How To Build A Support Team For Your Career Change That Helps You Find Fulfilling Work Faster

Image of a group of people launching a large kite

Image: Noah Naf

Other people are a crucial part of making a successful shift. But simply ‘asking for help’ doesn’t always give you what you need. Here, Natasha shares the key approach to creating a powerful squad of supporters that will make your career change faster, smoother, and more fun.

I used to read career change articles like this one.

In fact, back when I was making my shift, my inbox used to be bursting with newsletters and free downloads about lifestyle design, entrepreneurship and ‘finding your passion’. 

It was partly about looking for answers: the worksheet that would finally spark a light bulb moment, or the paradigm-shifting idea that would suddenly make things feel easy.

But a lot of it was simply an attempt to ease the loneliness of it all. 

My career change felt furtive, guilty, embarrassing. I was frustrated with myself that I’d got into this mess, and even more frustrated that I had no idea how to get out.

The weight of the task ahead was almost unbearable, as was the sense that I was solely and entirely responsible for tackling it. 

Those articles and newsletters were sort-of helpful, sometimes, but more than anything else they let me know that I wasn’t the only one who was feeling and thinking about these things. 

At the very least, if I'd completely lost my marbles, other people out there had lost theirs, too.

The idea of asking for support from people beyond free downloads on the internet – real people in the real world – never even occurred to me.

It would have meant vulnerability, bothering people with my problems, wasting time. This was such a deeply personal thing I was trying to figure out – how could anyone else possibly have the answer to it?

And, honestly, back then (I’m now a little embarrassed to admit) I would have thought of it as a ‘fluffy’ piece of career change advice.

What I wanted were concrete tasks that would give me immediate, clear and predictable outcomes: a new LinkedIn profile; secrets for finding the right listings on job sites; a worksheet formula for figuring out my passion. 

Putting people around me would have felt like a touchy-feely emotional nice-to-have that was for wet blankets, not for me.

If I were making a career change now, however, it’s the first thing I'd do. 

We’ve supported thousands of people through the career change process, and in our workshops and courses, the thing that people tell us made the most surprising difference was having a crew in their corner. 

Almost every expert I’ve spoken to in our Masterclasses has included ‘put a support team around you’ as one of their key pieces of advice.

It’s the first of our Success Principles here at Careershifters – and for good reason.

Hard things are easier with help

The Land of Proverbs is littered with versions of this: “Many hands make light work”; “A problem shared is a problem halved”; “Teamwork makes the dream work”.

And that’s not an accident. Clichés are cliché for a reason. When we look at people who achieve big things, whether it’s building a company or climbing a mountain, they do it as part of a team. 

Diana Nyad is known for her record-breaking 111-mile swim from Cuba to Florida – and she talks endlessly about the support of her crew, who were beside her for every stroke.

Brian Chesky is known for starting Airbnb in 2008 with his co-founders, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk. But the company may never have got off the ground without the support of the startup community Y Combinator, which provided them with funding, mentorship and feedback. 

MyFitnessPal, Alcoholics Anonymous, GlassDoor, and even Reddit communities have a proven positive impact on people trying to achieve challenging goals – because they bring people together for peer support, insight and encouragement. 

If you want to do something tough, the support of others is arguably your greatest asset.

But while it sounds simple, it’s easy to get wrong.

The way you build your support team has a direct correlation with how helpful it is to you

Many career changers, at the start of their shifts, tell me: “I have supportive people in my life, but it doesn’t really help much.” 

They go on to say things like:

  • “I worry that my friends are a bit sick of hearing me drone on about this.”
  • “My partner is supportive, but they don’t know what I should be doing any more than I do.”
  • “My family mean well, but sometimes just one wrong comment can send me into a spiral of doubt for weeks.”
  • “Most of the people I see regularly are colleagues, so I have to keep most of what I’m feeling bottled up.”
  • “If one more person says to me," What about <insert a job I’ve considered a thousand times>", I’m going to scream.”

