5 ways to make positive career changes over the next 12 months

The start of a new year can feel like a great time for reflection, setting goals, and making changes. This isn’t just a great time for creating personal goals and planning how you want to improve your life at home – it can also be a good time to reassess what you want from your career, ways you can work on your work/life balance, and reaffirm your overall life goals (and how work can fit into or around them).

Whether you’re toying with the idea of a complete career change, are thinking about how to take the next step in your current role, or are looking for inspiration to allow more creative outlets within your working life, knowing where to start can be tough. Here are five simple tips that can help you start to make more positive changes this year (and kickstart new beginnings in your career).

Five ways to start making positive changes in your career

1. Ask yourself the big question – first thing’s first, ask yourself: what do you really want to achieve? Not just in your career, but overall. What’s the one big goal that’s always been waiting in the back of your mind? Knowing this is the first step towards figuring out all of the smaller stepping stones that will help you achieve your personal or professional goal.

Figuring out whether you’re looking to feel more fulfilled at work, or if that sense of achievement can be gained through other areas of your life (such as setting up a side business, volunteering, or freelancing) can help to set the bigger goal posts. Once you know where you want to end up, it can help shape your more immediate pathway towards that end goal.

2. Learn to recognise (and acknowledge) your strengths – the chances are, you already possess a number of skills and attributes that you have either dismissed or overlooked entirely. Many of the skills and qualities that make us attractive to our employers (current or potential) can be tricky to identify. Once you learn to recognise your own skills, strengths and worth, you can begin nurturing these.

Easily overlooked strengths such as organisation and planning, time management, the ability to work well within a team, or natural leadership can all make subtle but impactful differences in both our career and how we interact with colleagues. Take the time to explore and acknowledge your talents. The sooner you can become comfortable and confident in using them, the sooner you can hone them and start using them to further your goals and career opportunities.

3. Set achievable, quantifiable milestones – knowing what you want to achieve, and knowing how to do it are two completely different things. Once you know what your big goal is, it’s time to start focusing on the steps you can take towards achieving it. Want a promotion or pay rise at work? Look at how you can show your worth in quantifiable ways through beating targets, getting positive customer feedback, or making team improvements that your colleagues will benefit from and remember.

It’s important to make sure your goals are something tangible. Setting S.M.A.R.T goals can be a great way to do this. These should be:

  • Specific: targeting a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable: something quantifiable or in which your progress can be clearly indicated.
  • Attainable: is it reasonable to achieve this in a set period of time? Or does it need to be broken down further into smaller steps?
  • Relevant: is it worth your time, will it meet business or role needs? How will it help you in the short and long-term?
  • Timely: when will it be completed by? Having a set timeframe can help establish a sense of urgency and prompt you to work on this goal.

Smart goals don’t just have to apply to your current job – they can be applied to your overall career and life goals. Always wanted to go back and finish your degree? Use smart goals to uncover how can you can achieve it, rather than leaving it as a dream. Want to turn your creative outlet into your new career? Smart goals can help you map out what steps you need to take to see if you can make it happen.

4. Identifying your obstacles – it’s all well and good for someone to tell you to quit, find your dream job, and lead a more fulfilling life…but that doesn’t take into account all of the details; all of life’s stumbling blocks that vary from person to person.

Maybe you’ve got an aging parent you don’t want to move too far away from, which puts that dream job an hour or two away just out of reach. Perhaps you’ve got a family to support and a change to your income – however short term – just isn’t on the books if you want to keep everything running smoothly. Or perhaps you need to put your mental health first, and you don’t want to risk travel anxiety or the crush of the morning commute overwhelming you if you spread out and start looking for roles further afield.

We all have our own unique obstacles that are holding us back. Identify what yours are, and ask yourself: are these short or long-term obstacles? How much do they affect how I want to shape my career? Are there ways around these, or alternative paths I could consider if these aren’t changeable in the short-term? Once you can identify your biggest, most impactful hurdles, you can start looking at ways you can work with or around them yourself – or with the help of loved ones or a professional.  

5. Consider working with a coach – Have you thought about chatting with a career coach? If you dread Monday mornings, find yourself sat at your desk feeling bored and unfulfilled, or can’t face the thought of another year like the last, speaking with a career coach could be a positive step forward.

Recognising we aren’t happy in our chosen role or career isn’t easy; with the combination of personal and professional responsibilities, it can feel as though we can’t risk considering a change in our career. A career coach can help you to reassess if you’re just happy to have a job, or if your job causes you happiness, fulfilment and joy.  

If you’re unhappy over time this can spread and affect other areas of your life including relationships, social life, mental and physical health. While friends and family can offer great advice, sometimes we need an outside perspective and a little guidance from someone in the know. A career coach can help with your current job, work with you to establish professional goals and provide advice and support while you work towards making a career change.

While a career coach won’t tell you what to do, they can help support you through your decision making. They can also help give you the time and space to talk, understand how you are feeling, and start setting your own goals. A career coach is there to help you understand what you want, discover and develop the skills you will need to achieve this.


Is it time for you to embrace career change?

The average retirement age isn’t getting any younger. According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), women typically work until they are 63, with men working until they are 65. That’s expected to rise to 68 across the board by 2039. This can mean an average of 50 years of work from the day we get our first job to when we retire.

Ask yourself this: how do you want to spend the rest of your 50 years? Do you want to stay in a job that leaves you feeling unhappy and unfulfilled? Or do you want to take the time to plan and make changes now, so you can have a career that makes you excited to get up each morning?  

For many of us, the biggest challenge we face is inertia: we want to change, but we don’t want to risk what we have – be that job security, the safety of knowing our role well, getting on with colleagues, or having an easy commute. It can feel like we’re paralyzed – we don’t want to make the wrong choice and go down the wrong path, not when we’re already on a steady (if unsatisfying) one.

Think of your career changes like an expedition, rather than a day-trip. You can’t make every change you want in a day. Trying to make all of these changes by yourself? That can feel even harder. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with others who want to make positive changes. Try to be around others from a broad variety of careers or backgrounds, as this can be a great way to foster a more supportive environment and start making positive, impactful changes to your career.

When shouldn’t I make big career changes?

While it may be time to make changes big or small, it’s worth considering what is motivating you before you get too far into the process. Remember:

You don’t have to change your whole career just because you hate your job right now – each manager and team are different. Have you explored every option available in your current company? Could you make a sideways step away from the elements that are making you unhappy, without making the big changes that come with a switch in career? Switching jobs, instead of careers can be a good stepping stone if you aren’t 100% sure about making big changes.

Money isn’t everything – it’s easier to say when you’ve got money than when you haven’t, but if you’re looking to switch jobs based solely on money, remember to consider other factors that may come with the higher wage: longer commute times, more responsibilities, higher stress levels, fewer holidays days or increased work obligations.

We’re not saying money shouldn’t be a motivating factor, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Consider what other benefits you get from your job that aren’t monetary based, and weigh them up against the potential increase in your wages. Do things really add up, or could you be gaining less than you may think?

Change doesn’t happen overnight – big career changes can take months to pull off. Sure you could quit tomorrow and just head-first into your new career path, but is that really the best way to get started? Patience is key. By taking time to get things right, set a goal, and develop your plan, you can set yourself up for success rather than piling on additional stress and pressure that can come if you leap before you look.

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Bonnie Evie Gifford

Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford

Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
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