you have done so far unless maths is really where your passion lies.

Finally, what do you want the legacy of your working life to be? Answering that question could give you a clue about the right direction to take.

Cynthia asked…

My biggest concern is lacking the education and/or experience to even get started. I’m part-way to a Bachelor’s degree but in the meantime kids have to be fed, college funds need to be built and the bills need to be paid. How much does a person really have to sacrifice to get a career change going? Is there any way to avoid having to start completely over again?

You mention your concern about lack of education to get started. Well, I guess it depends what you want to do. Sure, you need a degree for jobs like doctor or lawyer, but for many jobs, most employers are more impressed by a positive, can-do attitude than long lists of qualifications.

Career change does not have to involve stopping Career 1 on a Friday and starting a totally different Career 2 the next Monday. Many career changes are a sideways slide where you can carry on using the skills and experience you have in a new context. It may be a job change rather than a career change that is needed.

And actually you never start completely over again – because you will always take with you a wealth of life and work experience to any new field you move into so you will not enter it as a total newbie.

Sounds to me like you are already taking very bold and positive action by doing your Bachelors degree which will put you right up there above all those job applicants who have not shown a commitment to further study. And while you are not working, it is a great time to get out and talk to people about the field of work you are interested in and maybe doing some volunteering too.

Yes, networking – but not the sort where you have to go to a meeting and wear a suit. Look out for any women’s networking groups near you – women are always so supportive and encouraging – and mums at the school gate can be a fantastic resource too.

Just one small action every day is all it needs. And a commitment to keep on going. If you stumble, just take the lesson and move on.

Natalya from the USA asked…

Should I change my career or should I stick to what I already have and try to do my best? Will it get better with time, once I will learn my field very-very well? How will I find the certainty that that particular field/ career is for me?

To change career or not to change career – that is the question many of us wrestle with and not an easy one to answer. I guess any response will always begin with ‘it depends…’

I guess you need to weigh up how bad the situation is that you now find yourself in on the one hand with the prospects of you being able to make a difference to the situation through your own efforts on the other.

What exactly is it that you are finding challenging and frustrating at the moment? Is it connected with your lack of skills and experience in the field, or is it more to do with the colleagues and clients you are dealing with or the general culture of the organisation you are working for?

If you feel there is scope for you to get more out of the job as you learn more and take on more responsibility and that the opportunities are there for you to do this, then maybe there is some mileage in staying.

Can you ever be truly certain that a career – your present one or a future dream – is right for you? Probably never 100% because that would imply that both you and a career area are fixed entities. In reality, you will change and develop and may well outgrow a job that was a good fit for you at 25, but that feels boring and uninspiring to you at 35.

Jobs themselves are in constant flux these days too. This can be a good thing if it prevents you from getting stuck in the same routine as new responsibilities are added to your role. On the other hand, after a year or so you might find the job you are doing bears little resemblance to the role you originally applied for – and that it has moved in the opposite direction from you.

Bottom line? The fit between you and your job is likely to be shifting all the time. You need to stay in the driving seat and make sure that you are constantly checking whether the job you have is allowing you to use your natural skills and strengths and is also in line with your own deeply held values. If not, then it is probably time to consider a move.

Whatever happens, you do not want to reach the end of your working life thinking ‘if only…’

Spiwe from South Africa asked…

How do I find a career that I enjoy and also include work balance life at the age of 37 years?

There are a number of questions hidden in this one – finding work you enjoy, finding work/life balance and career change at 37.

Finding work you enjoy requires you to identify what it is that you love doing first, so think about the occasions – at work and outside of work – when you have been so absorbed that you didn’t notice time passing. What were you doing? Or maybe look at the aspects of your job when you have felt really proud of what you have achieved. This may not be a Big Achievement in the eyes of the world, but it should be something you personally felt proud of.

Finding work/life balance again means you have to define what that means for you. I guess it means you feel work and life are out of balance at the moment, so what would ‘in balance’ look like? And remember that this question implies that work and life occupy separate compartments. Does this have to be so? For people who love the work they do, there is not clear cut divide and being at work is where a lot of the fun times in their life happen.

Career change at 37? Are you saying you feel too old to change? Where does that idea come from? If you didn’t know how old you are – and nobody else did either – then what would be possible for you?

There are many people who change career at a later age than 37 and many whose whole working life is a process of constant change. You have gained a lot of valuable experience by now, so use this as a positive sales strategy. You might also like to take a look at my article on Midlife Career Change for some more ideas.


