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How to change careers in your 20s

    Once there were jobs for life. The career you began in your twenties would usually be the one you’d continue doing until your retirement. But for Millennials, changing careers, even if you’ve only just started working, is becoming increasingly common. But how do you know when it’s time to quit? Will leaving your first job too soon damage your future career prospects?

    How age affects your career choices

    With an increase in contracts, part-time positions, project based roles and ‘portfolio careers’ – and a decrease in permanent full-time roles – it is becoming increasingly likely we will all find ourselves looking for a new position at some point.

    When and how to make that career change varies depending on your age and life circumstances. In this article, we look at changing careers in your twenties.

    When reality fails to meet your expectations

    Congratulations! You’ve mastered school, university or completed your apprenticeship. And now you’ve joined the workforce and plan to get a few years’ work experience under your belt.

    But what if you have discovered your career choice isn’t what you were led to believe it would be like or hoping for? Maybe you’ve realised you’ve studied the wrong degree. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by opportunities but unable to make progress with any of them? However long you’ve been in the workforce, it’s not unusual to be thinking about changing careers.

    Sustainable job satisfaction

    If you’re debating your options, your main priority should be working out whether or not the career path you are on now is likely to be sustainable. In other words, are you likely to be satisfied in your current profession over the long term?

    Unfortunately you can’t do everything you want. As you go through life you make decisions. For example you make choices about what to study. In your twenties you still have time to have fun and make mistakes. Not every choice you make will be the optimal decision.

    However these decisions often close the doors to potential career paths. In some cases you can always go back and get what you need to open that particular door, but in many that door will remain firmly closed to you.

    Give your job more time

    The ideal is to spend our working hours doing something we truly enjoy. But it’s ok to earn a living doing something that is frankly a bit dull.  New entrants to the employment market often have to accept positions that are not ideal, especially when there is a shortage of jobs.

    If you made a bad choice or are lumbered with a bad boss, don’t hit the eject button straight away. If you are learning or acquiring something you need for future progression from this organisation then it’s worthwhile sticking with the job until you’ve learnt enough for it to be useful on your resume.

    Maybe your friends are working in their ‘passion’ and have found their true calling? That’s great. It’s also perfectly acceptable to work in a role you are more or less happy with, especially if it pays the bills. The key is to have a plan to learn from the experience and then move on. That’s actually a pretty good start.

    Make changes to your job

    Be realistic. Your boss, colleagues and employer’s main concern is not your personal development and growth. The only person worried about your lack of job satisfaction is you.

    However, if they can rely on you to do a good job they are likely to give you increasingly higher levels of responsibility and trust you with more challenging and interesting assignments. This could lead to you enjoying your work more and finding the role has adapted into something resembling what you’d hoped for.

    Sometimes your reason for not being happy in a role can seem, well, frivolous. Often a job turns out to be less interesting than what you anticipated or was advertised. But boredom can be a genuine reason to quit – feeling underwhelmed can sap your enthusiasm and desire to work. If you find yourself constantly clock-watching or dreading returning to work, this may be a sign to move on from this role or even career.

    If you know it really isn’t right for you

    Many of us experience a number of false starts or frustrating work situations in our twenties. If you have made a poor career choice, recognise it and take action.

    The good thing about your twenties is the repercussions of any decisions you make are unlikely to go beyond you. You probably have more control over your professional direction now than at any other time. Try not to let financial concerns hold you back from changing careers. If you can, ask for help from family or get a part-time ‘non-career’ job.

    Have another job to go to

    Employers often prefer to hire candidates who are already in a job. So try to start your job search before you quit your current role.

    And choose your next job wisely. Employers are unlikely to think poorly of you if you quit your first professional job, especially if you can show that you have learnt from the experience. But if you develop a track record of leaving jobs within a short space of time, it may impact negatively on your applications.

    Quit professionally

    However tempted you are to tell your boss ‘to stick it’, don’t burn any bridges. Leave your employer on good terms and keep giving every task and opportunity 100%. Even once you’ve handed in your notice, it’s important to show you take your employment seriously, that you can be relied on and that you are prepared to do the hard yards.

    You never know who your boss knows. A reputation of being an unreliable or half-hearted employee could damage your future prospects.

    Back to being a student?

    Investigate the requirements of a new career choice carefully before investing time and funds into any further education. You may not necessarily need to invest in more study to develop your career.

    What if you do need training or new qualifications? Studying now, when you probably have fewer commitments, may be easier than putting it off until later.

    If you choose to return to studying, be honest with yourself about why. Do you need to study or are you putting off reality? It may be that you’re swapping the disappointments of work for the comfortable familiarity of an academic environment.

    The good news about changing careers in your 20s

    The good thing about changing careers in your twenties is your social network is probably about as large and healthy as it is likely to get. You may still be in touch with friends from school, university, current and previous employers and contacts from hobbies and sporting interests. Other than work, your time is most likely largely your own. Meeting new people couldn’t be easier. This is the time to build and leverage your network.

    Use your network

    • Pick their brains – find out more about the career that interests you.
    • Use your connections to research what organisations you should work for.
    • Get introductions to people who can help your job search.
    • Make sure you stay in touch with your contacts, as your career evolves into your thirties.

    Glide Outplacement offers a range of career coaching options to help you change careers. Get in touch to find out more.