Why career change is like making a cake

You’ve enjoyed your summer holiday. The break from routine was welcome but now you’re returning to work and normal life. Your next long break may not be until Christmas. How do you feel? Are you glad to get back into a ‘normal’ routine? Or do you have that ‘same old same old’ feeling about work and find it difficult to muster up any enthusiasm for it?

September always feels like a new beginning, maybe because it’s connected with memories of going back to school and the start of a new academic year. Or maybe you have children who are starting or returning, to school themselves. So perhaps now is a good time to think about a new beginning in our career?

If you’re finding it difficult to generate any feelings of enthusiasm, it may be a sign that it really is time to think about making a career change. Surely, life’s too short to stay in a job we hate?

But how to make that change? Where to begin? Having made a significant career change myself, I know about those feelings of helplessness and frustration and not knowing how to begin.

How to start

As a career coach I have helped many people change direction. Using discussion, written and online exercises, I help people assess their skills, attributes, values and motivations to help them plan a new direction for themselves.

But there is one exercise which I regard as being more powerful than any other, and a great place to start for anyone who’s looking at a career or job change.

I call this exercise ‘Know what you want’.

‘Well if I knew what I wanted I wouldn’t be feeling so stuck’ do I hear you say?

So knowing what you want doesn’t mean that you know the specific job title and industry or company that you want to work for. But, for sure, you do know some of the elements you want and don’t want in your new career, which is a great starting point.

Think of your new career like a cake. You may not know exactly what kind of cake it is yet, but you know some of the ingredients you are planning to use.

What to do

Take a piece of paper and divide it into three sections: ‘Don’t want’, ‘Essential’ and ‘Desirable’.

Now think about all the different elements that make up a job and enter your preferences on to your sheet. You may like to include your preferences for the following: hours, opportunity for development and training, earnings, skills and knowledge used, type of organisation/industry, working environment, organisational culture, location, distance to travel, level of job security, working as a team or on your own.

Add anything else that comes to mind that you know is important to you.

For instance if you are a Mum returning to work, your list may look like this:

Don’t want: A long commute, full time work, long hours, work in a particular sector e.g. financial services.

Essential: Maximum 30 mins drive, 3 days per week, using my graphic design skills, good flexible working policies, earn at least £25K, be part of a friendly team.

Desirable: Supportive boss, opportunity for promotion and training, small company.

To make up the list, think about all the jobs you have previously done and your likes and dislikes in those jobs.

Keeping adding until you have a comprehensive list.

Why it’s useful

The items entered in the essential and desirable columns are some of the ingredients that will make your next job more satisfying for you. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you are going to end up with everything you desire, but research shows that if we have around 70% of what we want we will be happy in our work. Also, you really can’t start looking until you know what you are looking for. It’s like shooting an arrow at a target with a blindfold on.


What to do with it

  • Start talking to people about what’s on your list. They may have great suggestions as to what career or job might suit you.
  • Start looking at career profiles and see which ones appeal to you and fulfil your wish list?  The National Careers Service have profiles of over 800 careers on their website.
  • Use your list to visualise your next job. In your mind’s eye, what environment do you see yourself working in? What tasks are you doing? Who are you working with? Using your imagination on a regular basis will make it far more real for you and motivate you to keep going on your quest for a fulfilling career.

Try to see your career change as the first step in an adventure rather than a hopeless maze that you are stuck in. Robert Schuller said ‘Winning starts with beginning.’ The important thing is that you turn your wish for change into concrete actions.

And having baked it, you can now look forward to eating your cake!

If you feel I can be of any help in moving you towards your new career, then please get in touch via the contact page.