Linda from the UK asked…

I would like to be a chemistry teacher. I have enjoyed the school observation sessions and find the environment stimulating to work in. My concern is my confidence is low in my current role and I worry about being effective enough as a teacher and maintaining behaviour. I need to work on my confidence – its only this role that eroded it, I had some before.

It sounds like you are already doing some useful research into teaching by arranging a school observation and that has obviously inspired you rather than put you off. I assume you have found out about teacher training options too? If not take a look here: Department for Education: Get Into Teaching and here: Prospects website

So the challenge for you is more to do with building your confidence. Confidence with managing a classroom will be a big part of your teacher training as I am pretty sure all trainee teachers have fears about this issue. I think if you spoke to some recently qualified teachers, they would be able to tell you about how the training helped them and also how they have dealt with real classroom situations since they started. You obviously have some contacts in schools, so get back in touch and ask if you can arrange a short chat with one of their new recruits after school hours.

There is also information on the internet that may help, eg.Teaching Ideas

You say you have been confident in the past so you know you can do it. You need to tap into the way you felt back then, so when thinking about yourself as a teacher, ask yourself what strategies you would have used when you were in that confident place.

Just remember that confidence is a skill that you will learn as your skills as a teacher grow. Think about the reasons that make you want to be a teacher and use those as a guiding light to help you over the initial stages when you have a lot to learn.

Teaching is such a rewarding career and if you are drawn to help others have a positive experience of education, then don’t let a few bumpy stretches in the road ahead put you off becoming an inspiration to future generations.


Elana from Canada asked…

I definitely require a career change, for personal and financial reasons, but have no idea where to start. I’ve read all kinds of books, even attended career workshops but the answer to ‘what should I do ?’ is never clear either because some career paths are financially challenging or interfere with my lifestyle (single parent)….I am willing to break barriers but not at the expense of my family’s sanity. As a person with many interests and passions it is not clear cut…How can I break it down (my talents, skills, passions, strengths) into a clear career goal? What I need most is confidence and support.

You clearly have wide ranging interests and are reluctant to be pinned down to one thing, so you may be one of those people who Barbara Sher has called ‘Scanners’. Here’s how she describes them. Does this sound like you?

If you are struggling to come up with a single, clear cut career, then don’t try. The idea of one perfect career waiting to be discovered does not work for everyone. You may need to look for a way of working that allows you to use a range of skills, strengths and interests in different parts of your working week – a portfolio career in other words. Break free of the idea that you can only do one thing at a time.

Make a list of all the different jobs you’d like to do if you could live your life over several times, then prioritise them according to how achievable they are in the short term. This gives you a focus for this year, but you keep the other ideas in mind and aim to integrate them next year or the year after. And remember that there may be things you can start on a part-time basis as a small, working from home enterprise. Take a look at And What Do You Do? 10 Steps To Creating A Portfolio Career by Katie Ledger and Barrie Hopson to get you started.

You say ‘I am willing to break barriers, but not at the expense of my family’s sanity’. So who decides what will be OK for your family and what will be a step too far? Depending on the age of your kids, this is something you can and should be discussing openly with them. If you are frustrated with your current role, that will quite possibly be affecting them adversely and a change in your work could result in you being a nicer Mom to have around the place!

Finally, I agree that support is an essential element in making a successful career change. So as well as getting the support of your kids, find someone outside who will encourage and push you. This could be someone who also wants to change career so you can be a support to each other. You can read more information about co-coaching here.

So what small step will you take tomorrow to begin to make your career change really happen? It will only happen if you take that first step.


Mark from the US wrote…

Cherry, I love your site, very encouraging and uplifting. I am an ENTJ, lots of personality, hard working…. I’ve been working for 30 years as an engineer, my natural next step is a significant leadership position. How do I get someone to let me run their business?

Many thanks for your kind words about my website, Mark. It is great to hear that the work I have put into creating it is bearing fruit in the encouragement my visitors get from it. Maybe it’s worth a cup of coffee? 😉

My guess is that as an engineer with 30 years experience, you will already have lots of experience as a leader. Engineering projects are carried out by teams and I am sure that in carrying out your day-to-day work, you have had to plan, organise, meet deadlines, negotiate deals, respond strategically, deal with crises, inspire and motivate others etc. etc.. The list will be a long one.

Your first step needs to be to get really clear about just what you have achieved at work and list the skills and expertise you have gained along the way. I suggest that you ask for feedback from half a dozen colleagues. Ask them what they see as your particular strengths, qualities and achievements. It is often a pleasant surprise to hear how well regarded you are and to realise what others appreciate in you.

