How to change career: Stylist’s guide to overcoming your fear of the unknown and chasing your dream job

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Lauren Geall
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If the coronavirus pandemic has left you dreaming of a more challenging, engaging or well-paid career, here’s how to ensure your fear of the unknown doesn’t stand in the way of you making a change.

The prospect of changing your career will always be scary, and the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made things any easier.

Landing yourself a new job is likely to be a lot more challenging right now – new data from LinkedIn has revealed that the UK jobs market is currently three times more competitive due to coronavirus. However, if working from home has left you dreaming of a position with a better work-life balance, more responsibility or something that will challenge you skills-wise, there’s no harm in looking around for opportunities.

It’s important to remember that taking the plunge and beginning the search for career 2.0 is a big moment for anyone, even without a global pandemic in the way. Even in normal times, the fears and misconceptions we hold about change often hold us back from taking the next step in our career.

Indeed, according to 2020 research by digital pension management company PensionBee, the two most common reasons why people decide not to change their career paths are age (20.91%) and fear of the unknown (29.41%).

Alongside these two reasons, the survey also found that a lack of available or relevant positions on the market (23.37%), not having enough savings to quit their current job (21.09%) and experiencing a difficult financial situation (20.40%) were all factors which stop people from making career changes. 

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It’s likely that many of us will relate to these fears and concerns which stop people from making a career change, but would we know what to do about them?

Here, we’ve brought together some of the best tips, tricks and pieces of advice on how to change your career – including how to put together a killer CV and ace your interviews – to help you make your next move and secure the job you want. 

1. Combat your fear of the unknown

One of the hardest parts of getting a new job is the prospect of leaving an environment you know and understand for one that is completely foreign to you. You don’t even need to love your job or colleagues to feel this: as the old adage says, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

With this in mind, it’s important that you don’t let your comfort zone hold you back, no matter how tempting it may be. At the end of the day, personal growth only happens when we step outside our comfort zone.

However, to make this process slightly easier, there is something we can do to reduce that fear of the unknown: find people who have made the change you dream of.

A woman working on her laptop
How to change career: don't let a fear of the unknown hold you back from making the change you dream of.

As Evelyn Cotter, founder of SEVEN career coaching, says: “Find models of change. Look at others you know of who’ve made a change you’d like to replicate and study how they’ve done that, speak to them if you can and ask questions. It doesn’t need to be an exact match, but the more positive examples you can find and make real for yourself, the more likely you are to believe in making this change a reality.”

Cotter also advises getting out and meeting people doing the jobs you’re interested in.

“Test out in the most practical ways possible the new directions you’re exploring,” she suggests. “Go and speak to people in those roles and organisations, get under the skin of the day-to-day of your shortlisted directions and you’ll quickly get a realistic sense of what will work for you.”

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Award-winning chef Angela Hartnett previously echoed this sentiment when she spoke to Stylist about changing careers.

“Go and see something, whatever it is,” she said. “Whether you want to be a journalist or you want to be a writer, go and spend some time doing it. Save a bit of cash, take a month off and say I’m doing to go and work in a kitchen if it’s a chef you want to be. Because I think if you’re making a real huge career move, you need to.” 

2. Challenge your beliefs about age

The idea that we’re supposed to know what we want to do when we “grow up” is something that’s drilled into us throughout our education, but in reality, our idea of a dream career is constantly changing and evolving as we do.

Research has repeatedly shown that changing careers in our 30s is actually the optimum time to do so – but the idea that anyone is too old to make the change they dream of is something we should all be challenging.

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As Karen Meager, a psychotherapist who set up careers consultancy Monkey Puzzle Training, previously told Stylist: “We often end up in careers we think we ‘should’ have taken and when we get to our 30s, we realise we have other talents and passions.”

Instead of staying in a job because you feel like it’s too late to chase the career you’re interested in, start off by looking for someone who’s changed career at an age older than you, and analyse how they went about it and what you can learn about it. This Twitter thread is a great reminder that it’s never too late to chase your dreams.

A woman writing in a notebook
How to change career: obtain the skills you need by attending evening classes and training programmes.

“It’s all a mind game,” explains Cotter. “What makes it easier or more difficult is your own perceptions and mental limitations as to what is possible for you. When you can break those open and allow yourself to go beyond what you thought you or someone your age or with your experience can do, the sky really is the limit. Our mindset needs to be aligned with where we want to be, not where we are or where we were.”

And if your reluctance to move on to a new career is based on your lack of skills or training in the area you’re interested in, don’t worry. There are actually plenty of evening classes and training programmes out there for you to attend – you just have to get started.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and apply for a new job or career, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to go about it.

One of the best things you can do to start is make sure you have enough money saved to give you the chance to do any training you want to do before you take the jump and start applying. And if you’re going freelance, it’s always a good idea to save up a couple of months salary to cover the rocky period when you’re first starting out – Emma Gannon recommends saving three months salary to give you a sufficient safety blanket (if you’re unsure how to start saving, why not take a look at this Japanese technique).

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It’s also important to prepare to face setbacks or failure, and make sure to keep ensure you don’t fall into negative self-talk.

“Be ready for resistance and have a plan for when the chips are down,” says Cotter. “We are usually our greatest challenge in making change happen. We like the apparent safety of familiarity but, to create something better we have to step out of what we know. Be ready for your negative self talk to pop up and all the reasons why you will fail. Expect it and you can tackle it by disarming it and continuing on regardless.”

Two women at a job interview
How to change career: make sure you're well equipped to sell yourself and your skills.

Next, make sure you take a look at all our tips and tricks for building a killer CV: from changing your name to featuring a variety of soft skills that make you stand out to a potential employer, there’s plenty you can do to give yourself the best chance at landing your dream job.

We’ve also got lots of interview advice available for you to take a look at (including how to navigate the world of virtual interviewing during Covid-19). 

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Images: Getty/Unsplash


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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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