The Secret to a Successful Career Change
Switching careers is a big step—one that requires research, planning and plenty of prowess. Chances are, you’ve dedicated years to a particular career path. And it’s hard to break from something that’s so ingrained in not just your life, but in who you are. But if it isn’t stimulating or driving you, then why hang around?
You want something that inspires you; something you’re passionate about. And let’s face it, your current career just isn’t delivering in that department. So now you’re scared, a little bit stressed and anxious about what might happen if you make a drastic career change. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
In the five years since its inception, Charity Fast-Track has helped countless career shifters transition into more meaningful work. And believe us, they understand what it takes to not only find a new career but keep yourself motivated when the whole process has you feeling a little bit lost.
Let’s take a closer look at Charity Fast-Track’s top tips for changing careers and finding your passion in the charity sector.
Don’t just find your ‘why’, find your ‘how’
I want to discover more about the different opportunities out there.
The charity sector is vast, and whilst recruiters are typically welcoming of talent joining the sector, context is vital. Before they assess your skills and experience, they’ll want to understand why, of the thousands of possible routes to social impact, you chose to start with them.
It may be that you’re already driven to work towards a specific cause, but cause alone isn’t enough. You need to prove that you’ll add value to the organisation. Sure, knowing that you’re passionate about something is important, but you also need to demonstrate what you’ll do to help drive real change. So the age-old advice to ‘find your why’ is just half of the equation: knowing how you’ll change the world tends to prove more useful.
In order to do this, you need to know how a charity works – what sort of departments does it consist of and what roles are vital to keeping things moving in the right direction? The career shifters who stand out typically take some time to understand the different functions within the business.
You might be inspired to become a professional fundraiser, but there’s a world of difference between the skills needed for writing bids and tenders, compared to supporting challenge events. Part of the journey as you build your new career is working out how your existing skills apply in this new context.
Consider your professional skills in a charity context
That being said, you need to figure out exactly which charity role is right for your skills and experience. The Charity Fast-Track course focuses on developing and showcasing your professional skillset within the context of charity work. Our most successful graduates get this and are strategic about their professional development.
Volunteering is a great starting point, but not merely as an opportunity to practice skills or boost for your CV. We advise our learners to volunteer with a plan: show professional curiosity about everyone you meet and meet everyone you possibly can—especially if they have job titles that seem unfamiliar. What is their purpose in that organisation? What skills do they need, what experience do they bring, and why is their job worth aspiring towards?
Working out where your skills don’t fit is useful too. If you’re all about data and numbers, you might not be as excited about a customer-facing role or events management. Or maybe you’re great with words and data just isn’t your forte—then data management probably isn’t right for you.
By learning about these professional paths you’ll be able to better support your colleagues, especially considering that smaller charities (where it helps to be a generalist) make up a huge proportion of the jobs market. That breadth of knowledge will have a practical impact right away: career changers are often keen not to start at the bottom, so even a basic understanding of, say, charity finance will be reassuring for your fellow professionals when it comes to planning your first budget.
Find your tribe
Increasingly, there is less need for career shifters to feel like they’re ‘on the outside, looking in’.
Part of what makes career shifting so scary is walking away from your existing networks; we all depend on contacts, friends and role models, especially during career transitions when we risk the possibility of multiple rejections.
Our most successful career shifters understand that building a new network is a priority, and that’s why we focus so much on peer support. We know they’ll bounce back from setbacks more quickly, hear about new opportunities sooner and start making an impact on those around them before most.
Self-doubt is the single biggest barrier we see; it’s in all of us. Finding role models and people to bounce ideas off? That’s what helps people keep going.
Charity professionals are increasingly well connected online and typically are very generous with their time and insight. Is your Twitter timeline full of people sharing expertise on the sector you’re walking away from? Perhaps it’s time for a clear out. The more charity sector people you follow, the richer your learning becomes.
Take a few minutes every day to research who is doing exciting work, how it got funded and what impact it has. Charity Connect is a wonderful place to ask questions or find resources, whilst LinkedIn groups such as Non-Profit Network, Charity UK or UK Fundraising are full of people willing to share.
That sharing culture is part of what makes working in charity so great; we built Charity Fast-Track’s syllabus from sector experts volunteering their knowledge and advice, and we’re always stunned at how far people will go to welcome and support newcomers to the sector.
“Please share my email address, tell your learners to add me on LinkedIn and to get in touch if they need anything” is the kind of message we hear repeatedly, often from the busiest of people. The most successful career shifters we meet don’t need a second invitation to make contact.
Before you entirely abandon your old network, consider reaching out to them; you might be surprised at who already has links to the world of charity. Besides, when faced with the possibility of rejection, it’s always healthy to be around those who remind of your value to the world.
Ready to make the change?
There’s no getting away from the fact that shifting careers is a scary prospect, but with the right plan and the right people around you, it doesn’t have to feel impossible. The simple, practical steps you make now in establishing your skills and your networks won’t just help you find a job, they might just form the backbone of your career.
This is your opportunity to get ready for impact; what are you waiting for? Find out what jobs are available in the charity sector today.
Richard Wall helps run Charity Fast-Track, a program for career shifters looking to enter the charity sector. Since 2015 they've been helping talented people find meaningful careers. Outside of work, he eats, plays with his dog and talks nonsense.