Kirsty Johnston is an investigative reporter at the New Zealand Herald.

Working out if it's time for a change

Whether it's back-to-work blues or itchy feet, this is the most common time to consider a job change. Kirsty Johnston talks to a career adviser about throwing in the towel.
Maris O'Rourke says the key to changing career is to commit fully and never look back. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Maris O'Rourke says the key to changing career is to commit fully and never look back. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Year, new career?

It's a popular thought, experts say, as workers return after having time to reflect over the summer break.

The New Year is also when new opportunities arise - courses start, ideas are generated and businesses want to progress strategies, meaning increased vacancies on job sites.

For some, the blues will eventually lift, or the itch will fade as the regular rhythm of life sets in again. Others may find a new challenge in their current role is enough to fill a gap.

But for many, thoughts of a change will be pushed aside because it's too hard or too scary - what Careers NZ advisor Pat Cody says is the "noise inside their heads."

Nagging self doubts, emotions and fears are one of the main reasons people get stuck in jobs they no longer want, he says, but they aren't impossible to conquer. Just like other obstacles such as a restrictive labour market, lack of support, or financial worries, there are ways to get around them, Mr Cody says, but first it's important to work out if you really do want to change career.

"You need to figure out where the itch is coming from. Thinking you've had enough isn't useful," he says. "Sometimes coming back from holidays to work can just be hard work and is not a valid reason to throw in the towel."

Mr Cody says there can be multiple reasons to want a change, including work environment, relationships, the commute or even just the stage of your life. However, it's important not to be too hasty about it.

"Track this over time," he says, "then you see the consistency or intensity of the career driver or issue. It's helpful to talk it over but also write it down, this will allow you to flesh it out."

It's also important to work out how a career change would affect the rest of your life - relationships, children, the mortgage, and what your personal skills are. Something he says is often forgotten is the impression a change will leave on others. For example if you leave a job after just four months, will that affect your future?

Next comes dealing with those doubts. Mr Cody says one way to "park the noise" can be to remove yourself to another environment like the beach, or camping, which creates the space to allow you to have a "broad lens" on the situation.

Talking about it with family and friends is also helpful. "Get your allies on board," says Mr Cody. "It's important to remember there are professionals - coaches, advisers and mentors who work in the space who can help you."

Mentors are particularly useful, he says, because people naturally because so emotionally involved with themselves they are often unable to see a situation clearly. "It's useful to have people to provide a different outlook on the situation. Just make sure it's supportive."

Once you have ideas you want to explore, it's important to research the ideas and that means more than simply using Google. Doing work experience, contacting professional associations or joining interests groups is part of the process.

Last of all comes the real action - deciding if a change requires more learning, talking to your existing employer, writing your CV or business plan, contacting an agency, letting your network know and re-evaluating your current circumstances again.

Mr Cody says not everyone will go through the same steps - particularly if it's not a planned career change - but even some of the tools will be useful to everyone.

Chris Pulivea. Photo / Supplied
Chris Pulivea. Photo / Supplied

From supermarket to scientist

Chris Pulivea made the life-changing decision to ditch his supermarket job and go back to school - and now he's inspiring others to do the same.

The 30-year-old is on his way to completing a masters in molecular genetics, and eventually hopes to work towards curing diseases at a molecular level.

"All my life I've had a passion for science," he says. "Just answering the 'why' questions, I really enjoy that."

Mr Pulivea, from the North Shore, wanted to train as a nurse when he left school, but found it didn't suit him. He then worked his way up the chain at Countdown, but eventually the job became unstable and he decided to make the leap.

"I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought I had to move forward," he said. "I also thought it would be something concrete to pass on to my kids and nephews and nieces. I was the first one in the family to go to university, I just thought it was a great thing."

At the end of his microbiology degree, and through his masters, Mr Pulivea decided to become one of AUT's Uni Prep mentors - helping students who weren't quite sure about university get ready for the study ahead.

Mr Pulivea will now go on to a PhD in cancer genetics.

Giving it all up for poetry

If reinvention were an art, Maris O'Rourke would be considered a master.

From engineer to education executive to poet, she's made each transition seem easy and has been successful at all.

Ms O'Rourke, from Auckland, made her most dramatic career change in 2012, when she quit education consulting to take up writing full-time.

Before that she had several high-profile, high-paying positions, including New Zealand Secretary of Education and Education Director at the World Bank.

She says her tip for changing jobs is to never look back.

"When I move on, I move on," she says. "People still ask me for comment on things all the time. And I just say I haven't been there since 1995, or whatever. I just turn off."

Deciding to become a writer was a huge move, she says, but one made easier by a gut feeling she knew she had to follow from her very first poetry class in 2008.

"One day I realised this was what I wanted to do and would be doing for the rest of my life," she says. "I couldn't imagine anything else was going to engage me in the same way."

Ms O'Rourke, who came to New Zealand as an engineer and moved into education after studying at the University of Auckland, said she had been very lucky in her careers and owed lots of her success to mentors.

She never held herself back, she said.

"I never had a job I could do before I took it. You can learn on the job. I wasn't afraid to try something, and fail.

"My philosophy is, never say no to yourself. Why do that when there are so many other people that can say no to you?"

Since taking up writing, Ms O'Rourke has published a book of poetry, three children's books, and last year wrote a memoir while studying creative writing at AUT.

She says while it can be scary to change jobs, or forge a new career, it's important to listen to your gut instinct.

"Of course it's frightening. But that means you know you're alive."

Tips for a new job

From Seek New Zealand General Manager, Janet Faulding

• Read the job description clearly and understand what the business is asking for in the application.

• Highlight more than your academic achievements. Telling employers about groups and competitions you've been a part of through school or extra-curricular activities demonstrates your skills.

• Volunteer. It's a great way to build new skills in a "real world" environment, meet new people and broaden your professional network. Include the name of the organisation and what you did there on your CV.

• Manage your personal brand. Businesses will check your social media to check what kind of person you are, so keep it clean.

• Proof-read everything, and use spell check. Ensure your email address is professional. Try firstname.lastname@gmail.com.

Before you change

• Take a fresh look at yourself - interests, skills, values and qualities.

• Ask yourself, do I want to work in a new industry, for a new employer or in a new role?

• Be prepared for a possible reduction in income, a change of status, responsibility and prestige, a change in lifestyle and relocation.

• Gain support from your family and friends and talk your ideas through with them.

- NZ Herald

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