Once you have a clearer picture of the value and range of what you are ‘selling’ it will be easier to promote yourself to others.

You may have already read the summary of the ENTJ type on my website, but it would be worth taking another look. ENTJs are natural leaders and you may have taken on a leadership role without really thinking about it.

The potential weak spot for your type as a leader is the matter of ‘winning hearts and minds’. Here’s a reminder of some of the traps you may have stumbled into from time to time.

  • May be too task and strategy orientated and overlook the needs of people
  • Your ‘big picture’ may be lacking in practical detail
  • Can come across as impatient, intolerant and domineering
  • Want to get on and may fail to win hearts and minds before acting
  • Impatient with detail
  • Do not tolerate inefficiency well
  • May forget to praise and encourage others

Is it possible that some of these may have held you back when applying for more senior roles?

At the end of the day, ‘getting someone to let me run their business’, whether it is a large company or a small one, will involve you in using your persuasive skills to win through. They will be impressed by your experience and knowledge, but you have to convince them at a more personal level too.

And of course, if you really have a big vision that you want to head up, then there is always the option of setting up your own business. There is no doubt that you will have a lot to offer and when it is your own company, then you will have the satisfaction of knowing that all your efforts have a direct impact on the success of your enterprise.

Corrine from Malaysia asked…

I am an INTP who studied marketing and went into a Marketing career over 12 years ago. I am contemplating a career switch now and am interested in Marketing Research. I would like to know if MR is right for me?

I wonder what it is that is prompting your desire to switch career right now? What is it about your current role in marketing that you are bored with or that you find difficult? If you start by analysing the good and bad of your current role it will help you critically assess a new role and decide if it is right for you.

Will market research give you what is missing in your Marketing job?

Here are a couple of great resources on market research for you to take a look at:

The Prospects website has a profile for market researcher with details of what the role involves, entry requirements, training and career development.

Market Researcher Profile

And here’s a really interesting interview with a Market Researcher talking all about his job.

Interview with Market Researcher

How do you respond to the information you have read and listened to? Does it make you feel interested and enthusiastic? Does it sound like you would feel at home doing this kind of work?

Given your MBTI type, will it allow you enough quiet time to work on your own and opportunities to problem solve and come up with new ideas? Will you be able to use analytical skills to make logical and rational decisions and will you not to too pinned down to a rigid structure?

It seems to me that INTP could be a good match, though it depends on the kind of market research you end up doing. You may spend quite a lot of time designing research and analysing the data you collect, which may sit comfortably with your I, N and T preferences. However, if you have a strong P preference you could find that that some of the work is a bit too structured for you.

Why not use your own professional contacts as a Marketing specialist to contact some Market Researchers and chat to them informally over a coffee to get more inside information? Take a look at the section on Informational Interviewing on this website for some ideas about what you could ask.

At the end of the day, only you can judge of whether Market Research will be right for you. Use what you know about yourself – especially from your personality profile, but also from an assessment of your skills, interests and values – to critically evaluate the detail of the new role and work out if there are enough good matches to enable you to find job satisfaction.

Ben from the US asked…

I am 57 years old and until lately have never had a job interview that I did not land the job. I feel there is a real bias against mature workers. Do you have any special counsel for mature workers who may face this bias? I’m thinking of using my education and career experience to start a business. I would really appreciate a coach through this uncharted territory.

Although there is legislation in place in many countries which is meant to prevent discrimination on the grounds of age, there is no doubt that is can still rear its ugly head from time to time. So what do you do about it?

First of all, remember that you would not be offered an interview if they thought you were a no hoper. They obviously like what you have told them on your resume so go in with a positive attitude, believing that they already like you, and that not only can you do the job, but you can also convince others of the value of the experience you will bring. The way you feel about your chances makes a big difference in how you come across.

By way of preparation, think about some of the (possibly negative) assumptions that they may be making and prepare ways of countering these. So you need to be able to show that you are up to date with the latest in IT and other online technologies; you are able to be flexible and adaptable and able to cope in a rapidly changing work environment; you are familiar with working in teams with younger people and have no difficulty in accepting direction from a manager who may be younger than you.

It is also worth stressing your willingness to learn and constantly update your skills – what evidence can you put on the table to demonstrate this?

The plus side of taking on more mature workers is their stability and reliability – something which is not always guaranteed with recent graduates. In addition you can emphasise the benefits that come from your wealth of experience. For example, your ability to make considered decisions based on sound judgement and the people skills which will enable you to build strong working relationships and to handle client relationships diplomatically.

