Changing career is a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly, but whatever your reasons for wanting to do something different, a carefully planned move can turn out to be incredibly rewarding

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and changing career

A September 2020 study by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) revealed that a fifth of workers in Britain believed that their job was at risk due to the coronavirus pandemic, while a similar proportion (22%) had been considering a career change.

In addition, more than a quarter (27%) of the students and graduates questioned as part of a March 2021 Prospects COVID-19 survey had changed their career plans due to the pandemic, with 37% unsure about what they'll do next.

For those in a similar situation, you'll be aware that changing career is something which involves a lot of thought, planning and effort. However, it's something worth thinking about, as your job satisfaction and enjoyment levels are likely to increase in a role that you feel more passionately about.

If you're wondering about the practicalities of how to change careers, there are some key things to bear in mind as you mull over your next step.

Reasons for a career change

Whether you've reached your limits and are unable to progress in your current role or would like to challenge yourself by putting your skills to use in a different setting, there are various reasons why you may be looking to make a career change.

Some may be feeling the need for a change of scenery or schedule, such as those transitioning into self-employment, to fit around other commitments.

There are also certain professions which have proved popular with career changers. For instance, you can enter areas of teaching and law from a range of backgrounds. The nature of these careers means they're particularly suited to those with previous experience of working in other sectors.

If you'd like to try something new but aren't sure where to start, consider taking the Job Match questionnaire. In just a few minutes you'll discover the roles where your skills could prove to be invaluable.

Things to consider

However, in going ahead with this decision, it's likely that you'll have to make sacrifices. For instance, you may incur extra costs from relocating or changing your commute - you may even need to take a pay cut to move companies or sectors.

A new career is also likely to bring with it a new routine, which may affect your work/life balance, particularly if you're entering a career that requires you to study for a qualification beforehand or alongside work - you'll need to factor in time to study.

What's more, you'll be entering an unfamiliar working environment, and will have to build new relationships and a good professional reputation from scratch. It's therefore crucial to have a good support network around you.

'Career change takes time, and big journeys are much easier with a team of supporters,' explains Natasha Stanley, head coach at Careershifters. 'Surrounding yourself with other career changers, trusted family and friends, experts and mentors can inspire you, help you find solutions to obstacles, and stay accountable,' she says.

If you're happy with your current work conditions but you'd like a new challenge, you don't necessarily have to change jobs - enquire with your HR or personnel department about any available continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities.

Finding a new career

If you've got your heart set on changing careers, the first thing you'll need to do is research. Get started on coming up with suitable career change ideas by browsing job profiles, to find out more about what's involved with different roles and their entry requirements.

For some careers, you may need to consider further study or professional training. You may need to complete a conversion course to change to some careers - you'll need sector-specific qualifications to work in industries such as engineering, healthcare, IT and teaching.

If you've set your sights on the legal profession, you can take a preparation course and study towards the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). Aspiring psychologists will need to take a psychology conversion course, in the form of either an MSc or postgraduate diploma (PGDip).

It's never too late to retrain in another field - in fact, having life experience behind you when heading back to university can work to your advantage. You can look out for open days and events aimed at job changers, to learn more about how to enter your chosen field at postgraduate study level.

To see what's on offer as you look to forge a new career, search postgraduate conversion courses.

Through your research, you may find that you can gain the qualifications you need without studying for another degree. Sites such as Udemy and Skillshare offer thousands of online courses in a range of specialisms, from digital marketing and nutrition to audio production and public speaking. Course prices start from as little as £10 - some are even free - and you'll be able to fit studying around other commitments.

Once you know the path you'd like to pursue, you can start seeking opportunities. Update your professional social media profiles to clearly state your intention to change industries, and give details of the skills and experience you have that will be well-suited.

Don't forget to update your CV and cover letter to reflect these changes - see our cover letter template for career changers for inspiration.

How to hand in your notice

Once you've received a new job offer, you'll need to hand in your notice. Your notice is a formal letter of resignation, stating your intention to leave your current position, and you'll typically hand it in to your line manager.

Your notice should be succinct, positive and respectful, and include your date of departure. This will be in relation to the length of your notice period, which will typically be at least two weeks - however, this could be shorter if you're still on probation, or longer if you're in a senior position. Your contract should include details of how much notice you're required to give before changing jobs.

Be prepared to discuss your reasons for leaving with your manager. This could lead to various outcomes - for instance, you may be offered an incentive to stay, or be required to negotiate a longer notice period than you were expecting. If you're joining a rival company, you may be placed on gardening leave and asked to leave the premises immediately.

By law, your employer is required to issue you a P45 once you've handed in your notice. A P45 is a document detailing how much tax you've paid so far in the present tax year (which runs from 6 April to 5 April), made up of four parts. You'll keep one part for your own records - the others are split between Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and your new employer. For more information, see GOV.UK - PAYE forms.

After your notice has been accepted, focus on making a good lasting impression. Keep on good terms with your colleagues and managers, and compile comprehensive handover notes for your replacement - you're more likely to be given a positive reference for your next employer this way.

The benefits of changing career

'Finding fulfilling work can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health, your relationships, your self-esteem, and even, over time, your bank balance,' says Natasha. 'The average person spends a third of their life at work. If you're miserable in your job, it matters.'

You'll have the freedom to pursue what's important to you. 'Rather than being limited to what you think you 'can' do based on your current skillset, look at what you're naturally drawn to, in and out of work,' Natasha says. 'This could be as broad as being creative or active.' Approaching work this way will increase your motivation and overall job satisfaction.

This Prospects webinar aired May 2021.

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