Image: James Forbes
Spending hours scouring job sites, reading articles, and still not getting anywhere with your career change? Natasha shares why it's not working and what to do to move forward more productively.
How much time have you spent on your career change recently? And how much of that time have you spent online?
How many hours have you spent scrolling through articles and advice, interviews and talks, stories and guides, worksheets, downloads and resources? How many job sites?
And how many real tangible results have you got out of that time?
There's no doubt that the internet has revolutionised the world of work. People everywhere are discovering new ideas, connecting with co-workers across continents, and running entire businesses from a laptop. The internet is the first place we turn to for answers to our biggest questions (and our smallest), and it brings people together in a powerful way.
But it has also become a false friend for many career changers. While it can be useful in a multitude of ways, it has also subtly undermined many a shift.
Could you be keeping yourself trapped in a career you don't enjoy, without even realising it? Let's take a look.
Why are you Googling your career change?
1. You think you'll stumble upon your dream job
Take a second and try to estimate: how many hours have you spent on job sites in the last month? Five? Ten? More?
Now wrap your head around this: career experts estimate that 80% of jobs are never advertised. 80%.
What does that mean for your time spent scouring the internet for your ideal job? The one that suits you perfectly, you're brilliantly qualified for and that you'd love to wake up to every morning? It means your chances of finding it on your beloved job sites are pretty slim. Even if you were to see every job ad ever posted, you'd still only be skimming the surface of the possibilities out there.
And, as a career changer, you're playing the job-ad game at a fundamental disadvantage. You probably don't have the 'two years' experience' outlined on all of the ads you're looking at. Your CV probably doesn't look like a perfect match for the person specification.
That doesn't mean you couldn't be a perfect match, or that the people recruiting for the position wouldn't take a chance on you. It just means that with the way traditional job searches are designed, it's both disheartening for you and much, much tougher for you to land an interview.
So why are you still surfing the search engines?
2. It makes you feel like you're taking some action
When you're stuck in an infinite loop of career change confusion and don't know which way to turn, sitting down to get tooled-up with information about career change can make you feel as though you've at least done something constructive. You can't stand the thought of being in the same job six months from now and you hate complaining about your job without doing anything about it. So you decide to 'do some research'. That's the first step, right?
But browsing articles and job sites endlessly doesn't actually change anything about your situation. It's what we call a 'passive action'; the step between nothing at all and something constructive.
You feel like you've done something to further your career change, but when you step away from the computer, nothing's really changed. And passive actions can be dangerous in a career change, because they leave you feeling as though you've been working hard at making a shift (after all, you've been online reading articles for three whole hours today!) but, in actual fact, you haven't taken any meaningful steps forward; you just know more 'stuff' (we'll cover more on this in a minute).
3. It gets you 'off the hook'
We've already discussed the concept of 'passive action' and how you step away feeling as though you've done something to further your shift, but actually, nothing's changed. In harsher terms, it could be called a cop out.
Your dream career isn't in your world right now. It hasn't shown up in your usual day-to-day; you haven't passed it on the street or been introduced to it at the pub. The reason it feels so hard to get to is that it's not within easy reach. To find it, you're going to have to stretch your comfort zone; explore beyond the usual boundaries that you live within.
And that's not comfortable – especially if you're trying to make a shift alone.
Wouldn't it be easier just to Google a little more?
There's a networking event taking place this evening, and it's going to be full of people working in a field you've been intrigued by for a while. You consider going, but the thought of approaching new people makes you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, so you tell yourself you'd be better off looking through LinkedIn.
You've talked for a long time about doing work that makes a social impact, and you love being around kids, so you're considering working for a children's charity. You don't have any experience in the field, but the thought of volunteering sounds 'a bit much' right now, so you spend a few hours researching charity jobs instead.
Sound at all familiar?
Google is a great way to get yourself off the hook when it comes to pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, but, ultimately, by taking passive action rather than exploring the real world, you're undermining your progress.
4. You think more information = more clarity
You're a great problem solver. You solve all kinds of problems all the time: challenges at work, a broken radiator at home, your friends' love lives…
And when you're solving those kinds of problems, the general rule is: more information = faster fix.
The more your friend can tell you about how their latest fling has been behaving, the better equipped you are to offer advice. And if your radiator is making an unfamiliar groaning sound, a quick Google can help you identify not only what's wrong, but what to do to fix it (and the number of the nearest 24-hour plumber).
But who you are at your core, what makes you happy, and where your unique talents and strengths can come into play in all their glory – this is a different kind of problem. And (to my knowledge, at least), nobody has ever 'found themselves' on the internet.
This kind of problem is not one that can be solved in the same way as the others in your life. That's why career change feels so deeply frustrating; it doesn't fit the mould of any other problem you've come across before. You doubt your own capacity to ever resolve it.