You may find you are asked directly about how you will cope in a young team. Be careful not to get defensive, but stress the benefits of your experience of the world of work in enabling you to deal confidently with any situation you are presented with.

Starting a business
In terms of starting a business, this is an option many people consider at this stage in life. I agree that a coach would be helpful for you in getting you to think carefully about your business before you start and then encouraging you as you build and grow. There are many issues for you to consider such as:

  • What is your product/service?
  • What is your unique take on this product or service?
  • Who will you sell it to?
  • What is the best business model for your idea?
  • What is your business plan for the first 5 years?
  • How will you finance your business?
  • How will you market it?
  • What legal issues do you need to be aware of?
  • etc…

A specialist business coach will help you create plan and set goals and above all, will keep you motivated so that you keep going even when the going is tough. As you are US based, Ben, I think you really need a US based coach to help with this. I have posted a message on one of my online forums asking for recommendations and I will pass any suggestions on to you directly.

Jacqui from the UK said…

I think that I lack the confidence to do what I really want to.

Two things jump out at me immediately here.

First of all, you talk about being unsure that you have the confidence to do what you really want. This suggests to me that you already know what you want to do in terms of a career change – it just feels like too big a stretch for you at the moment. So focus your attention on what you want rather than on the lack of confidence. What is your dream? What do you really want to do? If you had a magic confidence pill you could take, what would you do after you had taken it? Allow yourself to explore your dream.

Try another perspective. Imagine that a good friend came to you asking for help with achieving the same career goal – what would be the first steps she would need to take? What information would she need to gather? What additional training might she need? Who could she talk to who already does that job so she could get an insight into what is involved?

Or is it that you find it hard to ‘give yourself permission’ to do what you really want? What are the underlying beliefs that are stopping you? Have you got an unspoken ‘rule’ in your head that says work should be hard, that you can never earn a living doing what you love or that somehow you are not good enough or don’t deserve to do what you want? If this is the case then it is time to challenge those ‘rules’. Where do they come from? Who gave you the rules? Are they true and valid in your current situation? What more helpful thoughts and beliefs could you adopt instead? Take a look at this article on overcoming self doubt for more tips on this.

Secondly, you say you think you lack the confidence. In other words, you are not absolutely certain that you do not have the confidence and that means that there is the possibility that you do have the confidence. So if you were more confident about your career, what would you be doing and saying? What would people notice about your behaviour that was different? Build up a picture of the ‘confident you’ then you can begin to practise some of those confident behaviours.

Confidence is definitely something you can learn and the more often you try out the positive thoughts and behaviours the more your confidence will grow. Just build up slowly, doing small things to stretch yourself and gradually you will find you have the courage to do more.

If you want to access more help on confidence issues, then take a look at the Confidence World Website. It is a great resource of materials on confidence building and they offer a free 21 day ecourse too.

Blossom from Lesotho said…

How do I know my passion in particular area?

How do you know your passion? I guess there are many ways you can explore this question. Here are a few to try.

If money were no object and you could spend your time doing whatever you wanted, what would it be? You might initially think you would just relax and do nothing, but you’d be bored after a few weeks or months, so then what would you do? What kind of activities would you choose to give your time to?

If you could look back on your life and work from a great age, what do you want to be looking back on? What would make you feel proud? I don’t mean what would impress others – what would be important to you? What impact would you like to have in the world?

Thinking of your life up to now, when have you been so engrossed in something that time passed without you noticing?. This may have happened at work or it may have occurred in other parts of your life. What were you doing that captured your attention so completely?

Imagine you have been given a hour of prime time television and all the resources you need to make a programme to show in that time, (including any presenters you’d like to host the show if you prefer to have a behind the scenes role, what message would you share with the world? What stories would you tell to help inspire others, to make the world a better place?

If you could fast forward into the future and write a letter to yourself as you are now, what advice would you give? Where would you say that you should be focussing your attention? What are the natural strengths and talents you should be developing? What potential lies within that is waiting to be given to the world?

And don’t forget to ask others too. We are so quick to put ourselves down, to fail to see the gifts we use so naturally that they don’t feel so special. But other people will recognise them. Ask for feedback, ask your friends and family what is special about you and really listen to the answers. What does this say about where your natural passion shines through?

