Career change: common pitfalls

Stuck in a rut and wondering if you can ever land your dream job? Here are 5 common traps people fall into when they are trying to figure out their next career move.

Samantha Ng

3/27/20234 min read

Making a career change can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but also stressful and daunting depending on whether you're the one instigating it, your personal circumstances, and how realistic your end goals are from your starting point - if you even know your goals! Whether you're looking for a new challenge, better work-life balance, or simply a change of scenery, changing careers is a significant decision that requires careful planning and preparation. Based on my own experience and those of other career coaches, here are 5 common pitfalls people make when changing careers, and tips on how to avoid them.

  1. Trying to find that elusive "dream job"
    It's easy to know what you don't want from your current job - the work hours, the tasks, the boss, the lack of progression... and it's easy to be envious of others who seem have it all (e.g. the billionaire philanthropic CEO with the picture-perfect family). But what's a "dream job" for YOU? Once you unpack everything, it often boils down to finding meaning in what you do, feeling sufficiently challenged and appreciated, being appropriately remunerated, and work-life balance. Knowing your priorities across these dimensions may give you revelations you hadn't previously considered - e.g. perhaps making tweaks to your current job will allow you to pursue your passions on the side, or perhaps a "dream job" doesn't exist for you, but rather a series of separate jobs that together give you the perfect portfolio career and balance you seek. Having a boundless mindset while brainstorming your options, but being realistic about the must-haves in your priority list, can together help you define an achievable career goal.

  2. Underestimating the time, effort and financial support required
    It takes time to manoeuvre a career change, even if you know exactly what you want. Just like pieces on a chessboard, you may need to take steps to move within an organisation to be closer to a job scope you desire before moving laterally into another industry, for example. If you need to reskill / upskill, finding the time to invest in further education will require financial compromises in the short run and an acceptance that you may need to "reset" the career ladder you've climbed so far. According to an article on Guardian Jobs, ~25% of job switchers voice regret about their moves due to financial insecurity, the stress of moving jobs without the relevant experience, and the higher personal stakes involved - particularly when one is changing careers to start a business. Patience is certainly a virtue if you do decide make a big move.

  3. Focusing too much (or not enough) on your CV
    This is a tricky one to get right. Depending on your new goal, what's on or not on your CV, may or may not be important. One common mistake I've seen clients make is to value paper qualifications too much, thinking that they will land their desired job after completing a new (often expensive) degree or vocational training. While qualifications can help, they are not a replacement for networking and work experience. They can certainly give you the confidence and know-how to move closer to your desired role, but career switchers are often at a disadvantage in their new chosen industry vs. others who've started before them. Knowing how to recast your CV to highlight your transferrable skills (with or without that new qualification) is something people often oversee. Unlike common perception, CVs are not static. Condensing years of experience on two pages, while hard, means you are at liberty to pick and choose highlights that cater to recruiters or employers in your new chosen industry. And be creative - in some cases, it's not the paper CV that will garner attention, but a video CV, or a portfolio of work on a website. Find the best medium to showcase yourself.

  4. Not experimenting or researching enough
    Another common regret is the (often belated) revelation that perhaps the grass is indeed greener on the other side, but that's because it's astroturf, or the neighbours used banned fertiliser. Many junior employees I know switch organisations for a better pay or job title, only to find out that it comes with worse work-life balance and a very different corporate culture. Others are so enamoured by the thought of being their own boss or doing something much more meaningful than their current role, they quit with gusto only to find it harder to make ends meet, and go back to their previous jobs with tails between their legs. If you have the financial cushion to support you, sure, make the moves with the option to backtrack later. For most people however, it's worth experimenting where possible before switching careers permanently. Invest in your new venture after hours or on weekends, volunteer. If you find yourself getting excited about your side hustle, that's a good sign that a move may be right.

  5. Not leveraging the resources around you
    As an introvert, I used to cringe when people mention networking. The thought of standing in large groups of people holding cocktails and engaging in mundane talk makes me freeze, even though I've gotten better over the years at being vaguely entertaining for the occasion. But there are ways to network that don't involve cocktail bars. I was algorithmically matched with my husband via online dating, and I've never physically met a significant number of my contacts on LinkedIn, to whom I'm connected via common interests or affiliations. When I ask my clients to draw network maps, they are often pleasantly surprised at the number of people they underleverage and who would most certainly support their career moves if asked. It's not just individuals at work who can help - family, friends, parent groups, neighbour networks, school and corporate alumni clubs - there are hidden resources in unexpected places that might just help you make the right move on your chessboard.

    So, still committed to making a career change after reading this? Great, be empowered - because only you can hop across the various pits between you and your goal, and feel free to call us if you need a little bit of help :)