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Career choices: Change jobs or change professions?

It is helpful to anticipate the challenges you may encounter when you decide to change jobs or change professions. 

(Details in the following stories have been changed to protect privacy.)

When a good friend was 18-years-old and heading off to university, his high school teachers suggested that he become an engineer. Ian didn’t have a realistic perspective of the profession at the time, but everyone agreed that engineering would be the perfect career for him because he was good at math, so off he went.

Ian didn’t thrive studying engineering but no one ever suggested he should like what he was studying so he finished the degree. He spent a number of years working as an engineer before he changed careers. Today he is a technical writer.

As Ian was exploring the idea of making a career change, he spoke with several technical writers about the training they had completed and their day-to-day work. He wanted to make sure, on this second go-round, that he was making a good decision and that he had an accurate picture of what his new professional life would be like before he made the leap.

The first few technical writers told Ian that jobs were scarce, which was true in New York where he lived at the time. The questions Ian asked evolved as he met each new technical writer. Would you train as a technical writer again, knowing what you know? What are the negatives that come with working in the field? What do you dislike about your work? What do people end up doing when they can’t find work?

At about the same time, another friend’s 18-year-old daughter told Ian that she was thinking about becoming an engineer. He told her he would be happy to talk to her about his experiences. Ian suggested she also talk to several other engineers to ensure she received an informed, balanced view of the field. The young woman met with six engineers in total before she made the decision to enter the field.

Ian said he wishes, when he was 18-years-old, that someone had suggested he talk to several engineers about their careers. Who knows? If he had, perhaps he would have chosen writing as his first career.

My own career choices, coupled with books I have read, colleagues I have consulted with, conferences I have attended, and my experience with various clients, provide the basis for how I work with clients who are looking to change either their job or their profession.

Many of my clients already have some idea of what they would like to do next when we begin to talk. When this is the case, I suggest that they arrange meetings with several people who already work in their new, identified area so they can obtain good, solid answers to their questions from people who have had hands-on experience doing what they think they would like to do.

Some of my clients express resistance to the idea of cold-calling a stranger and asking them to meet with them. When this is the case, I suggest that they start by meeting with someone they already know. This is how Jim set up his first meeting with a technical writer — his neighbour was a technical writer.

To the surprise of some of my clients, pretty much everyone they have asked to meet for lunch has accepted. This receptivity does not surprise me, however, because who wouldn’t be willing to help a someone out by doing something as simple as talking about their own experiences?

The trick to finding more people to talk to, after the initial meeting, is to ask the first person you meet with if they can suggest someone they know who will be willing to meet with you as well. Most people are willing to provide you with the name of a colleague who will also be willing to help you. It turns out that people are kind, as a general rule.

For my clients who have less of an idea about what they want to do in their next job – or if they may even want to change professions — I suggest they throw the net a little wider and see what turns up. I suggest that they meet with people in a variety of professionals. Perhaps they might start by talking to a teacher, and then they can add a lawyer, an accountant, and a computer programmer. With each new person they talk to, I suggest that they document what aspects of each profession appeals to them and what aspects they do not like.

As the lists grow, it’s surprising how pretty much everyone begins to actively steer the direction their career search takes. For example, someone might be attracted to the summer vacation of a teacher and the salary of a lawyer, but not to the long hours a lawyer works or the isolation an accountant can experience. Viewed cumulatively, these lists can begin to spell out the next direction the person can explore.

I am aware that the process I suggest my clients use to identify the type of work they want to do next takes courage, effort, and time to execute. However, when you realize you may remain in your next job until you are 65 years old, it makes sense that some effort is warranted.

Good luck with your search.

— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

If you would like support, contact me to schedule an appointment or a free 15 minute consultation.


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