If you want more help in discovering your passion, then I really recommend that you read Nick Williams’ book The Work We Were Born To Do and if you want a regular dose of encouragement to help you find your passion, then join the Inspired Entrepreneur’s Club and get instant free access to 26 inspiring talks from speakers at the Club. I go along to the IE Club meetings regularly and can personally vouch for how good they are. But you don’t need to be in the UK to benefit. Silver level Club membership is designed for members outside the UK and you can get one month’s trial membership of the Club for only £1. Too good to miss!

Gila from Israel wrote…

After working as an academic secretary at a university in Israel, I took early retirement at age 55 after realizing I could no longer sit in front of a computer all day. My hobby is also an exercise instructor, but unstable work. So after a few bad experiences I am afraid to go back working in administrative and my age is a factor. I am afraid of failing and either try too hard and don’t know what expectations people have of me. How can I get my confidence back?? If someone believes in my abilities and encourages me I could change careers. The most important thing for me is working with people I can trust, who are supportive, and friendly. Money is the second issue, and doing something interesting working with people.

First of all I would like to say how much I admire your courage in walking away from a job you were stuck in for so long. It can take a lot to not just face up to the reality that your job is doing you harm, but to actually act on it too. There are many people who would love to share a bit of your bravery.

Your question and comments raise many issues so let me address some of them here:

Regaining your confidence after a knock back
Nobody likes it when things go wrong, and you can guarantee that this will happen from time to time in life. But what really matters is how you deal with it. It is important to look objectively at what happened and to assess where the responsibility lies for things not working out.

It is all too easy to feel it is all down to you, but in reality there are often many other factors involved which were outside your control. Make sure you are not carrying the blame for these things.

And always take some time to review what you can learn from your experience and how that can take you forward, rather than dwelling endlessly on what was wrong or bad about the situation.

‘…someone believes in my abilities and encourages me…’
I agree that this is so valuable and so the first step is to find someone who can play that part for you. It may not be a family member or friend – sometimes they are too close.

Think of someone who you know and respect and ask them if they would be willing to be your mentor. If appropriate agree to support them in return. You can read more about how this would work elsewhere on this website.

Having said that, it is important that you do not completely depend on others to validate your achievements. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to list anything you have done that you are pleased with – even if it is just chatting with a neighbour and asking after her family. Learn to assess your own strengths and be proud of what you know you have done well.

‘doing something interesting working with people’
Wanting to do something interesting is a common desire for career changers and it of course begs the question ‘so what do you find interesting?’

Yes, your work is allowed to be interesting, so you need to ask yourself what it is that really holds your attention. What activities do you get absorbed in so that time passes you by? Click here to find some more questions to help you pin down your interests.

And you want to work with people – who in particular? What are the issues you are working with them on? What relationship do you want to have with them? A sales assistant and a counsellor both work with people, but in a very different way.

‘I am afraid of failing…’
That’s only natural. Being afraid of failure makes you very human, so relax! Start by thinking about what outcome you are afraid of and then you can assess how likely that outcome really is.

So often we are afraid of things that are pretty unlikely. Do you stay at home everyday because you might be involved in a car crash if you venture out? No – you keep that fear in perspective. Apply that same logic to other fears in your life.

There are many underlying limiting beliefs that may be holding you back and this is probably where you need to start. Take a look at what I have written about limiting beliefs elsewhere on this website.

Angela from the US asked…

What do I need to put for my answer for this question. What have you done in your career or career building activities that you most proud of?

I assume this question has come up on a job application although it is a useful question for any career changer to ask themselves.

Are you a job seeker?
As far as a job application is concerned, it is important to think about what the recruiter is looking for. Job applications are all about showing that you meet the needs of the employer so everything you say about yourself should be written with their needs in the front of your mind.

So if they are looking for someone with good customer service skills, then you could talk about how proud you were to give excellent service to clients in a previous job. Give an example of a situation that led to a very happy customer.

Similarly if they are looking for a methodical approach and attention to detail, find an example of where you demonstrated this and explain that you were pleased with your efforts and perhaps were praised by your boss for your work.

By all means stop and think about the moments that you took a personal pride in. Maybe you kept the peace between two difficult staff members or you took on extra work above your level when someone was off sick unexpectedly. If you start with personal ‘proud moments’, make sure you relate them back to the job description of the role you are applying for.

Are you changing career?
For career changers, this question can throw light on what really matters to you at work. Were you proud of yourself when you pushed yourself to go for a promotion, or perhaps when you rejected a promotion because you knew it was just not right for you? Maybe you achieved a high status and salary, but the things that you actually took pride in were more to do with acquiring new skills or training junior staff.

