No more jobs for life: Navigate your career changes with transferable skills

Published November 10th, 2015 - 05:00 GMT
Today's graduates are unlikely to stay in the same job as new trends and opportunities present themselves. (Shutterstock)
Today's graduates are unlikely to stay in the same job as new trends and opportunities present themselves. (Shutterstock)

If Bill Gates had got bored with software in his twenties and decided to try his luck as a rock guitarist, would the world be the same today? Would technology have evolved in a significantly different direction? Would ‘Microsoft-Rock’ have been a new genre of music? And, most importantly, would it have been any good?

Well, Bill stuck to his guns and it’s fair to say things worked out pretty well for him, and most probably for music-lovers too, but many of us do opt to change career direction and for some it’s the best decision we ever made.

When it comes to your career, taking a leap of faith into the unknown can often prove the most rewarding of challenges. True to the nature of modern society, changing your job at some point during your working life has become increasingly popular. If you were to enquire where someone started their career, it is highly likely that they would give an answer which is far removed from their current occupation. In a society where increased opportunities are available and diversifying your occupational field is encouraged, changing your job during your career path is becoming almost inevitable.

Over the last couple of decades a significant shift in attitude can be charted in terms of the number of people who enjoy a “career for life”. Rather than seeing change as a negative force, both employees and employers are acknowledging that having a varied background of experience can prove hugely beneficial.

Typically, an undergraduate student will have chosen their main subject area based on a combination of personal interest and preferred future career path. Many change their minds about the latter even during their studies, but many will still go on to a relevant career path.

For example, upon leaving university an engineering graduate is very likely to head towards a large transport or construction firm. He or she will hopefully receive training and development and go on to develop a certain expertise. Realistically, it is likely to take them at least two to three years to establish if this really is the right career choice for them, especially given their initial inexperience in the workplace in general.

They may love their work and consider it as the only thing they want to do for the remainder of their working lives. However, they will also be exposed to many other career paths through their professional and social networks. They will see how much friends and colleagues enjoy their careers and they will gain a deeper understanding of what provides career satisfaction, opportunity and reward.

New trends will develop and opportunities will possibly present themselves. It’s no surprise that the ‘job for life’ concept is increasingly rare. So when you decide to change your career path, how do you go about it? Unless you are lucky enough to be headhunted or to have opportunity knock at your door you need to apply yourself in the same way you would when developing a project plan in your current role.

Making a career change is one of the most commonly cited reasons for deciding to pursue an MBA. It makes a lot of sense – you have developed a specific skill set, a significant amount of experience and a deeper understanding of what kind of work would suit you best. Now you want to build on this in a different direction, but you do not want to start over from entry-level.

An MBA degree offers you new and transferable skills and knowledge, which adds to your marketability to a much broader range of employers. Choose the right course and your ideal employer could be approaching you before you’re even alum. Don’t rely on it though – you need to prepare yourself:

Think laterally

Never underestimate yourself and your abilities. It is vital when you are thinking of undertaking a new career that you look at your CV with an open mind. Most industry sectors offer a broad and diverse range of occupational fields which each require a different set of skills. Being critical of your past experience and understanding how some of the skills you have gained in previous employment can be applicable to a new role is the crucial starting point.

Transferable Skills

So, what have you learnt so far? What is it about you, your education and your work experience that makes you special? What are your biggest strengths and how can you demonstrate them. Be positive – you’ve got a lot to offer – but be realistic. Don’t kid yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.

Broaden your horizons

It’s important to think outside of the box when you are looking at starting a new profession. Very often it is easy to have a stereotypical idea of what a job will be like before fully researching the relevant information. Talk to people in the industry sectors you are interested in and exploit your networks as much as possible.

Confidence is key

The idea of learning an entirely new occupation from scratch can be an extremely daunting prospect. There will be a definite period of adapting, and it is highly likely that there will be many hurdles that need to be overcome. It is crucial not to feel overwhelmed by this and maintain a focus as to why you chose to pursue this career change in the first place. Remaining resolute in your decision is vital.

The right attitude

In a work environment, having the right attitude often counts above all else. Showing enthusiasm, a willingness to work as a team player, and dedication in facing new challenges are strong qualities for a candidate to display and these merits can mark the difference between staying on the bottom rung of the ladder and making swift career progression.

Look to the future

Once you have made that initial step, a career in any industry can prove extremely prosperous for those willing to display diligence, enthusiasm and a positive work ethic. The opportunities for development and career progression are near limitless and there is very often the chance to move between individual sectors within an industry.

By Tom Harrison

This article originally appeared in

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