Facing career change with courage

Red Door - time to change

Creating career change

It’s time for us to start making our life plans match our life spans. Most people start their first full time job in their 20s. The age of retirement in most advanced nations is between 6- and 65 years of age. This means, that for the average adult, you work life span should be around 40 years long.  You will change significantly during these four decades – experiences such as having children, moving countries, experiencing the death of a parent, the end of a marriage, experiencing significant changes in health – will shape you into a different person from who you were when you began your career building journey. Given these changes, and the enormous changes in the shape and future of the workforce, it is wise to accept that one career may not cover your whole work life. That’s OK. There are many years, and many opportunities to consider career change.

Here is our advice if you need to change career – weather you decide to jump into something new, or were pushed from where you were once settled.


If you’ve recently lost your job:

There are a number of euphemisms to describe the job loss – redundancy, right sizing, down-sizing. These are all impersonal terms and do not capture the emotional journey associated with job loss. The financial arrangements aside, please remember that job loss is a considerable personal stress and you will likely experience stages of grief including shock, bargaining, anger, denial and eventually, acceptance. It is a period that can test our resilience, and can lead to feeling of loss of self.

In Hong Kong, many of us define ourselves through the jobs we hold, and job loss can create a personal sense of worthlessness which may lead to the temptation to withdraw from other people. Please don’t do this. Isolation will possibly exacerbate negative self-talk and the much needed “normalisation” which follows the exit from your employer.  Remember during their work lifespans, many  people experience job loss outside of their control, this experience, whilst important  is not personal and unique to you. Start on the project to replace your job will help you move from the negative feelings associated with job loss, into a more positive feeling.


Finding another job:

You will not find the perfect job by accident. If you are looking for a similar role to the one you held previously, even though you are probably well-qualified, remember that the process of looking for a job has changed dramatically in the past 10, or even 5 years. In a tight job market, employers have their choice of job applicants, and will not see the need to invest capital to advertise available positions in the paper. They may only post open positions on their own websites, or not communicate obviously about available positions at all. The traditional process of sending your standard CV and application letter in response to an advertisement is not the only route to securing your new position. You need to update your application process to include proactive and online aspects, differentiation, utilising your network, and considering the big picture.

The online aspects include not just looking on line, but also having a good online profile on sites such as LinkedIn. It is essential to have a powerful LinkedIn profile. If you are not sure how to maximise your profile on LinkedIn there are workshops and experts who help with this specific self-marketing skill. Some advice they will give you is to provide a professional photo of yourself, include key aspects of your CV, list key achievements and get as many recommendations as possible. Play up any performance metrics that you can that indicate how you have contribute to the bottom line in your previous company, whatever savings you made or revenue you contributed. In a tight employment market, employers are looking to ensure secure appointments and these numbers provide comfort.

To differentiate yourself from plenty of other applicants take a moment to run a personal self-inventory of your skills and attributes. Be kind yourself at this time, this is not a time to beat yourself up. If you are not able to frame your attributes in a positive light consider investing in a coach or a counsellor to help you better see and list your strengths. Consider, how are you different from other applicants? Are you more experienced that others? If so, then help a potential employer understand the potential benefit of your experience. If you are younger,  you may wish to highlight your fresh youthful approach to challenges, as what separates you from others.

Many applicants find their next job through their network rather than in response to an advertisement. Utilizing your network is the way to find the jobs that nobody (yet) knows about. If you can apply for the job before it becomes available you have a special advantage. Any meeting of new people may be treated as the first stage of a job interview, so have your ‘elevator pitch’ that is your 2-3 sentence summary of who you are and your differentiation – well rehearsed.

It can be difficult to remain positive if your ego has been hurt by your current job frustrations or job loss.  However remember job stress and job loss are not rare or exceptional, just state the facts in a non-emotive manner. You have nothing to be ashamed of – just focus on the positive rather than list a litany of complaints about your previous job.

Finding a mentor through your current contacts, or through networking, can also be helpful to get a new job, or a promotion. More senior personnel in your industry can identify the key attributes you need to add to your CV or help you navigate the politics of your industry.

Keep the big picture in mind when applying for a new job. Whilst you may put your complete heart and soul into every application, remain pragmatic.  Job applications are a numbers game, so play the long game. Employers have a wealth of applicants for every available position, so if you are not the final candidate, continue the process. If feedback is available then ask for it. It will help you note if your applications need to be reframed to highlight particular skills, or they had a particular type of candidate in mind.

Do yourself a favour and commit to applying for 30 or more jobs. This way you can focus on job search as a process and a project, improving each application as you go. Eventually you will be successful.


Following your heart – suggestions to completely change your career: 

Given the length of your life span, you might consider changing career completely. It would make sense that you have two to three careers over a 50 year work span.

Do you know what you would like to do next? If not you can use some pen and paper tools to help brainstorm potential futures for you to consider. In coaching sessions we use eight pronged spider diagram (which we call the  career-webweaver) to discuss at least 8 career change options with clients. We use this larger number deliberately to help people break out of the idea restrictions they may have imposed on themselves.

For one of the eight options I usually ask the client, “What job would you do for no pay?” This identifies what your real passions are. Can you turn your passion into a career?

Once the 8 slots are filled we start further information what is attractive about each of the jobs listed, we assess in what ways they could potentially make money from each of these activities, and list additional information or training which would be required to reach those goals. At this stage of the  each of the opportunities, and how they could make money from those activities. Usually two to three of the options start to look more possible when they are ranked from 1-8 in terms of the clients interest. Some of the ideas can even be combined into an entire new possibility.

career webweaver

Many of the skills you have already are transferable to another industry – creativity, ability to write, budgeting skills, and project management – are helpful skills within a number of different careers.

If you desire considerable career change I have two recommendations for you. Firstly, you remain dedicated to your course of change. Whilst friends and family may mean well, they may try to save you from the difficulty of change, but may be inadvertently advising you to follow someone else’s dream, which may have been a pattern from your past that you may wish to break out of.

Secondly I urge you to consider your current and future metrics of success. If financial recompense is your only measure of success, career change will be particularly challenging. Try to think about what other currencies really matter to you – it might be knowing that you contribute to society, the satisfaction of being your own boss, spending more time with your family, flexible work scenarios, and even the thrill of creating something new. Also list the price you pay personally to stay in your current job – endless workplace politics, career stagnation – this list is what you potentially “save” when you leaving your current job.


Some final advice

Career change can be scary, but it can also be exciting. You are not finished developing yet, I hope you never are!




If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, resilience, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/REDDOORHongKong/


Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on adults in the areas of career change, loss of direction, burnout, relationship, depression, OCD, anxiety, perfectionism, the experience of divorce, family challenges,  and parenting special needs children.


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