In the Wrong Job? What Can You Do?

There are many reasons you might feel stuck in the wrong job. Here, Dr Anthony Lowe discusses the importance of creating ‘non-linear’ options for your career early on and maximising your skills and experience towards more rewarding work.

Perhaps your school pushed you to become an actuary because you were good at maths; or your company restructured, changing the nature of your role; or new technology made your skills redundant; or maybe your values and interests have changed over time. If you’re feeling stuck in the wrong job, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It is almost certain to happen to all of us at some point(s) in our career. It has certainly happened to me.

A word of warning though, if you think you’re in the wrong job, chances are your employer does too. I am constantly amazed when one of our employees says “you won’t know this, but I’m unhappy in my current role and would like a change”. Of course, I already know they’re unhappy: as a senior manager it’s my job to know about individual staff morale.

It is important to recognise that, unless you are lucky, your employer isn’t going to make a change happen for you. In today’s workforce each of us has to take responsibility for our own careers and career changes. Before you even apply for your next job, think about where it might take you next, and not just in a linear way. What opportunities would it open up? Whilst your future career path may seem clear cut, especially in the early part of your career, many of us hit a road block in our mid-40s. Often the cause is a major life event, such as the death of a family member or a partner’s redundancy. That’s when the value of having created non-linear options earlier on becomes valuable.

It’s also important to widen your opportunities by networking outside your company and industry sector. Take a look at your LinkedIn profile. Are your connections mainly current and former work colleagues? If so, think about how you might expand your network, perhaps through volunteering. For some people, volunteering their professional skills at a not-for-profit in an area they are passionate about is all that they need to regain career satisfaction and meaning.

So, if you’re in the wrong job, or even the wrong career, and want to make a change, what can you do? The first piece of advice I would offer is think broadly and be brave. All of us feel trapped to some extent by our responsibilities, whether that be the mortgage, the kids’ education, or even the expectations of friends and family. What are you passionate about? If you could do anything, what would you do? Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a writer or to own your own business? Think about it this way: you’re more likely to be successful at something you are truly passionate about. And how do you find your dream opportunity? Look online and talk to recruiters and members of your network. Online recruitment websites have made it easy to find job opportunities in any chosen sector.

Remember, though, that whatever you decide upon will take focus and determination to achieve. I am equally amazed when I ask the employee who has just announced they want a career change “so what would you like to do next?” and they haven’t thought about it. All they have is a sense of dissatisfaction and lack of meaning in their current role.

One thing that stops us from being brave is the fear that no employer is going to hire anyone who hasn’t already held a similar role. That’s a realistic concern in this age of specialisation. The way to overcome this concern is to think like an employer. The question is not what skills and experience do I have, but what skills and experience is the employer looking for?

Most likely this means that you need to adjust your resume for each application to bring the relevant skills to the fore. What may actually have been random past career choices may be able to crafted into just the right mix of skills and experience for the role. When writing your application remember that different sectors use different language. For example, the not-for-profit sector typically doesn’t use the words revenue and profit. Instead we use income and surplus. If you want to look like a local, you have to speak the language!

One final point: realistic salary and seniority expectations are important when making a career change. If you’re moving to a sector where you don’t have as much experience as the one you’ve come from, you may have to take a salary and seniority cut. Sometimes you have to be prepared to go backwards temporarily in order to move forward in the longer term.


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