This is a great question for revealing what your priorities and values are. Recruiters will want staff whose priorities align with their own. Career changers will want to be sure that new career ideas they are considering will align with their own values.

If you’d like some prompts to help you think about what has made you proud at work, take a look at the list of personal core values here.

Ronnie from the UK asked…

Is thirty five too old to be a tree surgeon?

The short answer to your question, Ronnie is no, you are not too old to train to become a tree surgeon. Then I guess I would want to add a longer response that would begin with ‘it depends’.

How much research have you done?
I wonder how much research you have done already about this career area? In particular, have you been in touch with people who already work as tree surgeons and asked them what the job involves on a day-to-day basis. Even better, have you spent time with them out on the job to get an idea of what the work is really like, not just on a lovely day in the summer, but also when it is cold, wet and windy.

Aboriculture or tree surgery is a job that demands a high level of fitness and stamina and a willingness to work outdoors in all kinds of weather. And it goes without saying that you need a good head for heights. Given the kinds of tools you would be using, it is also potentially a dangerous job where you need to be constantly thinking about the safety aspects of everything you do. In fact the Health & Safety Executive said that tree surgery is the most dangerous job in the UK!

You can train on the job if you can find a company that will take you on as a trainee. Expect that you will be working on the ground to start off with, clearing up and shredding what someone else has cut. They won’t let you loose up a tree with a chainsaw for quite some time!

Alternatively you can take a recognised training course at a College of Agriculture such as Hadlow in Kent. But don’t assume that completing the course will mean you can set up in business and earn a living immediately. You will need to add experience to your qualifications and this takes time.

In summary…
Given the constraints discussed above, tree surgery is generally a younger person’s job, but if you are fit and healthy, love the outdoors in all kinds of weather, and have done plenty of research including working in the field with current arboriculturists, then there is no reason why you should not give it a go. Be honest with yourself about your physical fitness and consider the longer term prospects too. Will you still want to be climbing trees with a chain saw at 45 or 55? If not, what will you move on to at that stage?

Take a look at these links which give you much more information.


Donna from the US asked…

I am 61 years old. I have to work. I’ve been at the same company for 21 years, no retirement but great flexibility which I needed while raising children & now at my age for caring for disabled husband. The company is going broke & very soon I won’t have a job to go to. How does a 60 something gal find a new job? I am the office manager. What would help?

It must be a real shock to find you will be without a job after 21 years with the same company – like the carpet is being whipped out from under your feet. So it is not surprising if you are feeling a bit vulnerable.

However, it is important to look at the positives you can bring to this situation rather than just see it as a black hole you are about to fall into.

So you have been an office manager for 21 years? My immediate reaction is that you will, without doubt, have collected a wide range of invaluable skills and experience over that time. What you need to do is to brainstorm all that you have to offer so that you can present it in a positive way to potential employers.

Here are just a few of the skills & qualities you will probably be able to offer:

  • Administration (and that covers many different things)
  • Attention to detail
  • Business awareness
  • Budgeting
  • Commitment
  • Common sense
  • Communicating effectively
  • Co-operating with others
  • Co-ordinating work flow
  • Coping with pressure
  • Customer care
  • Delegating
  • Flexibility
  • Implementing management decisions
  • Influencing others
  • Investigating what needs to be done
  • Leadership
  • Managing change
  • Maturity
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Memorising details
  • Motivating others
  • Multi-tasking
  • Organising people/events/processes
  • Planning work
  • Presenting work in written and/or verbal format
  • Problem solving
  • Rapport building
  • Recruiting staff
  • Reliability
  • Self starter
  • Taking responsibility
  • Team work
  • Training staff

I would be surprised if you can’t claim the majority of these, so yes, you have so much to offer! Be proud of that and be ready to sell it when you are talking to recruiters.

You’ll find more tips on assessing your skills here.

You mention your age and technological skills as particular challenges you face. Well, I would make sure that your age does not appear on any applications so it is not an issue when employers are making their initial selection.

And as far as technological skills are concerned, it is never too late to learn. Seek out someone who knows their way round a computer and get them to teach you, in small steps. It is not difficult, just a matter of familiarity and practice. So start now. Commit to learning one new thing a day or a week and your skill level will grow quickly.

It is all about mindset
Bottom line – you need to cultivate the mindset that you are very employable (and I have no doubt that you are). If you don’t believe this then it will be difficult for you to persuade employers.

