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No Real Career Direction: What to do Next?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 4 Feb 2015 | comments*Discuss
Career Change Mid Career Money Finance

Discovering the most fulfilling career is not easy for most people. In fact, many experts claim that few people ever truly achieve this goal. If you have been in the workforce for some time but do not feel as though you are achieving much, rest assured you are not doomed to a life of boredom.

Is it Your Direction or Someone Else's?

Before embarking on a new career, one of the most important questions to ask yourself is whether or not it's truly you who wants to make the change. Pressure from parents and friends or sibling rivalry can push people to make career choices that don't benefit them at all.

It's normal to have a fear of disappointing people who have expectations. But ask yourself if those expectations people have of you are reasonable and if they exist at all. Sometimes people bring their childhood experiences into adulthood with a pressure to please everyone. It's no good spending money and time putting yourself through medical school, for instance, if you would be miserable in the role at the end of it all.

If it's you who wants a change of career, there is a useful activity you can try that helps to eliminate the pressure from other people.

  • Imagine what you would do if you never had to worry about answering to another person or letting someone down.
  • Write down your ideas and see where they take you. For instance, maybe you have always dreamed of becoming an author or an artist. Or perhaps your dream is to become a teacher but your family has pressured you to be a lawyer instead.
  • Examine what it is you don't like about your current career. If it's your boss or colleagues you can't stand, then it may just be a new role with another company solves your dilemma. If it's the fact you have excellent numerical skills but can't use them in your current role, then this is a good reason to look at a new career direction.

Using Career Tests

There are countless psychometric tests available that can help you to understand more about yourself and what career you are best suited to do in life. They can be useful but can also pigeonhole people into something that in reality isn't so rosy for a career. Experts suggest trying them and using the results as one part of a full investigation into a new career choice.

If career tests are not for you or you would like to further explore which career is a best fit, there are some activities you can try out quickly and for free at home.

  • Take ten minutes to make a list of things others say "thank you" to you for and generally give you praise on.
  • Check your old performance reviews to find specific skills that brought you strong praise.
  • Give some thought to what impressions you would like to leave behind in the world. Reflect on the "footprint" you want to leave.
  • Go through old emails both in and out of work to see where people have complimented you and been happy with something you did to help them out
  • Draw a timeline and note the positive and negative experiences in your past. See if you can identify patterns that emerge.
  • Search online for stories of how other people have successfully changed careers. This can give you the motivation and practical knowledge you need to start something new.

Do Your Research

When taking a new career direction, it is critical that you do your research. Talk to people who work in the career and find out how they ended up in their job. While not all experts agree, following your gut may be a good thing. So long as you do not do it blindly, there is value in following a career path that "feels" right for you.

You must still look at the positives and negatives associated with a career but if it feels like the right choice, it probably is. Have a look at the questions our readers are asking and see if any of their experiences resonate with you.

"I am a stay at home mum with two young children, the youngest of whom is about to start school. At 38 I'd like to go back to work but don't really want to go back to doing what I did before kids (financial sales for a well known bank).

I like working with children but there's not much money in teaching assistant or nursery work jobs and I do not want to be a teacher. What should I do? I feel like I am stuck in a rut because of the time I have taken off work - I am out of the loop - and don't want to return to that kind of job anyway."

Volunteering can be a good way to maintain skills and learn new ones so you don't become too disassociated from the workforce. A move from financial sales into working with children is a major one. However, there may be scope to work in a charity that provides services to children. Here, you could still use some of your financial skills - perhaps accounting for the organisation. In addition, you may be able to create a niche role for yourself that also allows you to work directly with the children the organisation serves.

"I am 30 and have worked in a supermarket since leaving school at 16. Although I have been promoted, I feel like I can go no further in my job. I am interested in the medical sector, how I would get into that? I have very good communication and organisational skills. In my current job I have gained excellent people skills and leadership skills. What can I do?"

You have strong people and leadership skills, so it may be worth considering the many different medical careers. The first consideration when doing research is to consider which types of people to work with.

  • Are you looking to work with patients?
  • Would you rather work with adult patients or children?
  • Do you like routine work such as X-ray imaging and diagnostics? Or do you prefer a varied workday such as working in a clinical counselling setting where patients have different problems?

