Jane Barrett and Camilla Arnold’s ‘If Not Now, When?’ (The IKEA Approach To Career Change)

If Not Now, When?

I hate IKEA. If the lack of natural daylight and prescribed routes through the store don’t turn you into a quivering emotional wreck, once you get your homogenous flat-packed MDF bookshelf home, you have the instruction booklet to contend with. Building your own furniture could be a blast; there’s potential for the process to be fun and challenging. But instead, thanks to IKEA, you find yourself counting 324 wooden pegs, starting again at least four times because you dared to deviate from the ‘process’, and growing a deep, acidic resentment for those smug little bubble-men in the illustrations. Jane Barrett and Camilla Arnold’s book left me feeling the same way.

Written by two highly experienced recruiters and career consultants, I expected a sharp, informative, insider’s view on how to change career smoothly and meaningfully. Instead, I felt as though I was reading a Dummies’ Guide To Career-Change, written by a first-year HR student. Clumsy grammar and sentence constructions make for an uncomfortable reading experience at the best of times, but paired with a cold and detached tone, they become almost unbearable.

Barrett and Arnold cover all the topics you’d expect a career-change book to cover. Figuring out what you enjoy, dealing with your fears, pinpointing your skills, even how to work effectively with recruitment agencies and do well in interviews. But there’s one key factor missing: the element of human connection, and the recognition of how it really feels to go through a major career change. If the authors have done it themselves, they’re not letting on. Instead, they’ve put together a bland, step-by-step guide to changing career, written as though discovering your life’s work is an algebra problem or a flat-pack wardrobe.

There’s a huge Values Matrix in Part Two, which covers two pages and involves ticking off all your beliefs, ranking them, comparing them, and inserting them into a mathematical-style grid which will apparently spit out your most fundamental values at the end. For an exercise designed to elicit the concepts closest to your heart, it seemed spectacularly sterile. As I flicked further through the book, my heart sank more with every tick-box I saw – and there are a LOT of tick-boxes. However, this is a deeply personal process, and what makes my heart sink might make yours dance. If you like an orderly and logic-based approach to discovering your heart’s desires, Barrett and Arnold’s approach will be right up your alley.

Essentially, this book is a guide to getting a job in a different field than the one you’re currently in, rather than a journey to discovering and creating a life that lights you up. If you’re looking for a resource to help you list your skills and interests, and give you a broad overview of the job-search process, ‘If Not Now, When?’ will give you what you’re looking for. But don’t expect to have much fun doing it.

Our Top Takeaways:

Make a Life Collage: Rather than thinking about what job you’d like to do, start thinking about what you’d like your life to look like. Barrett and Arnold suggest a great way to do this: by making a visual collage of words, colours, statements and images that speak to you in some way. Rip up magazines, newspapers, take photos, and use paints; have fun with this project! Don’t think about what direction your collage is headed in until you’re done; simply allow yourself to play with whatever you find attractive. You may be very surprised by the themes that show up.

Use a Reverse Timeline to make your change feel real: Once you know what you want to do, the gap between where you are and where you want to be can seem enormous. To bridge that gap, try starting from the end and working backwards. In your calendar, set a date for achieving your ultimate goal. Then, working backwards in monthly increments, write down what you would have to have achieved each month in order to have reached your goal by the final date. This can really help to make any goal feel structured and achievable, and is a great tool for career change.

Get your key players on board from the start: There’s nothing worse than launching yourself into an exciting career change, making great progress, and then being dragged into paralysis by the weight of other people’s negative opinions. Talk to the most important people in your life early on in the process, and either get them on board or be clear about how you’re going to manage their criticisms and fears. The sooner you know who’s on your side, the more effectively you can build up the support network you need to soar.