Lisa Carr from the alumni careers team explores the reality of career change for experienced professionals and examines some common myths.
1. Most career change happens gradually
The majority of mid-life career changers engineer a move through a series of small careers shifts rather than a sudden, radical change of direction. The most practical way to start a new career is by moving into a field related to your current job. An accountant wanting to move into human resources might first take on responsibility for recruiting and training new staff. Most people who move into consulting mid-career get their foot in the door via their existing field of expertise. This approach builds your CV and network gradually and positions you for a bigger leap later.
2. Career change is easiest with your current employer
There can be more opportunities to change career by staying with your existing employer than by moving to a new one. Employers are more likely to risk placing a newbie in a role if that person is a trusted employee. In fact, budget constraints and recruitment freezes can force a more flexible approach to hiring. Secondments to cover a colleague’s absence or a short term role to deal with sudden spike in business can give you an opening. Even if your desired career is in a different sector, there may be opportunities to bridge your experience by taking a new internal role.
3. Your employer may pay for you to retrain
Your employer may pay for retraining as part of a redundancy settlement or a redeployment programme. Organisational change can lead to access to professional career coaching. Wise career changers use this as an opportunity to plan their move using specialist help. If your new career requires taking a professional qualification, don’t assume that you will need to take time off work and pay for this yourself. Your new employer may fund this and allow you to train alongside your first entry level post.
4. Be prepared for a drop in salary and seniority
Even if your new career is in a better paying sector, be prepared for a drop in salary and job level when you start your new role. It may take some time to regain your old salary and job level as you build up your track record in a new industry or function. When weighing up a potential move, it is best to look at your career prospects over the long term. The closer your new job resembles your old one in terms of sector and field of expertise, the more you will be able to protect or even improve upon your salary and seniority.
5. Relocating improves your chances
Unless you live in a large city it can be difficult to establish a new career in the same location as your old one. Mainstream area of work, such as teaching or accounting, offer the best possibilities. Otherwise you will significantly improve your chances of an entry-level role if you are prepared to move to find employment. It is rare for career changers to be offered relocation support so you will need to budget for this. It may be possible to relocate for your first new role and then return to your preferred location once you have built a track record in your new career.
6. Volunteering is the route to many new careers
Volunteering can open the door to a new career even in the most competitive of sectors. Its potential for building your credibility and network is unrivalled. One of the best things about part-time volunteering is that it enables you to build experience, and try your new career out for size, whilst retaining the security of your current job. Want to dip your toe into management consulting? Offer to do some pro-bono work for your friend’s small business – word of mouth might lead to your first paying client. Fancy moving into marketing? Volunteer to manage the social media and events programme for a local charity.
7. An MBA is not a silver bullet
Every year, hundreds of professionals use the Warwick MBA as a route to a new career. However, the mere possession of a MBA certificate is rarely sufficient. Successful MBA career changers use their project or dissertation strategically to get their foot in the door in a new sector, choose their modules carefully and are proactive at engaging with employers and our careers specialists early on. If you are considering investing in a professional qualification, always look at the destinations of leavers and speak to alumni to find out how far the qualification helped them gain their current role.
WBS Alumni can find out more in this month’s WBS Careers Management Course module on career transitions.