Changing Careers.

Career Choices

Author  -  Mat Daniel

Thinking of changing careers?

It’s quite normal to think about changing careers. Our brains are designed to always be looking and comparing, and many of us think that grass is greener on the other side. Sometimes it is, but let’s also accept that our minds will wonder about changing. We all face career blips, and it’s natural to then evaluate what we are doing, and thinking about leaving is a part of that. We can also use that reflective time to re-evaluate how we work, and that may lead to improvements in the current career as well as new careers altogether.

A common thing that I encounter in doctors relates to how our work is organised, much more than it does to the doctoring career itself. In other words, it’s about pressures and expectations, resources, employment inflexibility, and life balance. In my view, it’s important to distinguish career changes arising due to work organisation from those arising because someone doesn’t like to be a doctor. If your issue is work organisation rather than doctoring, then options include changing specialty, changing working hours, and also developing a set of career management skills that enable you to have the career that you want (coaching can help you develop those career management skills). Thus, leaving may not be the right answer for you, and many other organisations face exactly the same challenges as the NHS.

If you are thinking about changing careers (whether this is another internal role, a different specialty, or something completely different), here is a five step process to help you. I'd also suggest looking at my choosing careers page.

1: What is the reason for change? Be crystal clear in your mind what is driving the change.

What exactly are the reasons for change?

What’s missing in your current job?

Is it the job or the organisation?

Is this a move away from issues or towards something better or both?

How long have you felt like this?

What is happening to your wish to change over time?

Have you faced similar situations in the past, and what did you do?

Are you serious about career change or is thinking about alternatives simply an escapism strategy?

What would you miss if you leave your current job?

Can you stay in your current role but make changes that will make it more attractive?

Can you stay in current role but identify activities outside work that will give you a meaningful life?

Can you acquire extra skills (eg resilience, assertiveness, emotional intelligence) to help you deal with challenges of current job?

How exactly will the new job be different?

What’s changed since you took your current job?

How does the existing and new job line up with your values?


Organisational Culture

I really common reason for people to look at career change relates to organisational culture. If you are exploring a career change related to culture, it is worth having a framework to assess culture in mind. Hofstede suggests six dimensions on which to evaluate organisational culture. 1: Power distance (the degree to which less powerful people expect and accept unequal power distribution) 2: Collectivism vs individualism (preference for being organisation/group focused versus individual focused) 3: Masculinity vs feminism (preference for assertiveness, achievement and material rewards vs co-operation, caring, quality of life) 4: Uncertainty avoidance (degree to which people are comfortable with uncertainty) 5: Long term orientation (degree to which focus is on long-term vs short-term)  6: Indulgence (degree to which fun and indulgence are accepted, vs strict regulation)

2: Research your options.

You can use what you discovered in step 1 to create a list of things that you would like in your ideal career, and then use the list of wishes to create a list of possible careers. Once you have an idea of what might be of interest, you need to put your networking shoes on and go and talk to people in those roles to find out what it's like and how one gets in.

Have a look at choosing your future career page.

What do you do when your career is not fulfilling you? I really enjoyed reading recent research by Pagis examining self-fulfilment at work. She challenges the utopian notion that work should have emotional meaning, describing our romantic ideals of meaning at work that are often not matched by reality. Her study participants adopted five broad strategies to deal with lack of fulfilment at work. People could (1) leave now, or (2) stay but plan/study/develop towards a future departure. For many people, their present work has advantages (financial or otherwise) that make leaving difficult. Then people can either (3) revise their expectations and relationships with work (including focusing on more positive aspects), or (4) separate a higher purpose in current work from the daily grind. Finally, (5) professional polygamy (portfolio career) allows people to obtain different benefits in different concurrent roles. I really liked the study as it recognised the reality that no job is perfect, expecting it to be is setting yourself up for disappointment, and there are five ways of getting more job satisfaction only one of which is about leaving as soon as you can.

3: Talk it through.

Who can help you with your decision making? How can your friends and colleagues help? Coaching can be useful at this stage too. Articulating your options, saying them out loud can be a powerful way to get clarity. Talking helps at step 1 and 2 also.

4: Decide.

People often get stuck at this stage. Talking about options without committing is safe, but not moving you forwards. Often it is difficult to decide if there are too many options or you simply can’t work out what you want. This is a scary step, as it requires commitment, change, and a possible step into the unknown.

A decision may be easy and come from your heart. If not, creating a framework for decision making can be helpful. Decide what are the key attributes of your ideal job first, and make a list. Then judge your possible options against the criteria you have set, asking

“Does this option meet this criterion? No, somewhat, completely”

Here are some criteria to help you get started

-meets my values

-learning opportunities

-growth opportunities

-life balance




If you are struggling to make your decision, here are a few questions to ponder:

What is a small step you can take that will move you towards your desired career?

Are there steps that are safe, moving you towards your new career whilst firmly keeping doors open in the existing one?

What is the cost of staying put?

How committed are you to seeing it through?

Sometimes inability to decide can also be a sign that actually what you have is already your ideal career.

Setting a timetable for our decision making can also be helpful, so that you are setting a deadline and not thinking indefinitely.

5: Make the change.

Set a timetable for transitioning to your new role. Embrace change. Don’t expect it to be perfect, every role has its downsides!

You might find it easier to start with small changes that will move you in your desired direction, rather than a big bang change to your career.

Remember that you are a highly trained professional with lots to give. You will be an asset in any job. When moving jobs, do it from a position of strength. It's easy to be choosy and look like a winner when you already have a job, and it's easy to entertain sideways moves when you already have income to pay your bills. Make your career change a move towards your dream future, and not just about running away from what you currently dislike. All jobs come with downsides, whatever you do; leaving may not be the only option, you may also consider learning new skills that help you deal with the challenges that inevitably turn up.

My coaching helps people succeed and thrive in medicine. I happen to believe that medicine is a very rewarding career, and yes it is also difficult and challenging. My coaching then is about helping you succeed and thrive in medicine, not leave. If you are looking for someone to help you leave medicine, there are other coaches that specialise in that. If you are looking for someone to help you have a rich and meaningful career in medicine, then I may be able to help.