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How to approach a career change… and secure your next job

By Holly O’Mahony

According to career change statistics, the average person will change career five to seven times during their working life. Whether your career goals have shifted, your values have changed or you’re just ready to try something new, navigating a career change can be a daunting prospect. Here are some expert tips on what to consider when embarking on a career change, and how to secure your first job in your chosen profession.

Understand your motives

The first things to consider when planning a career change is why you want to make it and why now’s the best time to do it. “Timing is everything, because it takes commitment, energy, focus and dedication to make a successful move and you need to be 100% ready to commit yourself to this process,” explains Evelyn Cotter, founder of career coaching company SEVEN

Andy Mountney, founder of Aspen In-house recruitment agency, agrees. He believes it’s also worth reflecting on what you may be giving up. Cautioning against pursuing a career change in order to escape from your current situation, he adds: “Consider what you are getting out of [the move]…will it fulfill you in terms of job, life and earnings?”

John Lees, a careers expert and the author of Knockout Interview adds that it’s important to be positive about your reason for change. “No employer wants to hear that you want a new role because you hate your old one,” he says. 

Build up a network of contacts in the field

Perhaps you’ve been applying for umpteen roles in the sector you’re looking to break into, without hearing so much as a peep back. According to Lees, written applications are often not the doorway into a new career. In fact, you’re likely to have more luck networking. “Talk to people about the work they do,” advises Lees. “This helps you find out whether you’d like it, but also gives you the right terminology,” he adds. Mountney agrees, pointing out that meeting people face-to-face puts you in a much stronger position to ask for advice. “You might just find a mentor or sponsor for your new career,” he says. 

“Reach out to people in your network… set up coffees, go to meet-ups and networking dinners, and get in front of people,” advises Cotter, suggesting adding any courses you go on or networks you come across to your LinkedIn profile, to help make you more visible. 
Cotter also recommends sending a follow-up thank you note after meeting a new contact. “Include a thoughtful link or something you spoke about and know they’ll find of interest,” she suggests, while Lees recommends having a short upbeat statement to hand about why the career you’re aspiring towards fascinates you. “If you want to make a career change people need to remember you and recommend you,” he adds.

Weigh up the pros and cons of unpaid work experience

Perhaps you’re a journalist, looking to land your first job on a national title. Whether or not you’ve been paid for your writing, having a piece published on the title you’re hoping to write for will not only boost your byline, but could prove a great asset to show an editor, if you apply for a paid position there in the future. 

Cotter recommends initially trialling your career move as a side hustle or parallel career – whereby you have more than one profession on the go – to test it. “It’s the level of research needed before making a life-changing decision,” she explains. 

Assess your transferable skills, then highlight them on your application
“Make sure your CV and covering letter show [your] skills which match the role, even if your background is unconventional,” advises Lees. Cotter also recommends this: “Pull apart the job spec and highlight the keywords, competencies, traits, skills and language being used,” she says. “Then pull apart your experience and achievements and match them up.” 
Mountney recommends writing a short profile at the top of your CV outlining your experience and why you plan to change career. Your cover letter, he says, should complement your CV and focus on why you want this particular opportunity you’re applying for as part of your career change. “If you have anything relevant to the career change such as training or academic qualifications, make sure they are visible early in your CV,” he says.

Over-prepare for interviews

Conducting some thorough research on the company you’re interviewing with could be the crucial factor that sets you apart from other candidates with more experience in the field, explains Mountney. Once in the hot seat, “focus on the questions you are asked rather than saying what you want to say,” he adds, recommending candidates prepare questions to ask in their interview that are relevant and show a genuine inquisitiveness about the role. 

Cotter suggests focusing on how you would go above and beyond to improve or add value to the business. “Show your passion for the industry, passion for the organisation, and find connections between what you’ve done in the past and what you can do here,” she adds.

“If you’ve got an interview, you are doing well,” points out Lees. “Emphasise that you’re really eager to move into the new sector, you’re informed about it, and add that you’re a fast learner,” he adds. 

Celebrate your unconventional background
“Rather than apologising for your unconventional background, celebrate it,” advises Lees. “Talk about the ways your experience and skills are not only different but add something unusual to the mix,” he adds. 
“Come up with a compelling elevator pitch around what it is you want to do and how you feel you could add value,” advises Cotter, pointing out that showing commitment and being a good cultural fit for the organisation are often more important than having prior experience in a similar role. 

Be persistent and give yourself time 

“Set yourself a research project to find organisations that fascinate you and people that work in them,” advises Lees. Once these are  identified, work out who’s approachable and allow conversations to develop from there. 

Whether you’re just beginning to think about changing career, or you’re already in the throes of looking for work in your new field, Cotter recommends working with a career coach. “You will learn so much about yourself in the process and gain practical tools, techniques and mindsets that will benefit you for the rest of your career,” she says. 

Finally, try not to lose hope that your career change will happen. “It may take a lot longer and a lot more applications than you had ever imagined just to get that first shot,” points out Mountney. “So start building your network today.”

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