Changing careers: how to make a smooth transition from one job to another

Changing careers: how to make a smooth transition from one job to another.

Employers are more open to hiring people who want to change career, but moving to a new role is still not easy.


Breaking out: Many employers still view changing careers with suspicion, however, meaning that shifting from one role to another can be fraught

Breaking out: Many employers still view changing careers with suspicion, however, meaning that shifting from one role to another can be fraught


In the old days, it was all so simple. You left school, found a job and stayed there until you retired.

If you were lucky, you’d end up doing something you enjoyed.

If not, there was always the satisfaction of getting a regular wage packet and of knowing that, at some point, the horror would end.

While many lament the passing of a job for life, it had plenty of disadvantages. Perhaps the biggest was that there was little option to transition into another career. Once you had a job, that was it. Woe betide anyone who found themselves dissatisfied with their lot.

We’ve become far more used to people chopping and changing careers. Many employers still view it with suspicion, however, meaning that shifting from one role to another can be fraught.

“It’s not easy to change career, but it is far more acceptable than it used to be. People used to pick an industry to work in and find themselves stuck in it, but that’s no longer necessarily the case,” says Clare Mulligan, a Dublin-based organisational and business psychologist.

Living longer She should know. Having spent more than 20 years working in pensions and investments, she retrained and started her own business three years ago.

“It’s not surprising that more people are considering a new career because we’re living longer and this gives us more time to consider what we want to do with our lives. Ten years ago, people used to say they’d love to retire at 50, but you hear that being said a lot less these days. Now, most people want to stay working for as long as they can, providing they feel passionate about it,” says Mulligan.

That’s certainly the case for Noel McMahon, a fine wine specialist at Sandyford-based Febvre.

To hear him speak about his favourite tipples is to hear a man head over heels in love with grapes. But before joining Febvre in 2005, he spent 25 years working in finance.

“I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world because a lot of people don’t get to do something they love. I’ll never make a fortune working in this business, but that’s all right. I’d always had an interest in wine, but came from a family of accountants and so joined what was the Industrial Credit Corporation [ICC Bank

] when I left school and stayed there for years until I made the decision to change career. People were shocked when I did it and of course there were huge risks involved, but I love the life I lead now,” says McMahon.

According to careers expert Rowan Manahan, it has never been particularly easy to transition from one career to another, but it’s becoming more commonplace now.

“It is happening more often now because of necessity. Businesses, even entire ways of making a living, are becoming extinct and people have no choice. They need to reinvent themselves with a new career path,” says Manahan.

“Flexible access to further education and training has definitely contributed to making career changes possible, where they would have been very difficult in the past. In addition, it has become quite normal for people to have more chequered CVs – they are not perceived as weird, rebellious or anomalous as they once might have been.

“All of these, plus a rising expectation for happiness and satisfaction in one’s working life, are contributing to increasing numbers of people calling it quits on one path and heading down another.”

Mulligan says that while employers are more open to employees who have retrained, some are wary of taking on someone who has changed career.

“It can be difficult getting a job with established businesses because most companies in Ireland don’t have a policy for recruiting older workers. They are more geared towards taking on either graduates or people with a lot of experience and don’t quite know what to do when they encounter someone who may be 45 and who doesn’t necessarily expect to go into a managerial role because they’ve recently retrained,” she said.

This means many of those who do retrain go it alone and set up their own business, she says. Another trend is the rise of the “supertemp”, older people who have switched roles becoming consultants or interim managers rather than full-time employees.

Varied CVs Manahan can understand recruiters’ concerns about taking on employees with varied CVs.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the hirer. If you have a pile of 50 CVs on your desk and 45 are from applicants who have been doing whatever it is your company does for their entire careers, why would you take a risk on the other five, who used to do something very different and have only recently come into your sector? You can argue that this is unimaginative, but it is also unrisky. Remember the old saw, ‘No one ever got fired for buying IBM’? That kind of thinking still pervades the hiring decision,” he says.

Sophie Rowan, a coaching psychologist and author of Brilliant Career Coach: How to Find and Follow Your Dream Career, believes employers are becoming more open to people with non-linear career paths.

“As long as you have a clear rationale for the change and a clear plan of action for success, employers are open to listening. What is good for them to hear and understand is where there may be some overlap between your past work life and your new target area. You need to explain how you can apply your skills, learning and experience from your previous career into your target area in a clear and tangible way. Where there is little or no overlap, you need to be able to sell and promote your offer in a way that makes sense to the employer,” she says.

Rowan warns that not every transition succeeds, but adds that people are much more likely to succeed if they spend time planning the move.

“Success is determined by both the work that people put into making the change and by external factors, such as financial implications. There are drawbacks involved in changing career but the biggest benefit is that if you can find your way into doing something that you love, or even like more than your current role, then it really does improve your quality of life,” she says.Small steps to a big change: Smart route to new a career Danielle Keogh has had plenty of experience changing roles.

She successfully moved from retail into barbering and, more recently, she began training as a healthcare assistant and is currently on a community employment scheme.

Keogh says that even small steps could take you to where you want to go.

“I’ve learnt that too many people stay in jobs they are unhappy in. You have to be smart about changing career. Most people cannot afford to just quit and walk out.

“You need to see if you can take the time to retrain in another field or to do an apprenticeship. It might mean making sacrifices along the way, but if you are determined you can make it work. Even slow progression, such as taking night courses, makes the change seem a bit more obtainable.” Be prepared Manahan, meanwhile, says that whatever pushes you to make the move to a new career, you need to be prepared.

“You may need to do this out of necessity because some global shift kills your current career path or for your psychological equilibrium if your current career path becomes corrosive or toxic to that wellbeing.

“Either way, it’s better to have laid some foundations for your next move, so it’s time to start thinking about what you’d like to be now that you are already a grown-up.”


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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