Career Changing – How To

The thought of a career change can be stressful, confusing and scary for some. Others seize the chance to make a change for the better, even if it means a shift in income, location, lifestyle or training.

Changing to a trade-based career may be an option for people who prefer practical roles, hands-on work, specialised skills or the desire to work for themselves and not be confined to an office.

So, if you're having trouble dragging yourself out of bed and off to work - here are our tips for career changing:

1. Think about what you really enjoy doing

You can structure the following activity to help you discover your passion and/or strengths:

  • List 5 things you love doing
  • List 5 things you love doing AND you're good at (they could include the first 5 activities
  • Think about whether any of the above fall into an occupational group - for example, a person who love turning wood probably will enjoy carpentry or joinery (Building & Construction). Someone that loves clothes and can draw may be well suited to clothing design, manufacturing, costume making or millinery (Manufacturing). If you like the outdoors, active careers can be found in landscaping, horticulture or building (Rural & Farming).

2. Think about the achievements you would value in life

Expert on organisational leadership and culture, Edgar Schein identified 8 career anchors. These anchors are what drives people to success. Once you discover your career anchors (i.e. what drives you) you can focus your career more effectively.

The 8 career anchors are:

  • Technical/Functional competence = You like being good at something, a guru/expert, being challenged, using skill to meet that challenge, doing the job better than most.
  • General Managerial competence = Unlike technical/functional people,you prefer to be a manager, like problem-solving, teams and dealing with other people. You thrive on responsibility. Good managers also need emotional competence.
  • Autonomy/Independence = You prefer to work under your own rules and often by yourself.
  • Security/Stability = You want stability and continuity in life, avoid risks and are generally 'lifers' in their job.
  • Entrepreneurial Creativity = You like to make, create, invent, and often want to run your own business. Unlike those who seek autonomy, you like to share the workload. Ownership is very important, you get easily bored and wealth is an important sign of success.
  • Service/Dedication to a cause = You're driven by how to help other people more than by using specific talents (which may fall in other areas). You work well work in public or civil service or areas such as HR and charity/welfare.
  • Pure Challenge = You are driven by challenge, seek constant stimulation and complex problems to tackle. You might change jobs when the current one gets boring and your career can be very varied.
  • Lifestyle = You focus first on lifestyle and consider the whole pattern of living. It's not so much "balance" that you're after, but "work and life" as integrated. You may take long periods off work in which to indulge in passions such as travel, adventure or competitive sport.
  • To discover your career anchors - List the 8 anchors on paper or small cards and spend 30 minutes ordering them in priority according to what drives you, and what's important to you. Then, come back to the 8 in two days time and see if you'd swap anything around. This activity can provide real clarity about what it is you want in life and what work, career or trade skill you might enjoy.

3. Seek feedback from others about what you're good at

In your workplace, school, tech or your family there are people around you who may have valuable feedback about your strengths and weaknesses. Playing to your strengths make sense. There's little use in being passionate about gardening if you are really a black thumb. It's important to focus on passions with a dose of reality - rather than daydreaming.

Ask them what they think you're good at. Ask them if they have observed you doing something with real interest, engagement and enjoyment. Knowing how other people see you and have observed you can be a real insight to yourself.

4. Research the options for re-training

By now you may have identified one or two real possibilities for a career based on a greater understanding of your passion, strengths and career anchors. Now's the time to research what skills are required to get there. You can watch all sorts of videos on this site that explore the passions other people have discovered in skilled trades. You can also search profiles on other career sites or the Internet generally. You can also read our guide on How to get an Apprenticehip if your career path requires it.

5. Put a plan in place to do it!

If you're a school leaver - you'll need to plan the 5 key steps to getting where you want to be - will you need an apprenticeship? What training must you enrol in? By when should you find an employer? Write yourself a short list and go!

If you've just finished studying or are mid-career and looking for a change - you'll need to plan the 5 changes to make in your life to get there. Will you need to quit your job or can the company accommodate you in the field of your choice? Can you change to an apprenticeship program or do you need a different employer? Do you need to relocate or change salaries for a short period while retraining? Creating a plan will give you the confidence to follow through.

If you're a "corporate defector" you may be lucky enough to have acquired wealth and be able to make the change with little risk and some time on your side. If you have family committments, a mortgage or other debts, you plan needs to reconsider what material aspects of you life need to be modified to reduce the pressure of earning a high income while you are changing careers and retraining.


Schein, Edgar H, (1990). Career Anchors (discovering your real values), Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer, San Francisco.