8 top tips for changing career at age 26

Changing career can be scary at the best of times; but when you’ve fairly recently finished university and you believe you have your life on track – the thought of throwing it all into disarray to start again is terrifying.

I changed my career from accounts assistant to business psychologist in 4 years. These are my top tips for making your career change a raging success:

Tip 1. Do your research. Find out what job opportunities might be available to you once you have retrained: I only found out after I’d graduated that jobs in my chosen field are few and far between, extremely competitive and demand years of work experience. Luckily, my chosen study topics can be used for lots of different career paths, and I’m so glad of that now, but knowing that when I chose the course would have helped me to better direct my study and my job search.

Tip 2. Pick something that interests you. I decided to study psychology because I was interested in it - this is definitely a good idea because when you have a real interest in something you work harder and are more accepting of the time sacrifice.

Tip 3. Think carefully about the study decisions you make – they have a direct impact on your career choices. If you need to study, make sure you think through what you want to do at the end of your study. I wanted to be a practising psychologist and to practice you generally need a doctorate. I didn’t think about this when I started studying and I couldn’t afford the time or the fees to study for the doctorate; this meant that I left myself with limited options for careers. This leads me to tip 4.

Tip 4. Save up. Sadly this is a reality and must be considered. There’s no doubt about it; changing career can be expensive. It often requires a whole heap of study and it definitely requires your time, which often means less time for work.

Tip 5. Be prepared to start at the bottom. I was sure that at aged 29, with years of work experience under my belt and 3 degrees (2 undergrad and an MSc) that I would walk into a job at a high paying level and in my chosen field. That wasn’t the case: changing career meant that I was back on the bottom run of the ladder and I needed to prove myself all over again. However, due to my knowledge and experience, I do believe I’ve climbed the ladder faster than someone first starting out, so I certainly don’t feel like anything I did before my career change was wasted. In fact, the work I did gave me a great insight into how businesses operate and I don’t think I would have been so successful in my studies without it.

Tip 6. Work and study at the same time. If you're not sure what you want to do - try to study while you work, that way you keep your job and salary, but also get to try out your new passion before you buy into it full time. If it's really what you want, the time sacrifice will be worth it and you'll find it much easier to get through the study slog. 

Tip 7. Don’t be afraid to take a step back to move forward. When I changed career, initially I kept the same role as a personal assistant while I studied, but after the first 2 years, even though I’d moved to a part time position in the second year, I found that the workload was too much and I needed something that would provide me with regular hours and a little less paperwork. So I changed role into something I found less taxing, freeing up more time for study. Yes, the salary was less but I could concentrate more on my goal.  

Tip 8. Don't lose faith. There's no doubt that it takes time, patience and sacrifice to change career; but with lots of support and a whole load of determination, it is possible. When you get there and you’re doing what you love, trust me, you’ll find it a lot easier to pull yourself out of bed when the alarm goes off in the morning!

When I decided I was going to change my career everyone around me thought I was brave, but also a little nuts. I sure many people thought I wouldn’t stick it out and if I did that it wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to go. I can safely say that I am now happier than I have ever been in my career: I can’t lie, there were times when it was tough but I‘ve also had some wonderful times and met some fantastic people on my journey. The hard work was definitely worth it.