Changing Job or Career Direction

When you're stuck in a rut and dreading each day of work, a change of job may seem to be the answer. As the old saying goes "the grass is always greener on the other side".  But is it? You need to look at your current situation clearly and logically, and not emotionally. You want to be running towards a good opportunity and not away from a bad situation. A purely emotional decision could make a bad situation worse.  Consider firstly some of the features a good (but not necessarily a perfect) job should provide:

  1. Work you like to do
  2. A role you are satisfied with, or are even happy about
  3. Career growth opportunities
  4. A boss / management you like working for
  5. Co-workers you like working with
  6. Fair compensation
  7. Professional and personal growth

 If you are not getting any of these - it's time to move. However, most people find their jobs not all that bad. Too often people leave good jobs and regret it after the change, so if you are thinking that you might actually want to change job, make the decision using a logical approach and not an emotional one. Here is six crucial questions, which, if answered honestly, will help you to think it through, evaluate your position and view the prospect with a steady gaze.

1. Why do you want to change?

Be clear about why you want to leave so that you don't jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. The most common reasons are:

  1. You've been there too long and you are feeling bored and stuck
  2. You're no longer interested in the subject or the work
  3. You feel undervalued
  4. Reorganisation and restructuring have changed your role
  5. You're making no career progress
  6. You're too young to sit it out until you retire
  7. You don't get on with your co-workers or your Manager
  8. A general need for change (some people need the stimulus of change in their lives more than others).
2. Do you really want to change job?

Think about whether it really is your job that you want to change and not your career direction. If you are considering a change in direction, go to the Changing Direction section of this site. 

It is important to be very specific about what you do and don't like about your current job - it may be your role, your boss, the working environment or your terms and conditions. Think about exactly what would make your working life more enjoyable. Make sure you explore all your options and don't rush the process.

  1. List everything you like about your present job, and be honest about any and all advantages
  2. List everything you don't like about the job but you can actually live with
  3. List everything you hate about the job - you can't tolerate and the ones you just can't change
  4. Now ask yourself honestly - is it really that bad? If it is - head for the exit as soon as possible. If it's not that bad maybe you can live with it, and work on changing the specific things that you can?

3. What kind of work do you want to do?

You may already have a good idea of what you want to do. Answering the first two questions may have helped clarify your needs. Now think about what your ideal job would entail on a day-to-day basis, for example:

  1. Less paperwork and administration
  2. Working with different kinds of people, fewer people or in a team rather than on your own
  3. More or less direction / management or support
  4. More outdoor work, more or less travelling
  5. Working from home
  6. Working more flexibly

You may be able to negotiate these changes within your role at present. Your boss or manager may be able to help you with your problem, but you could make it easier for both of you if you already have some realistic and practical ideas. If you have an idea, write it down and approach your boss with it. Don't forget to include any benefits for your manager or the institution/organisation.

4. What are your skills and capabilities?

Think about your transferable or employability skills (Career Skills) and capabilities, aside from the specific subject or job area, for example:

  1. Organisational skills
  2. Communication skills
  3. People skills
  4. Task skills

Take stock of your skills as these will guide you in terms of what you have to offer a new employer, or in terms of what skills you need to improve in order to make you more employable. Take this self-assessment exercise (pdf)  to audit your current skills and set goals to develop further skills.

5. Do you want to use your existing skills and capabilities?

You may be thinking that you want a complete change, away from everything, but be sensible. Think about other roles or jobs where you can use the knowledge, skills and capabilities that you have built up. Talk to the people you work with to find out if there are opportunities associated with your work: suppliers, fellow project members or members of a professional association, if you belong to one, may give you ideas to explore.

6. How much money do you need to make?

Are you prepared to drop your income level to get a new position or are you only going to consider higher earnings? Often there is a compromise needed between getting the conditions you want, the company you want and the pay you want. If less pay is part of the package, then take a long hard look at your current finances and write it all down: outgoings, income, and extra expenses. See where you can make cuts and get a very clear idea of exactly how much money you need to make over a year. Then do the same with any new position or job that you are looking at.

Moving On

Once you have determined that moving on is the best choice, you will need to start looking for work. Select your next employer carefully. Don't jump at the first offer, or even the highest paying offer, without further research. Evaluate your options. Which companies are industry leaders or on a solid growth path? Which sections of the labour market are likely to grow over the next few years? Lack of future growth will limit your long-term prospects. 

Find out which company cultures fit your work style and temperament. Look for firms with open, honest communication and demonstrated integrity. Some companies are very rigid whereas others offer a lot of independence.

Before seeking new employment, determine whether you will consider alternative work arrangements with similar work responsibilities and pay. There are three reasons to accept a lateral move:

  1. Your current situation is so bad and negative that you just need to get out.
  2. The move will lead to a better career path with better training and advancement possibilities.
  3. The move will enable you to achieve important personal goals, such as reducing your commute.

Regardless of your motivation, consider your decision carefully.

Before you accept a job offer, talk to those who know you well and will give you honest feedback. It's easy to get caught up with the emotion of the job hunt and fail to notice key elements.

Most importantly, avoid resigning your current position until you have gained the next one.

Changing Career Direction

Sometimes changing jobs is not enough. What you want is a complete change. There may be one or more factors pushing you into such a decision, such as:

  • A change in personal circumstances means your current job no longer suits you.
  • You no longer value the work you are doing and feel you have something more to offer.
  • Your current position is about to be made redundant, and the thought of pursuing a similar job for another 5 years or more makes your heart sink.


It is also possible that there is nothing too bad about your current position, but you feel an impulse to do something much more personally rewarding. Sometimes we just grow out of what we are doing and need a change.

The first thing to consider is that you are almost certainly better off planning your career change while still employed - you at least have the financial stability that will give you time to develop your plan.