You may find that some of the ideas in my article on career change in midlife are relevant to you too. A lot of it is about really valuing what you have got.

David from the US asked…

I am a 37-year-old male with an MBA and have been unsuccessful at transitioning my career focus. I am what many call a “generalist”, with an assorted background of customer service, accounting, finance, PR, auditing, and medical office management. I would like to put my MBA “to use” and am interested in consulting or marketing, however I have found it nearly impossible to obtain an entry-level management position. I search listings daily, volunteer with several business organizations, and regularly network at events. I believe my age may be a disadvantage, so how can I get my foot in the door in a new function? I do not want to go back to accounting or finance.

I would like to know how I can just get a “bite on my fishing line” where a respectable employer will let me into a new function and provide training so that I can start utilizing my real potential. Please help.

It must be incredibly frustrating for you to have put the time and effort into getting an MBA and then finding you are still stuck on the threshold of the new career you are seeking. What was your objective when you took the MBA? Did you see it as an automatic passport into a management role? In truth, this is not often the case. Your MBA is the cherry on top of the cake of who you already are and what you already have to offer.

I wonder if the crux of the matter lies in your last sentence. ‘…where a respectable employer will let me into a new function and provide training so that I can start utilizing my real potential.’ This sounds to me as if you may be waiting for an employer to take a gamble with you, to recruit you on the basis that you will need more training to enable you to work at your best. So you are going to cost them money before you can deliver anything useful…? Hmmm, not a very enticing prospect.

You need to sell yourself
Remember that job search is a selling exercise and you are the product. You wouldn’t sell a car by telling your prospects that it has some nice features and if they are willing to do some work on it, it could be a great little runner, would you?

I think when you approach potential employers either through a formal job application or through informal networking, you really need to emphasise what you can already do. You have got years of varied work experience and a high level academic qualification so you will have lots of skills and knowledge to sell. You need to give the impression that you are ready to hit the ground running and that your skills and experience are relevant to the recruiter’s needs. Any hint at further training needs should be kept low key or left out altogether. Basically any employer wants to take someone on who will be competent to just dive in and get on with the job.

Believe in yourself
My guess is that you need to really work on building up a strong picture of what you have got to offer already and really believing in what you can do. Do you believe you will be a good manager? OK, so you need to share that belief. Take a look at the exercises in the Who Am I section of the How To Change Careers website for some ideas.

Yes, age may be an issue, but if you assume it will hold you back then it will. 37 is not old but it does mean you have a mature understanding of the workplace which a 24 year old will not have. Sell your age as a positive rather than see it as a millstone. And you talk about being a generalist almost apologetically. A generalist background can be a fantastic foundation for a management role as you will really understand what your staff are experiencing in their roles.

So your mission, (if you choose to accept it!) is to focus on selling who you are and what you can offer in a strong and positive light and this will make you a much more convincing prospect for any potential recruiter.

Pamela from India asked…

I am a computer science engineering graduate and have been working in an investment bank as an application developer for a year now. Somehow, I don’t find coding interesting enough. Plus, I don’t think coding comes naturally to me. I have never felt like learning a programming language. Instead I would love to work as a market research analyst, but I don’t have an MBA degree. Is it necessary to get one in order to get into marketing research?

Good for you for acknowledging that you have not made the best choice with your first career move after Uni. It is quite hard to put your hand up and admit you have made a mistake, but it is, of course, the first step to putting it right!

So what is it that appeals to you about market research? You know what is wrong about your current role, but what is different about you new choice and what makes you think that this would be a better match for you? It is an area of work where you will need a combination of people skills, organisational skills, research & statistical data analysis skills and a good eye for detail. What evidence can you come up with that you can fulfil these aspects of the role and that you will find these satisfying?

In terms of entry qualifications, generally speaking I would not expect an MBA to be a necessary entry requirement for a market research role, but do check the local market situation. What is typical for market research companies in India? However, you may want to look as a specialist Masters course in Market Research as a stepping stone as this would be a great way of building up your understanding of psychology, statistics and research methodologies.

Best next step is to take a look at the following websites for more information:

Prospects – Market Researcher Job Profile

Market Research Society – Careers

Find out more about what professional organisations exist for market research in India and go along to any events and training days you can. Talk to people there about their work, network and ask about the possibility of work shadowing or work experience so you can dip your toe in the water before you commit.

Also research the key employers in this sector and again make contact to ask about work shadowing. Start out asking for nothing more than a brief chat so you can gather information about your new career plans. If you just ask for a small fovour, 15 minutes of their time, for example, you are more likely to get a yes. See the information on How To Change Careers on informational interviewing.

