Illustration: Rosie Carmichael

WORK ADVICE

A career change is not just for January

The new year has many of us wondering whether we’re in the right job. Marisa Bate thinks it shouldn’t be part of January gloom but an ongoing conversation instead

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By Marisa Bate on

If you have spent the last few days trawling job sites or researching online courses, you are not alone. According to a new study conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Get Into Teaching, of the 3,000-plus people asked, two out of three said if they could go back they would pick another career path. Fifty-three per cent said that they would change their existing occupation if they felt they could.

The post-Christmas comedown – and the soul-searching it often provokes – is nothing new. We’re subjected to the relentless hard sell of January as a time of renewal and change, year in, year out, from magazines, books and TV shows. And since the arrival of Instagram platitudes and influencers encouraging us to live our best life, the doubt around our current bodies/lives/decisions/careers is only mounting. Normally, I try to ignore calls to change my life simply because of one month becoming another, and not least because it’s as shameless a sales opportunity as Black Friday – just distractingly dressed up with a Gwynnie glow of self-improvement.

Yet, this year, career change feels a little less of a “choice” and something more of an inevitability – and I don’t mean getting a side hustle. Despite what the internet might be telling you, research from the Resolution Foundation in 2016 found that 1.1 million people were working multiple jobs, including self-employment, but the proportion of workers doing so – 3.6% – was actually at a record low. What I mean is that change is coming around the corner, whether you like it not. It might sound like the title of an 80s sci-fi movie, but the robots <are> coming. Many of us will have to adapt in one way or another to the technology that will alter many industries (as well as a severely damaged economy in the post-Brexit world). I can remember working on magazines and very important people declaring the internet was a phase and not to be paid much attention to. In some ways, the change has already begun.

Plus, we’ll all be living longer (women have higher life expectancy than men), and working longer because pensions will be pushed further and further back. So, something has to give. This time round, it doesn’t feel so much a case of “new year, new you” but “new year, new everything”.

It’s easy to spiral into existential panic at the talk of robots and pensions. Forgive me. But I’m interested, as a 33-year-old woman, with many, many years of work ahead of me, in how we make career switches more easily and become more adaptable as and when we need to. How do we become more agile? And not just in January, when the media tells us to take a long hard look at ourselves. From the collapse of the 9 to 5, the call for flexible working and advances in technology, there is a ground swell of change and it feels, more than ever, that many of us will have several different careers, not one lifelong service to a single sector.

Career changes have to be seen as par for the course, not a one-off leap made only by the bold

One suggestion I have in preparing for a multi-career is that we let go of the prestige of job titles and start defining ourselves by our skill sets. If we understand our skills and how they might transfer and translate, instead of only seeing our position in an existing (and potentially one day redundant) framework, we might open more doors for ourselves. I’m currently watching a friend who wants to change industry, but is struggling because employers are hung up on titles.

It makes no sense.

For starters, when I’ve witnessed people change career, they tend to be far more focused and dedicated, because it’s a decision they’ve spent a long time on and the stakes are high. Furthermore, we know diversity can take many forms, and a more diverse team will make a company more profitable, so why not invest in someone who is going to see things slightly differently? We’ve already begun to see some fluidity in the jobs market. Increasingly, candidates no longer “need” a certain amount of years at a job on their CV. Millennials are accused of having no loyalty, but their ability to jump from job to job is only going to serve them in the future.

The other thing I believe will make a change of career possible is not to be frightened of change. Changing a career at the moment feels like an annual event of fear that inevitably gets put off. There’s too much at risk. And, yes, stakes are high when, for example, childcare needs paying, but we shouldn’t be suspicious of career changes – we should embrace them, support them and start getting ourselves ready, step by step, as we work toward a new skill or a new contact or new interest.

Career changes have to be seen as par for the course, not a one-off leap made only by the bold. After all, if I’m working until I’m 75, surely I need to find ways to stay both employable and interested? And while I know there are career coaches out there, I believe a government-funded careers adviser (with the possibility for work experience) for the 35-plus might be a worthy investment.

Career changes take courage, risk and hard work. But they shouldn’t be part of a January gloom crisis. Instead, they should be an ongoing conversation, a way of moving forward and a new way of looking at what we have to offer. If we think skills first, job title second, perhaps we can cast a wider net – and when those robots come, we’ll be ready for them.

@marisajbate

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Illustration: Rosie Carmichael
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