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How to take charge of your career change

20 April 2018
Up or out aren't the only directions for career change

Staying engaged, relevant and satisfied in your career needn't be an elusive goal. Here's how to redesign your career development in pursuit of your next professional challenge - which may not be up the corporate ladder.

From boredom to ambition, the motivation for career change can come from many sources and happen at any time in your career. Whether you've been in the workforce for a couple of years or in in the same job or company for 15, everybody is entitled to career satisfaction and what that means for you can change over time. 

As your values change, experience grows, and interests diversify, your career goals will evolve too. While traditional notions of career progression might have involved 'climbing the ladder', this is but one trajectory towards career development. Career progression is now multi-dimensional, a 'career lattice'. From promotion to a new vocation, there are many options in between. No matter the magnitude of change, though, it's important to remember that you are squarely in the driver's seat. 

So how do you know which direction is for you and what are the steps to get there? Read on for our key tips, as well as expert advice from Vanessa Lascano Fierro, Career Development Advisor from Workforce Development at the University of Sydney.

Paths to career development

Perhaps the least sexy of the options but nevertheless one that can easily be overlooked because we assume if we stay in our current roles and companies that we'll always do what we've always done. This doesn't have to be the case - but it does mean you have to be a proactive agent in initiating change. Change may be through learning something new, mastering what you know, or applying it in broader contexts - perhaps across your team. It may also be shifting the scope or dynamic of your current role to put more weight into certain responsibilities or functions. 

Who is it for?

This is a good option if you like the work you're currently doing or particular aspects of your role but would like to enhance or master certain skills and/or expand the scope of your existing role. 

Where do I start? 

Firstly, it's also important to identify your skills and what you enjoy in your current role by doing a self-audit. Consider your strengths and areas for growth and how you can further develop or create expertise in these. It may be something as simple as taking a free online course or one or two subjects from a degree you're interested in, reading industry blogs, or discussing new projects you can take on with your manager. It's important to think about how you can integrate these new skills or scope into your current work. 

"Find people who can inspire you and guide you by seeking out a mentor in a formal or informal capacity," says Vanessa. 

"Have robust career conversations with your manager so the business can support your career plans. Be strategic and think about job design - how can your role and skills be stretched in a way that benefits your team and unit?" 

A sideways step in your career may mean broadening your knowledge and skillset by moving to a different facet of the business or division without necessarily increasing in seniority. Your self-assessment may have identified certain skills you would like to build and take on in a more formal way. The cousin of the side step is the downshift, where your interest in another field may mean you take a strategic step to a more junior level role to learn a new role or function of the business. 

Who is it for?

If you have developed an interest in a related role or industry that your current skills and knowledge would complement, then a lateral or down shift might be a good move. A side step leverages your current skillset and shifts its trajectory in a new direction by creating an alternative career track. 

Where do I start?

Identify the gap in your skillset and seek opportunities to build those. For example, you may enjoy the marketing or project management part of your role, are passionate about sustainable building, or want to pursue a course in public health to promote good health at a population level.

Supplement your existing skills through new assignments, secondment opportunities, or formal training with a graduate certifcate or diploma. These shorter postgraduate qualifications are inclusive of core units of study and are a good way to build your confidence, expertise in a certain area and help you switch career gears to a different specialisation. If it enhances your skillset in your current role, you may also discuss the possibility of your workplace supporting your study. 

"By moving to a different 'stream' or type of work, you can open up a whole range of further possibilities and career progression. You can become a specialist in a certain area," says Vanessa. 

"Build your alternate skillset as much as possible before making the move, so if you do need to take a lower level role, it would be for the least amount of time. It's important to be strategic in how you leverage your other skills and build a strong personal brand with the view of progression in as minimal time as possible."

Aiming for a step up is achievable if well prepared. Knowing how to do 100% of the role in question isn't a prerequisite, but you do need to gather relevant and related experience and demonstrate potential. 

Who is it for?

You may find that you have built your experience and expertise beyond the scope of your current role and are ready to take on more responsibility with a senior role and better remuneration. This may be within or outside of your current organisation. 

Where do I start?

A smart place to start is by speaking with people at the level you're aiming for and getting a good handle on the level of expertise, experience and skills needed to be considered competitive. Is it a number of years in the business? Is it a certain type of achievement? Is it proving adeptness at certain skills? Is it level of education? Look closely at the position desscriptions of desirable roles and make a conscientious attempt to evaluate where you are and what needs to be addressed to get to where you want to go. 

One of the most common reasons people enrol in postgraduate study is for career advancement and progression, and this is reflected in the stats. The 2016 Census showed a direct correlation between education gained and income earned - showing those with a postgraduate qualification to have the highest mean weekly earnings in their main job.

A postgraduate qualification can be a means to fast-track your career progression - offering industry knowledge and expertise and the opportunity to pursue a specialisation. Most commonly at master's level, some degrees offer the opportunity to increase relevant experience with an industry placement or internship, or a real-world industry research project. Additionally, the value of developing or expanding your professional network with like-minded peers in related industries provides a long-term return on investment. 

While it's important to consider the match of a postgraduate qualification to your career goals and values, if career advancement is part of these plans, it is worth looking into. Discuss your options with our course advisers and academics at our flagship Postgraduate Study and Research Week from 10-14 September to learn if postgraduate study works for your career goals. 

As we've explored above, the spectrum for career change is broad and far-reaching. When we're talking switching careers in this instance, we're referring to a complete career change - a new vocation. 

Who is it for?

You may be fresh off the back of your undergraduate degree or a few years into a career and have decided that the path you're on isn't for you. If you have a passion for pursuing another direction, a career switch may be in order. Typically, this is facilitated by additional training or a vocational degree, and pursuing opportunities to gain experience in a new area - either simultaneously with your current employment or in its place. It may involve starting from scratch or a downshift to a more junior role, an investment of time and money, and can impact on income earning capacity for a period of time. Having said that, the end result will likely be worth the pursuit if the groundwork in making a sound decision has been done. 

Where do I start?

As this is a big career change, start with solid research. Talk to people in the industry and learn as much as you can about the career you are considering and whether that would fit in with your professional and personal goals. 

If you're considering a vocational degree like postgraduate law, teaching, social work, nursing, medicine, or any other course, a good opportunity to speak to people in the industry is at events like our Postgraduate Study and Research Week where you can seek one-on-one advice from our academics about their respective fields. 

When considering a change, Vanessa advises asking yourself: "What does success look like? What would a day in the new career look like? Does that meet your expectations?" 

"Pay attention to what dislikes the new change may bring about. Consider volunteer or pro bono work to gain skills and experience in the area."

"If you decide on a career change, develop a transition plan to help you get where you want to go - focus on the next five years and include all aspects of your life that will be impacted."

The key takeaways

  • No one is responsible for your career development but you, although be sure to seek the support and advice of others. You need to be proactive in evaluating your current situation, setting your goals and exploring development opportunities. Make a plan to make it happen. 
  • Don't underestimate the value in the skills you have or the opportunities where you are to help you get where you could be. This may be taking on a project to apply your skills in a different context, volunteering or networking opportunities, or having the support of management to pursue formal training. 
  • Rigorously assess your values and options and make sure these align - whether that's a promotion, taking on postgraduate study, or pursuing a new career path entirely. 

Vanessa's final piece of advice: "Whatever the goal - show passion, be persistent, and build resilience, because there could be some knock backs along the way. Achieving your goals and having career satisfaction is worth the challenges." 

 

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