I have several new clients at the moment who are contemplating a career change.  Their biggest worry is that they will make a huge mistake.  They have come to me for coaching as they feel paralysed by indecision.  

So, if you find yourself in this situation, but don’t have a coach to support you, what can you do to kick-start your career change?  In this article I suggest seven good questions to ask if you find yourself in such an impasse.   They are:

•    Where’s the pain? 
•    What’s in my Treasure Chest? 
•    What if I do nothing?
•    What would I say to my best friend?
•    Who knows?
•    What baby steps can I take?
•    What are my non-negotiables?

Where’s the pain?

You might be unhappy in your job but, before you hand in your notice, work out what specifically is wrong, otherwise you might turn your back on a potentially satisfying career or jump into a similar situation elsewhere.  Is it the job itself?  Is it a bullying or incompetent manager who is undermining your confidence or failing to see your potential?  Is it the organisation’s purpose and values that don’t match your own? To avoid this – work out what is wrong at work.

Conduct an audit of your situation.  Answer these questions and rate your answers on a scale of 1 -10  (1 is low, 10 is high):

  • How much happiness and fulfilment do I get from my work?
  • To what extent can I use my skills and experience?
  • To what extent have I developed over the past 2 years?
  • How does my boss assess my capability?
  • How does my boss assess my potential?
  • To what extent have my achievements been recognised over the past 2 years?
  • How satisfied am I with my pay and benefits?
  • How do I score my work life balance?
  • To what extent do I agree with my organisation’s purpose, values and direction?


When you have articulated exactly where the problems lie, you can reflect on whether there is anything you can do to change the situation.  If not, then at least you have more information about what is important to you and what you want from a career.  

What’s in my Treasure Chest?

People who have been in one job, organisation or sector for a long time, often don’t appreciate their strengths, skills and experiences and how they might transfer to other contexts.  They imagine the only option is a job similar to their current one.  So working out what makes you tick and what you have going for you can boost your confidence and help to kick-start a career move.   In the seminar, “Take Control of Your Career” we call this ‘Digging for Treasure’.  

Ask yourself:  ‘What do I have in my ‘Treasure Chest?

What if I do nothing?

Deciding to leave your current job involves actively putting yourself into a state of uncertainty.  Most of us think that doing nothing is the safest option but if you take a long-term view and imagine doing nothing and staying in your current job for the next 20 years or so… then things may appear quite different.  Doing nothing is often far from safe.  Sometimes if we procrastinate for too long, we miss our best opportunities to move on.

Ask yourself:  ‘What are the real risks of doing nothing?’

What would I say to my best friend?

Career changers can hold themselves back by listening to their inner fears. Our negative self-talk convinces us that it’s better to put up with an unhappy situation than explore other possibilities.  It persuades us that we’re not good enough to succeed in a different type of job or organisation.  So we stay put, treading water and getting overlooked by management. As one client reported ‘I was seen as part of the furniture around here’.   
So bring that negative self-talk out into the open, step back and review it rationally.  We are often kinder to our friends than we are to ourselves so why not imagine you are your own best friend?   

Ask yourself: ‘What would I say to my best friend if they expressed these negative thoughts?’

Who knows?

It is easy to spend your time daydreaming about an alternative career without exploring whether it is a realistic possibility.   To kick-start a career change it is important to do your research.  Speak to people in the career, organisation or sector that interests you.  Would they be interested in someone with your skills and experience?  Most people are flattered to be asked about their job and how they achieved success.  It is always easiest to start with people you know so:

Ask yourself: ‘Who do I know that might know something about this career (organisation or sector) or might know someone who does?’


What baby steps can I take right now?

If it feels too risky to leap headlong into a new career it is worth thinking about any baby steps you might take. For example: conducting research online; studying for a qualification; networking with those in your chosen field; shadowing someone in your target career; moving to part-time work so you can do something else on your days off e.g. freelancing, starting your own business or volunteering for a charity.  

Ask yourself:  ‘What single step can I take today towards my target career or job?’

What are my non-negotiables?

Sometimes people set the bar so high that all opportunities are rejected as they are not ‘perfect’.  Few roles will meet all your needs so work out which are the most important things you need from a job or career and which are ‘nice to have’

Ask yourself:  ‘When I think about my next career move what are the non-negotiables and what are the nice-to-haves?’  

Finally, remember that even if you do make a mistake, it is not the end of the world.  You can move on again.  And of course, you may learn some valuable lessons from the experience and so be clearer about what you want in future.A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”.    Albert Einstein 

Hilary Danelian