If these phrases feel familiar, it’s likely to be because the way you’ve been going about seeking support has been a little… haphazard.

Building a support team in a way that really helps you make a shift is more than talking about your shift with people.

It’s not the same as offering up a problem and hoping for someone to step in with the right solution.

While letting people in on what you’re up to can be powerful, building a support team requires you to take things a step further.

Ready for the game-changer?

Make explicit requests for specific people to play clearly defined and intentional roles

It’s very hard for people to do their job well if they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. And not every person is right for every job.

So build your support team in the same way as you might recruit a team at work: identify your needs, create relevant roles, and hire accordingly.

This does several (pretty radical) things.

First, it forces you to get clear on what your needs actually are. What are you doing, and what do you need support with? This initial step transforms your interactions with others from ‘hopeful burbling’ into clear, positive and productive conversations.

Second, it helps people to actually meet those needs, instead of floundering around in the dark, trying to give you what they think you need. No more coming away from interactions feeling disappointed or even offended by people’s best attempts to help – instead, you’re all playing the same game.

And finally, it helps you to create an ongoing structure for support. Instead of waiting for moments of desperation, or turning every interaction into an awkward, guilt-ridden outpouring, you can build rhythms and systems that keep you moving forward over the long term of a shift.

The Dream Support Team

So, what are the roles that you might look to fill for your new crew?

You may already have an idea of what you would most benefit from – and, based on years of experience watching career changers do this well (and not-so-well!), here are my suggestions:

1. The Mentor: someone who’s made a career change themselves

Who do you know (whether you know it right now or not) who’s made a shift in the past?

A mentor can share their experience of shifting with you, validate your feelings, inspire you that a career change is really possible, and give you guidance and ideas for how to go about the process. 

They might challenge your assumptions about what’s required to find fulfilling work: did they actually have to start right from the bottom? Was retraining really necessary? Have they, in fact, had to take a huge pay cut?

Your Mentor can offer you advice and guidance, and act as inspiring, real-life proof that finding fulfilling work isn’t just a pipe dream. They did it – which means, just maybe, so can you.

Ask them for:

  • Stories of how they tackled challenging situations
  • Examples of things they did that worked well
  • Cautionary tales of habits or behaviours that held them back

2. The Motivator: someone who’s adventurous and experimental

Who is there in your life who does courageous things all the time, whether big or small?

A motivator is great for moments when you’re feeling worried and afraid, and for the times when you feel a burst of energy bubbling but need a friendly poke in the ribs to get things rolling. 

One of the biggest blockers for career changers is fear, and the paralysis that comes with it. Having someone around who can challenge your fears and inspire you to take small risks will accelerate your progress and help make the process playful and exciting.

Ask them for:

  • Encouragement and cheerleading when you feel yourself shrinking
  • Stories of times they overcame fear
  • Advice on how to take risks effectively

3. The Mirror: someone who is also making a career change right now

Every time we run one of our career change courses, the loudest and most enthusiastic feedback we get is how amazing it feels to be surrounded by other career changers for the first time. 

Teaming up with someone else who’s making a shift gives you the reassurance that there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. The advice and support you offer them will be good reminders for you, too. And your desire for each other’s success can drive you both forward. 

Ask them for:

  • Regular check-ins to share stories and experiences
  • Resources and communities they’re finding helpful
  • Mutual encouragement and motivation to keep going

4. The Manager: someone who loves accountability and timelines

Career change has natural ebbs and flows, and there will be moments when you need to rest or step back from the process from time to time. However, the most effective strategy for making a shift is taking small steps, consistently.

And accountability in the form of a Manager is crucial for this. A ‘manager’ can help you sort out the mess of possible actions in your head and make sure you’re always working on something, however small it might be. 

Ask them for:

  • Help with breaking down your thoughts into small, manageable steps
  • Regular check-ins to keep you accountable
  • Support and advice on keeping track of your progress

5. The Maven: someone who’s an expert in career change

Nobody teaches you how to make a career change in school. The world of work is built for upward motion, not sideways. And so a lot of career change (at least in the early stages) can feel like flailing around in the dark. What should you be doing, and in what order? Is there a secret you should know about? What’s the best way to tackle this challenge?

