Considering a career change? Plan carefully.

Before you take a career leap, it helps to have a plan.

The days of having a step-by-step career in one organisation are past, and new models of work are emerging. Changes once seen as radical are no longer seen as unusual, but to make them work takes planning, awareness and self-organisation. Michelle Gibbings outlines how to make a career leap.

“Many people make a major career change because they realise they are no longer being challenged,” says career consultant Michelle Gibbings, author of the book Career Leap*.

There might have been a change in their life situation that makes them think about what to do next, or they might be on the brink of burnout, feeling the physical signs of stress, says Gibbings.

Of course, there are cases where it is not a choice but pushed onto them by redundancy, she adds. “That can be traumatic in the short term but in my experience it often turns out to be a blessing, opening up opportunities for personal and professional reinvention that might not otherwise have been considered.”

For people in the finance sector, the most common transition is a shift from a corporate environment to a consulting practice or small business. If the move seems radical, however, there is usually some point of commonality of skills, which might be management, financial advice, or strategic knowledge.

“I had one client who moved from a corporate role to start a florist business,” says Gibbings. “The point of commonality was her business knowledge, as she was managing the business, not arranging flowers. She was very happy with the change.”

How to start your career change

An essential first step in making a career leap is to work out where you want to go, which entails deciding what you like to do.

Surprisingly, many people do not actually know what they like to do. This is particularly true in the finance sector, where it can be difficult to find the time for self-reflection and consideration.

“Look at it as an audit,” says Gibbings. “An examination of your work, your life, and the balance you want to have. It can be a hard thing to do on your own.”

She suggests talking to as many people as you can, including those different from yourself in outlook and experience.

“People often find that they can do more than they first think they can,” she says.

Warren Coxall, associate partner at recruitment, search and advisory firm FutureYou, agrees.

“Making a career transition may mean making sacrifices in the short term,” he says. “This may be taking on a more junior role, completing additional study, or taking an initial pay cut. But anyone can make a career change at any stage.”

Coxall is in a good position to know. He has made a number of career changes, including from the entertainment industry into recruitment and search, and now into a talent advisory role.

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Research your career change

Both Gibbings and Coxall emphasise that a career leap should not be a leap in the dark. Once the direction is chosen there should be a period of research to identify what will be needed.

It might be necessary to develop new skills, especially if you are going out on your own. Adjusting to the lack of support provided by a corporate environment can be a problem, especially when it comes to learning new technology and processes without experts to call upon.

Another issue in moving out of a large company is the change in social dynamics. Working for yourself can be isolating for people used to having others around them, so it can be important to have a supporting network of friends and family.

“No career can be considered in isolation. The best career path is one that aligns with your personal purpose and values,” Coxall says. “Consider how your new career path will impact your relationships, finances and daily life. 

“It’s important to ask yourself the tough questions and be honest with your answers. Are you willing to relocate for a new career opportunity? Are you willing to sacrifice financial reward for professional growth?”

Many people will want to give you advice and Coxall says you should be judicious in how you evaluate this. “It is ultimately your decision so don’t be swayed, and seek out others who will help you along the journey.”

Don’t rush into a career change

Coxall also advises that the decision to make a career leap should not be rushed.

He took over a year to decide how and to where he should make his own career leap into the talent space, and has never looked back.

Likewise, Gibbings notes that adjusting to a new pattern of work can be difficult. “Don’t assume that what worked for you in your old career will work in the new environment,” she says.

Be prepared to throw out the old rulebook. “If you take your leap for granted and are not strategic about how you position yourself, build connections or focus your effort, then unfortunately you’ll most likely land face first.”

Five tips for making a successful career leap

  • Understand why you want to leave where you are
  • Take some time to decide where you want to go
  • Conduct a careful audit of your skills
  • Determine what you will need in your new role
  • Understand how your change will affect your personal life and the lives of those around you
* Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career by Michelle Gibbings, Wiley, ISBN 9780730352198. A copy of this book is held by the CPA Library.

Read next: Rethink your career: what to consider when your career path dims


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