Good luck with your career change. Do keep browsing round the How To Change Careers website – you’ll find lots of information and advice there to help you achieve career change success.

Victoria from the US asked…

I have about four different careers I think I would like to go into but I’m not sure which one to pursue! Physiotherapy (I have a place on an MSc course); marketing; chartered surveyor; graphic/interior design. Can you give me some guidance and reassurance that I’m doing the right thing?

How to choose between different careers? That is a great question and one that I have seen many clients struggle with.

The most important thing you need when making any decision is information about the key elements involved. In the case of your career those elements are a) you and b) the different careers you are considering. Obvious, I know, but it is surprising how few people tackle their career choices in this systematic way.

So what do you need to know about yourself?
Take some time to review just what makes you tick. What kind of person are you? What activities enthuse and energise you? How do you like to spend your time? What do you really want to get from your work? What are your natural skills and strengths – it makes sense to use what comes naturally to you.

And try taking a step back to take the long view – what would you like to look back on when your career is over? The 4 ideas you are considering will be rewarding in very different ways. Which do you think you would look back on with most pride?

Take a look at the Who Am I section of the How To Change Careers website. That will give you some ideas and exercises to explore these issues more thoroughly.

What do you know about your career ideas?
Then you need to know more about the careers you are considering. I am sure you have done a lot of this already, but the 2 sources I recommend are:

The Prospects website – a UK site which gives detailed job profiles of 100’s of graduate jobs, with links to sources of further information and related careers.

O*Net Online – A US government site which does the same, across a very wide range of roles. Be aware that job titles may be slightly different, but the core information they provide is still very helpful.

Then what?
Once you have built up a clearer picture of who you are, you are in a better position to evaluate the information about the jobs you are researching. Which one matches your own list of skills, interests, values and personal style most closely?

If you are finding it really hard to choose, remember that you do not have to commit to this for life. There have always been people who have pursued a series of different careers over their working lives, and the current job market is moving strongly in the direction of serial careers.

The choice you make now is not for ever. You will grow and change as a person over your life so one option may work for you right now, but then in 15 years time, you will be ready to do something totally different – and that’s fine. Don’t ever let your career become a prison; it should grow and change with you not inhibit and constrain you.

Samuel from the US asked…

I do not have a college degree and have been working in the same industry for 10 years. I can’t realistically afford to go to school full time right now so, are there ways for me to change careers without having a degree? How do I get to know the options available to me without a degree?

Well, I guess the answer to your question depends in part on what new careers you may be thinking of. Certainly there are some areas of work where you would definitely need to undertake further study – medicine or law for example.

But there are also many where a degree is not required. There can be a real advantage in emphasising your breadth of experience, your wide range of skills and a positive can do attitude. These qualities can often count for more than paper qualifications and they do not necessarily come from higher education. Let’s face it, we have all met people who have got reams of qualifications on paper and yet who lack the ability to get on with others, co-operate well in teams and who seem to have no basic common sense at all.

A good starting point for you would be to review the skills, knowledge and experience you already have got and to acknowledge the value of that, rather than seeing a degree as the holy grail that will solve all your problems. Take a look at what I said to David a few months ago in response to his question.

How far have you got with thinking about alternative careers?

If you have set your heart on something that definitely requires further study, your next steps could include a) exploring part-time or evening study options and b) thinking about possible alternative sources of funding eg charities and trust funds c) starting to save, d) looking at lower level work experience in the general area you are considering to get your foot in the door.

That last point is worth looking at more closely. If you want to become a doctor, for example and you genuinely feel it would be too big a stretch financially and/or academically, then there are many other jobs in the healthcare field that could be a good match for you. Exactly what skills do you want to use and what fulfilment are you seeking? There may be different ways of meeting these requirements in a new career.

If you want to explore the options available to someone without a degree, take a look at the O*Net website. If you browse jobs and then look at the area titled Job Zone, you can search job ideas by the amount of preparation needed for entry. This should point you in the right direction.

And finally, it is worth asking yourself a challenging question. Is a degree really essential or are you perhaps using the idea of further study as an ‘excuse’ which allows you to stay put, while you claim that there is an impossible barrier blocking your way forward?

If you found the perfect new career and there was no need for any further study, would you really step up, quit your current job and start over tomorrow?


Have you got a career change question of your own?

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I will be adding more career answers to this page on a regular basis so do pop back to see what’s new.

About the author

Amy Thomas

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