A Maven is a career change supercharger: it’s someone who’s dedicated themselves to understanding and supporting the process of finding fulfilling work, and can make sure you’re taking the most effective actions to move you forward.

Ask them for:

  • Coaching and guidance to challenge your thinking 
  • Specific strategies and techniques for tackling your biggest obstacles
  • Insight into what works during a career change and why, so you feel in control

6. The Mooring: someone who’s an emotional safe place

Who do you know who is essentially a hug on legs?

Let’s be honest: career change can be tough. These are big questions you’re asking yourself, and the process requires courage, commitment, and a willingness to sit with uncertainty.

There will be times when you feel emotionally wobbly. You will find yourself doubting the whole endeavour. And in those moments, sometimes all you need is someone to provide a warm, supportive ear. No advice, no ‘good ideas’, just somewhere to release the pressure inside your head and heart, safe in the knowledge that it’ll be received with understanding and love.

Ask them for:

  • Nudges to take care of yourself during the process
  • SOS calls, when it all gets a bit much
  • Reminders of who you are and what you’re capable of, when you’ve lost sight of it yourself.

If you’re looking at this list and already feeling overwhelmed, don’t fret

Your team doesn’t have to include all six of these people. 

Think of it more as a tapas menu – you can mix and match, start with one person and add more over time, or focus on whatever it is you’re most hungry for.

Plus, you might be able to find multiple ‘roles’ in one person – a career change coach could play both ‘Maven’ and ‘Manager’, or you may have someone in your life who fits the bill for ‘Mentor’ and ‘Motivator’ all in one.

You may find some of your supporters in friends and connections, and others (like a Maven) you may hire as professionals.

Or, you may choose to simply outsource the whole situation and join a ready-made, expert-designed support team, like the communities we create for career changers on our Career Change Launch Pad.

As with everything in career change, start small, and don’t underestimate the power of adding just the first member to your team. 

It’s remarkable how impactful even one person in your corner can be.

How to recruit your support team

1. Look beyond the obvious candidates

Your close friends and family are great. You love them. They love you. And… that doesn’t necessarily make them the greatest options for your support team.

Close relationships can feel high-stakes and emotionally charged, and that can hold you back from asking at all (for fear of disappointment) or create tensions that aren’t ultimately helpful.

Plus, your immediate relationships are likely to exist in the same ‘reality bubble’ as you do – which means they’re unlikely to be able to offer you much that you haven’t considered already.

Instead, think about your wider connections and communities. Who do you know beyond your nearest and dearest that can bring some objectivity and perspective to their role on your support team? 

Where might you find the best person for the job, rather than the nearest person for the job?

2. Be honest

When you’re asking someone to be on your team, authenticity matters. 

It can feel tempting to try and create a glossy image of where you’re at and what you’re doing, but it’s important to be honest about where you are in the process, what you’re finding hard, and why you’re asking for help.

You don’t need more people to ‘keep up appearances’ with – you need a safe space to engage with reality. 

Trust your team. It’s likely they’ll surprise you, in a good way.

3. Make a specific request

Woolly asks make for woolly outcomes. 

Get clear on exactly what would help you most from each person, and make a clear and specific request. 

  • “Would you be open to a 15-minute call every two weeks to check in on where I’m at and what I’m going to do next?”
  • “Do you have an hour at some point in the next week to talk to me about how you made your career change happen?”
  • “Are you up for us finding a way to share any resources or things we’ve found useful, since we’re both in the process of a shift?”

4. Share why you’re asking them

What is it about this person that’s had you choose to invite them onto your team?

What are they great at? What have they achieved? Who are they for you, and why is that valuable for your shift?

Explaining your thought process isn’t just about flattery (although flattery is lovely!). Remember that many people take their skills and talents for granted, and a request of this kind can be surprising to receive.

