I Changed My Career & Regret It. Now What?

Photographed by Naohmi Monroe
According to the headlines, we are currently in the midst of The Great Resignation. In the US, 2.9% of the entire workforce quit in August of this year, while in the same month the number of open positions in the UK hit a new record, surpassing 1 million for the first time. It's a trend that looks set to continue, with a study published this week finding that almost a quarter of workers plan on changing employers in the coming months.
There are several reasons, linked to the pandemic, for this shift in career perspective, from changes in quality of life when working from home to burnout while working in essential roles or a reframing of priorities around finances.
While some are quitting their current job but staying in their industry, others have spent the last 18 months looking at their career and realizing they want something new entirely. This realization is equal parts exciting and intimidating. How do you make the leap? What if you can't afford it? What if you do it but then regret it six months later?
To help you navigate this change, we spoke to Melanie Pritchard, a former lawyer turned success coach and wellbeing trainer with over seven years of experience helping people find their new career path. From the four steps crucial to avoiding career change regret to how to sell a misstep on your CV, this is the ultimate guide to making that big leap – and not looking back.

Don't dive in headfirst

Whether you're considering changing careers for the first time or feel that a recent change isn't right for you, step one is making sure you don't rush your next decision.
"The most important thing in the transitional phase," says Melanie, "is not to panic and just jump into something else quickly because you can. You need to get clear on what you need to be happy and what your key frustrations are. Because if you dig beneath frustration it's usually a barometer for exactly what you need more of."
To do that, Melanie says there are four key things you need to get clear in order to fully support your decision-making. The key parts of a structured and aligned decision process are as follows:
1. Get clear on your interests and passions.
2. Get clear on your key 'superpowers' and strengths. Do you have great attention to detail? Are you great at working in a team or thrive on your own? These are the aspects that will factor into your day-to-day work.
3. Get clear on your values and your wider drivers: how important is it to you to have work-life balance, or make a difference, or other factors like stability or creativity?
4. And finally, the biggest question: do you have a life purpose? If so, what is it?

Be realistic

Once you have those puzzle pieces in place, you can build out into your next career path but it's vital to be realistic at this stage, especially when it comes to finances. As Melanie points out, you can't have it both ways.
"A lot of the time," she says, "clients will come to me and say: 'I'm really unhappy and want to go into something completely different but I want to be on exactly the same massive salary.' Without being harsh, you need to be realistic." If you are segueing into something different, you have to recognize that it may take some time to recoup earnings and in some fields you won't recoup them at all. Once again, this is where the four key drivers come into play and help you answer how important money is to you in terms of fulfilment. "Initially people might come to something like career coaching and say: 'I can't drop salary, I can't.' But once they're clear that maybe they'll never have a sense of fulfilment as a high-flying investment banker, or whether they then start to unearth different linked career options that don't require such a drop, the less scary the financial potential problems can actually be in the end."

Get creative about your skills

This is where it's good to be creative too: career leaps between industries that seem completely unrelated can be made much easier when you frame things not in terms of industry-specific skills but as broader indications of your interests and expertise. Melanie gives an example of a midwife of 15 years she recently worked with who wanted to move into project management in the private sector.
"Sometimes people are sitting on a goldmine they don't realize. She was panicking that the two careers were so radically different, but we realized that one of her superpowers was that she had 15 years of clinical experience. So then she tailored her research to project management jobs which required significant clinical experience and then she found her dream job in quite a different role."

Create opportunities for yourself

With all of this information at your fingertips you can now start exploring your new industry or potential career. Melanie advises being proactive and finding companies or people that inspire you as opposed to looking just for specific job titles.
"One of the best things you can do, if you're brave enough, is basically create opportunities for yourself." Reach out to people who work in the field that you aspire to and ask them about it, she says, as those chats are "the most high results-producing thing you can do. You can literally save yourself maybe three years making another 'wrong decision' by talking to someone who excites you for some reason, and asking them radically honest questions." She suggests outlining the talk by looking at the top three things you've loved in work so far, the top three things you want to avoid and a couple of reasons why you're looking in their area, then asking for their thoughts. "If you're treating these people as mentors, often, they can really spot where you fit. By being really honest, and asking those questions that scare you, you'll get an awful lot out of those chats and it can usually expedite your sense of alignment extremely quickly. It does take a little bit of courage but that's really the best thing that people can do."

Be honest about regrets

Finally, when talking about career regrets in interviews or to potential employers, Melanie advises that you should always be honest but in a positive way.
"Rather than saying 'I fucking hated accounting', go for the positives, such as 'I really love the fact that it required really strong analytical skills and problem-solving skills but I realized I need a more creative atmosphere where I can give vent to my passion for writing,' for example." If you have a specific example for any of those reasons, like previous experience of writing or even creative hobbies, that will always help. The truth of why you want to go into a certain career will always be more appealing to the right employer than convoluted excuses for why you made the choices you did. By being honest, you can find the ways that your career path so far is actually a strength in the right role.

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