But all you're doing by searching through Google is finding out what other people think about other people's career changes. You're arming yourself with information at a high level, when your career change actually exists in the low-level detail: the things that make you smile every day; the ideas that pique your interest and get your mind racing; the major world issues that leave your blood boiling and your heart aflame.
It's only by taking action and seeking out that sense of resonance – that 'wow' feeling you get when you're inspired and engaged – that this kind of problem starts to unravel.
So what should you be doing instead?
Let's be clear: I'm not arguing that the internet is the enemy when it comes to your shift. There are a thousand ways to use Google to your advantage as a career changer, and that number is multiplying every day.
The problem arises when the internet becomes your primary go-to mechanism for tackling your shift; when it overtakes other methods that are ultimately more productive.
Next time you're feeling tempted to Google your way around your career change, ask yourself: could I do something more active instead?
There are two very simple, alternative ways to get informed, get connected, and get moving faster with your career change. Which could you try next time you're tempted to slide back in front of that computer?
1. Try out your idea in the real world
What's the smallest way you can actually do something related to your career-change idea? Getting your hands dirty is the best way to find out if something resonates with you.
We call these Shift Projects.
Considering becoming a personal trainer? Find a friend who wants to take on their health and offer to work with them one night a week for a month.
Interested in permaculture and working outdoors? Look for a local gardening group or permaculture project and offer to volunteer with them. Even if you only have a day to spare, they'll welcome an extra pair of hands.
Dream of becoming a writer? Start writing to a deadline – articles, short stories, whatever takes your fancy. Try on different writing styles and imaginary audiences to see what works best, and to discover what it's really like to have to 'create on command'. This way, when an opportunity raises its head, you'll know if it's likely to be a good fit for your skills and preferences, and you'll have a ready-made portfolio to impress an editor (check out Lee's story for a real-life example of exactly this in action).
Simon, a participant in our Career Change Launch Pad, had been interested in mindfulness and meditation for a long time. He had ideas about starting to teach, but wasn't sure how to break into it, or if he'd even enjoy it once he started. He chose to test out his idea in a small, low-risk way by offering to teach a single session to his colleagues at work. Not only did his colleagues love it, he also discovered he had a natural talent for sharing his passion and started to explore other ways of doing so. His interest developed and evolved, and he recently got in touch to let us know that he'd landed his first paid client as a coach.
By 'trying on' a career idea, you'll discover far more about how you could fit into the role (and if you even enjoy it) than you ever would by reading about it online. Is your idea of the job just a pie-in-the-sky perspective on what it might be like, or is it really a good match?
2. Have a conversation with a real person
What do you really want to know about your career idea? What are the nitty-gritty details that you simply won't find out online?
Seeking out people who already do the work you want to do is the quickest (and most fruitful) way to honest, balanced and ultimately useful information.
Look through your network (personal and professional) to find someone who works in the field you're interested in. You may need to ask someone you know to put you in touch with someone else, but even a distant connection will often prove far more fruitful than you expect. Ask if you can shadow them for an afternoon, or even simply go for a coffee to find out more about what they do all day.
Not only will this give you a much deeper insight into the reality of an industry or role, it'll also get you a foot in the door faster than almost any other method. Once you've made a connection and spent time with someone, you'll have access to both their network and their affections. An authentic conversation with somebody makes them far more likely to want to help you out, whether you're qualified for a job or not. Who knows who (or what) they know? Maybe they can put you in touch with a colleague who's looking for an assistant (quietly, without advertising it online), or let you know about an amazing organisation you've never heard of.
Cat (pictured) had no concrete idea of the next role she'd like to shift into, having left a brand management role at a multinational consumer goods company.
She spent time researching some areas of interest she had in mind, using books, online courses, podcasts, and TedTalks. This helped her clarify the general theme or area that she'd like to shift into – rural development and economic empowerment.
But what really gave her career change momentum was reaching out to people in her network to ask them if they knew about opportunities or organisations that existed within this area:
"A colleague would offer to connect me with a new contact who worked in an interesting area or was potentially hiring for a cool position. Suddenly, another door was opened, and the conversations continued.
After a few months, a friend referred me to the Programme Director at my current organization, who asked if I wanted to volunteer with their economic empowerment programmes in rural Guatemala. It was a perfect fit. A month later, I moved to Guatemala and I haven’t looked back."
Googling and researching your shift is a habit – a very easy habit to indulge in when most of us have an internet connection in our pockets.
And breaking habits is a tricky business. But it's not impossible, and the good news is that even one real-world action can create the momentum and excitement you've probably been craving in your shift.
What career change idea are you tempted to Google today? And what could you do instead? Let me know in the comments below.