What to ask yourself before changing careers


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Navigating a successful career is rarely a journey along a straight, predictable path. It has many twists and turns, and in this modern day isn't even defined by your job title and industry.

Within the space of 100 years we have seen a shift from trade skills and jobs being passed down from one generation to the next, to individuals experiencing many jobs across different industries (sometimes at the same time) in their working life.

Instead of retiring in their 50s, people are working happily into their 70s. As we get older we're not really retiring, we're just doing more of the things we want to do and less of the things we have to do.

changing careers new job changing industries

This is true of myself. I started out as a musician, composing for film, television and theatre and producing pop albums in the 90s.

I then studied psychology and became a registered psychologist. Next, I found myself in management consulting as a behavioural economist, and eventually left the big financial services firms to start my own company specialising in emotional intelligence and individual decision-making.

The gift of hindsight

There is no way anyone would have predicted that my 18-year-old barefoot muso self would be standing where I am today. But in hindsight, there is a clear career thread.

My career has been understanding and managing emotions and changing perceptions.

Whether it be a theatre audience member engaging with Shakespeare, someone trying to repair their relationship in counselling session, a board needing advice in a difficult negotiation, or helping build social and emotional capability in students, the higher-order career has been all to do with becoming an expert in emotion, perception and decision-making.

Understanding this concept of a higher-order career starts to help dismantle traditional views of a career simply being a job in a single industry that you eventually get paid more for based on time served and expertise gained.

With artificial intelligence and digital technology removing a lot of the reliance on prior knowledge, location and traditional organisational hierarchy, it is easier for people to transfer their higher-order skills across many contexts, and continue exploring new contexts until much later in life. In this modern age, people are not just changing jobs within an industry but also the type of work they are doing in the quest for successful, meaningful work.

In fact, the most dissatisfied people in their career I find tend to be the ones who are still in the same industry they were in when they were a teenager. Experience matters, but not in the same way it did in the last century.

Changing careers 

Using hindsight to determine your higher-order career is one thing, but what about when you are at the beginning or in the middle of your working life.

The first thing to realise is that you don't need to know the whole story to make a good decision; you just need enough information to help open the next door. If you followed the exact path of most successful people, you will not get to the same career destination.

Your strategies, plans and goals should change as your context shifts and different opportunities arise. As new doors open, walk through them and become the best at whatever is on the other side.

If you are at a crossroads where you feel an industry shift is necessary, take time to reflect on why you might be more successful in your current job over other people who may be more technically proficient.

Set aside your technical capabilities and think about what makes you better at what you do in comparison to others of similar ability. List what you bring to the table that differentiates you from the pack. Then think about other jobs and industries where those meta skills would be useful.

Now have a look at what industries you think you might enjoy, which ones you might be good at, where you may be willing to take a pay cut in order to start climbing the success ladder once again.

Identify sucessful traits

Finally, imagine yourself in one of these new industries as successful, and ask yourself, "What has made me successful in my new career?"

Don't just say hard work and diligence - everyone has that. Ask, "What has made me different from everyone else?" What is it about you that you bring to this job that makes you extraordinary? This starts to tap into your higher-order career.

Remember, you don't need to be right; you just need enough clarity to help you take the next step and the confidence to be able to walk the path you choose.

Once you do make a choice, don't fall into the trap of cutting one job off completely as you build your capability to enter another job. Different jobs will need new capabilities and you need time to help bridge this gap.

My transition from music to psychology took six years of full-time study and working part-time as a volunteer researcher for some consulting firms while maintaining my music work to keep money coming in.

Other transitions aren't as dramatic, of course, but all require planning. Planning also helps those around us, our family and close friends, to come along on the journey.

This is a brave new world, where fortune really will favour the brave.

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Phil Slade is a behavioural economist and psychologist and the author of Going Ape S#!t! and founder of Decida. He works across digital innovation, strategy and cognitive bias. Phil holds a Bachelor of Psychology from The University of Queensland and a Master of Organisational Psychology from Griffith University.
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June 8, 2022 8.03pm

its true it takes strategy and motivation