“How Do I Make The Right Career Choice, When I’ve Only Got One Chance To Retrain?”

Ashley spent years building a successful career. But after an uninspiring job dampened her spirits, she’s planning a complete change. While she’s 100% committed to retraining, she knows there'll be sacrifices, and she’s finding it hard to narrow down her options. When you can’t afford to get it wrong, how do you know you’ve made the right choice?

What's your career history and current job?

I spent years building an extremely high-achieving career in technology sales.

But a recent house move meant I had to look for something new, so I found some work doing cold-calling.

I decided to leave that job after a year, and I'm not currently working.

I originally wanted to be a social worker. But after leaving university, I fell into a sales role, where I discovered that I'm very good at convincing people to buy things!

I love getting people excited about something that can help them. I'm also a natural 'cheerleader', with infectious enthusiasm that brings people along with me.

How do you feel about your work?

If I'm being completely honest, I enjoyed the attention and praise I received for something I'm very good at.

I've never missed a sales target, and I've won just about every award going.

I've always loved the buzz that comes from chatting with new people, and finding out more about what their lives are like. I'm also a great collaborator – the more people I have to talk to in order to resolve a problem, the better!

But in the outside world, I feel like the word 'sales' has negative connotations that I'm embarrassed about. I've found that some people expect me to be brash and dishonest when I first meet them, and I'm neither of those things.

I also discovered that cold calling didn't suit me at all. Some of the people I spoke to were incredibly rude for no reason, and I felt my usual energy and enthusiasm drain away.

That job made me think differently about the career I chose. I realised that I had only worked in sales for so long because I was good at it. But just because I'm good at something, doesn't mean it matters, or has a meaningful impact on the wider world.

I started thinking long and hard about the kind of work I really want to do, which is why I decided to leave.

What would you like to be doing instead?

I want to spend the rest of my career doing meaningful work that really lights me up inside.

I've done numerous surveys and much self-analysis, and it's all led me right back to my original career goal – working in social services. Using my social skills to get to know others and help them in their daily lives really appeals to me.

Amongst many other things, I've thought about becoming a psychologist, an occupational therapist, or a sign language interpreter.

What's the biggest obstacle in your way?

I want to be certain that I've chosen the right path, before I invest a significant amount of time and money into re-training.

I've done lots of detailed research into the options I'm interested in, such as visiting universities, and speaking to people who already work in the social services sector. For each option, I've been told that it will take a few years to achieve the qualifications I need, and that's before I can start gaining experience and building a successful career.

Whichever path I choose will involve personal sacrifices. Not only will it cost money to re-train, but my husband will have to support our family financially while I study.

Because of that, it feels like I've got just one opportunity to make the right decision. If I make the wrong choice, I won't just be able to go back and start all over again.

And, unfortunately, no single option stands out enough for me to want to commit myself completely to it.

I keep thinking that there must be an easier route into social services work, if I could only find it. I've tried searching for jobs that don't need specific qualifications, or in non-profit organisations.

There are a lot of skills I could offer straight away. For example, my daughter is deaf, so I already know how to use sign language, and I've spent years helping to make people feel relaxed and comfortable. But I've found that without the right qualifications, or a solid track record of experience, hiring managers aren't willing to interview me.

I'm incredibly passionate about changing my career, and I'm willing to give it everything I've got. But I'm terrified that I might choose an option, then throw myself into achieving it – only to realise it's not right for me after all.

How can I be certain that I've found the right path, before I commit myself to following it?

Can you help Ashley?
  • Have you been in a similar situation, or are you in the same boat right now?
  • How do you think Ashley could move her shift forwards?
  • Do you know anyone she could talk to?

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