Secondly, you need to appreciate your situation - is this need for change based on knowing exactly what you want, or is it a more vague yearning to find a more satisfying career. In the first instance you might be considered fortunate - you know where you are going and your task is to find the route. In the second instance, you have more work to do, you must find the career that would suit you.

In either case consider the destination (your new career position) not as something set in stone - but as another stage in your overall career and life journey. Take guidance from those who have spent their life trying to understand and master the process.

Preparing for Change - Self assessment

If you are going to make a change, you will want it to be for the better. Therefore, it must be based on your best understanding of yourself and your circumstances. A career change is rarely a solo affair, so the others in your life must be considered.

1. Work/Life Balance

The energy, motivation and courage required to change career can distract you from bigger picture issues like achieving a healthy balance in all parts your life.

  • Work There are a number of different types of employment outside traditional 9 to 5 office hours. Being aware of these now may motivate you to adopt or aim for a different arrangement for the next phase of your career. 
  • Learning A wide range of educational opportunities are available to everyone, and more employment opportunities are available to those with higher levels of education. Expect to spend significant periods of time developing either academic and/or business knowledge, and fine tuning your 'career skills' as is appropriate to the new roles you adopt.
  • Playing Playing includes all activities that serve to relax and/or invigorate you - its about doing what you enjoy. Many of the happiest workers see their work as play - they are getting payed for what they might do anyway! A career change should aim to lessen the distinction between work and play, and regardless of how successful you are at this, making sure you make time for play is critical for your psychological well being.
  • Giving We all live in a community of some sort - be it family, friends, religion, club or whatever - and we receive the support and belongingness that they offer. We need to continuously ensure that we contribute to our community and not get lost in our quest for our personal goals. Finding a career that contributes to one of the communities you are involved in can be doubly satisfying as your sense of purpose and value can be easily seen.

2. Your Knowledge

It’s a good idea to reflect on what knowledge you have accumulated during your career so far. This may be what you learned during your school years, what you have studied since then, and what specialist knowledge you may have picked up during your working years.

What aspects of your education have you enjoyed and has helped you along your path so far? What aspects will contribute towards a new direction? What areas might you need to develop now or build on in preparation for a new move?

If you have had a number of positions in your career to date, you may well have an unusual mix of specialist knowledge and practical experience. Such combinations are likely to be highly valued and may position you in a relatively unique position for new employment. Reflect on the combinations of experience you have and brainstorm how those experiences could be applied to areas that interest you now.

With continuous education being the norm, consider topping up your skills by participating in dedicated upskilling programs or conversion courses run by the Universities and Institutes of Technologies.

3. Your Skills

In your career so far you will have developed a range of skills that will enable you to use your knowledge and experience effectively in the world. Knowing what skills you have can help you understand what you will be able to achieve in a new career.

You can learn about these 'transferable skills' and complete a skills audit by downloading our Career Skills Self-Assessment form and completing the exercises. You can get additional information from looking into what employers look for when recruiting new staff.

4. Your Interests

There are two factors to consider here - those interests that are quite specific (e.g. soccer, traditional music, or specific hobbies) and those that represent general interests (e.g. practical work, helping work). If you have specific hobbies that you think you might like to pursue professionally, then you should look objectively at your hobby in the context of your knowledge as discussed above, and your skills as measured using the skills exercise. Spend some time thinking these three things over and discuss with as wide a group of friends as you can. You may discover that there are possible roles that would combine elements of your previous knowledge and skills with some aspect of your hobby.

If nothing comes of this exercise, or you want to explore further possibilities, then create a career interests profile (use the Join button at the top of this page to create an account and complete the Careers Portal Interest Profiler CPIP). Your interests profile should clarify some of your general motivations, and can be used to suggest occupations and courses that have something in common with your interests. You will be able to explore hundreds of occupations and courses in detail and this should enable you to shortlist a number of possibilities to focus your attention on.

5. Your Values

Your values are a guide to your career needs and wants. Again there are two considerations here - those values that are general (e.g. achievement, support) and those that are more specific (e.g. working indoors, showing commitment). Though an exploration of your values will not alone point you towards a particular career, consideration of your values can help focus your exploration.

You can take a general values self-assessment online here to rank your core values, and then proceed to compare your values with a range of occupations. This may alert you to any mismatch and give you time to reconsider your options.

Once you have developed a reasonable sense of who you are and what motivates you, you should have a more solid sense of what you might like to do. The next task is to see what is available in the world of work.

Researching the World of Work

The world of work is continuously changing. Different industry sectors grow and shrink according to market conditions. New occupations are invented every day. To change your career you need both the internal confidence to succeed and the clearest picture possible of your future position. To make your new move in confidence talk and discuss your options with as many people as you can. In particular try to get to talk to someone who is already doing that job or one similar to it. If the job is in a particular company, research the company in depth - get as much information about what it is like on the inside.

You will find on this site many in-depth interviews of people from all walks of life who discuss many aspects of their career path to date, including some who have probably faced similar situations to you. These may inspire you to take up positions you had not considered before and could provide valuable first-hand information about an area you are unfamiliar with.

Complete your research by following the guidelines set out in our section on Career Research.Keeping in mind what you have uncovered from completing the self-assessment exercises, work to locate the sectors that interest you most and that you might have most to contribute to. Your goal is to narrow the focus of your inquiry to a manageable region in the world of work, and start an in-depth exploration of that area - what companies operate there, what are the marketplace conditions, and where exactly might you fit.

Taking Action

At the end of your research you are likely to be left with one or two options. You will have identified a number of positions that you would like to try, and/or you will be of the opinion that you could form your own business to pursue your interests. In the first instance you are now ready to start looking for a job. If starting your own business is something you want to consider, then you must start researching this as an option.

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