Can I Move Into a Similar Field?

It may not give you the ultimate dream job, but changing your career direction to a similar field has many benefits. The time and costs for re-training are not likely to be overwhelming. Your current experience and education can also readily transition you into the new role.

Try checking with your boss whether there is scope to move into a new role in the same company. If you work in the marketing department of a global company and want to work in a training capacity where you're directly teaching people, perhaps you can train the sales force?

Sometimes, there are opportunities right in front of you that you are missing. Try the following:

Search online - Put some keywords representing your strengths and likes into an Internet search along with the words "job" or "career." See what kinds of results come up.

Map out your current career - Take a piece of paper and write down your current role. Now make some arrows in each direction to connect it with related careers. You might start with a role as a builder if that's your background. But perhaps you want a leadership role? From there, you might branch to a role where you manage builders and deal directly with customers.

Search jobs at your current company - Taking a new career direction can be easier when it's done without changing companies. Often, a company will pay for the costs of training needed to get your into a new role, particularly where they have been very pleased with the performance in your current role. The company further saves on costs to educate you on their products and company culture.

Again, doing your research is key, especially if you want to make use of any previous qualifications and experience.

"I am a 39 year old male who hasn't really started a career yet! I am starting to fear that I am never going to get a career and make something of my life. As a youngster a lot of my energy was focused on becoming a professional sportsman and my education suffered as a result. I went back to studying in my thirties and graduated in sports science at 35. I've had not joy finding a job and find I don't really want to work in sport anyhow. Teaching isn't my thing, coaching pays very little and isn't everyone in the world a personal trainer now?

The choice to do a sports degree was wrong, but it was all I knew at the time. So what steps do I take to retrain in something else? Something that would get me into a career that I could build on. At 32, I have plowed everything I own into something that I feel is worthless.

I do work at the moment - in retail, which is just not for me. I am interested in design and marketing but have no qualifications in those areas. Is it too late to do something about this?"

It may seem impossible to connect your current career in sports to a new one that makes use of your background. While initially you states that you don't want to work in sports, we soon see why. You see no financial reward and have no interest in teaching. The fact that the title of "trainer" is used so loosely, can take away from personal job satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Yet you do have some excellent options. Your interest in marketing is hindered by concerns that you have no formal qualifications.

You might be surprised to learn that industry knowledge can be very appealing to some companies. A company that sells sports equipment might be very interested in hiring someone who has professional qualifications in sports science. It's possible that the marketing can be learned in large part on the job and supplemented by some courses and personal reading on the side. This type of transition is not uncommon. In medical marketing, for example, scientists who have a laboratory background can sometimes learn marketing on the job and become quite successful. Good writing and communications skills will be important in marketing, so consider your strengths before applying for a new role here.

What are the Financial Implications?

Concerns about creating or increasing debt are very real ones when it comes to a new career direction. Embarking on any regulated professions such as nursing or social work, for example, will require a minimum level of education. This may be achieved through an undergraduate degree, which will be three to four years of financial commitment. If you're fortunate in that your first degree is in a related field, you may be able to study at the master's level and reduce your training down to two years.

Each person has their own risk profile when it comes to balancing financial spend versus long-term financial and personal benefits to a new career. Think carefully about your choices and look at how you can minimise spend.

Your Next Steps

Ultimately, embarking on a new career requires a deep, hard look at yourself and your current career. You have to consider your personality along with your core values, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. From there you need to consider the financial implications and feasibility. If you have a plan and it feels right to you, then a good dose of motivation and commitment should see you through to a happy, successful new career.

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Hi there, I am a 48 year old mum of three - I left full time employment 12 years ago and have been doing freelance work since, although I have worked very little in the last year as we did a house extension and did not make sense to look for jobs then. I have started looking and applying for jobs (not many, I admit) but have had no response.I am disappointed that none of the agencies I applied to contacted me, after all I left work as an associate director and have been working as a freelancer during my career break.I wish there was some organisation I could talk to about my situation, or it would be good to share experiences with other people in the same situation as me.Any advice?Thank you.
Dan - 4-Feb-15 @ 1:16 PM
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