Be open about why you’re approaching them specifically, and make your new team member feel seen, valued, and clear on the role they’re perfectly placed to play. 

5. Let them know they’re part of a team 

Help each of your support team members to feel comfortable – and minimise any discomfort you might feel about asking ‘too much’ of someone – by letting them know it’s not all on them.

Knowing that they have a specific benefit to contribute, and that they’re just one of several ‘supporters’ you’re recruiting, will make things feel less pressured for both of you.

Things to remember

1. Stay in the driver’s seat

With a shiny new crew around you, it’s likely you’ll experience a burst of excitement and energy. You’re not alone any more, and finally there’s new ideas and connections and possibilities that you can use to move you forward. Once the feeling hits, it’s thrilling.

At the same time, remember: while your supporters will offer you guidance and new options and encouragement, you’re still in charge.

The work of making a shift is still up to you, and the choices you make need to be yours.

You will still need to take action, check in with them, and do hard things. 

You may follow some of their advice to the letter, and you may choose to go a different route from time to time. 

Remember that their support is there to oil the gears, not take the wheel.

2. Be time-intentional 

You want the majority of your energy to go towards making a shift, not managing a team.

Plus, respecting the time of your supporters is key to making this process a success. 

So make thoughtful choices early on about how often you want to check in with different members of your team, and agree up-front about how you’d like to do it.  

Perhaps your Mooring is there for SOS calls only, while the accountability of a Manager requires a regular once-every-two-week check-in. Your Mentor might be someone you ask for guidance on an ad-hoc basis, whenever you hit a confusing obstacle, while your Mirror would benefit just as much as you from an ongoing Whatsapp chat.

Just as you’ve been intentional about the roles you’ve recruited for, set up structures in the same way.

3. Give back

Asking for help from people can elicit all kinds of icky feelings: you’re bothering them, you’re being needy, you’re taking without giving back…

And often, the feeling of ‘taking’ can carry the weight of needing to offer something in return that’s of equal value: you have to help them with something equally meaningful, or make some grand gesture, or gush with gratitude over and over…

The weight of this can push you under, or put you off asking for help at all – how could you possibly return the favour in a way that honours what they’re doing sufficiently to ease your discomfort?

Remember this: your success will be rewarding for them.

The best way to ‘give back’ is to take action, and to let them know, in specific terms, what their contribution has led to. 

This might look like:

  • “Hey – just a quick note to let you know – after our conversation yesterday I felt so much better, and I found a great class to attend next week. Thanks for the motivation. I’ll let you know how it goes!”
  • “Thank you so much for the introduction to James. I e-mailed him today and we’re speaking next week – he seems like a lovely guy, and exactly the kind of person I was hoping to connect with.”
  • “Guess what? I ticked off all the actions we agreed on the last time we spoke, and I think I’ve found an area I want to explore further. It was so helpful to have it all broken down into steps. This feels like progress! You’re so good at making sense of the chaos in my head, and I really appreciate your time.”

Give yourself the chance to be surprised and delighted

The thought of starting to build a support team can send your inner voices wild.

“It’s too vulnerable”
“I don’t know anyone”
“I know someone, but not the ‘right’ someone”
“They’ll judge me”
“They’ll laugh at me”
“I might let them down”
“They might let me down”

Particularly if you’ve been disappointed by less purposeful attempts to ask for help in the past, your fears can get loud.

And yet, as I say to our Launch Pad participants all the time: the things your career change needs most are almost always just one step beyond the point at which you’d normally stop. 

The impact of a carefully-chosen, intentionally-recruited support team on the speed, ease and emotional experience of a shift cannot be underestimated.

What would it be like to (finally) have some people in your corner – people who could really help you? Who might you ask first, and what role would you be recruiting them for?

Let me know in the comments below.

And if you're ready for structured support to get into action with your shift, with input from career coaches and a community of bright, motivated career changers like you, join us on our next Career Change Launch Pad.

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.