Grad Week: Thinking about a change of scene?

Where do you start if you really want to change the direction of your career?

People are realising that family and friends should come first, and that job satisfaction is crucial. Photograph: iStock

The Great Resignation is here. Over the past year, lockdown has made most of us think deeply about what matters most in life - and many have decided that they don’t want to work for the same company anymore.

People are realising that family and friends should come first, and that job satisfaction is crucial.

A recent survey of around 1,000 workers, carried out by Sarah Kieran and Deirdre O'Shea of the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick, found that about 40 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that their "future career lies outside of this organisation."

Dr Mary Collins, a chartered psychologist and professional executive coach, says it is no coincidence that this has coincided with the pandemic and the return to the physical workplace.


“Anecdotally, I am hearing that a lot of younger employees feel dumped on. During the pandemic, they have sat at home in shared accommodation, with their social structures taken away, doing often boring and mundane work. If organisations didn’t handle their communications well or checked in on people’s well-being, the psychological contract is broken.”

Languishing, they are thinking about how to move on.

“They are assessing what is important in their lives,” says Collins. “What is their purpose and what do they want? And the answer is certainly not to have a 90 minute commute every day. People have been talking about this from the perspective of mid-career workers, but it is actually more relevant to graduates and people in their early career. It’s really connected with how that younger group has had such negative psychological and emotional impacts. They’re at the age where they should be partying with their work colleagues but that hasn’t been able to happen. I think, in the coming months, we will see more of the emotional toll it has taken.”

Career psychologist Sinéad Brady says that the Covid-19 crisis jolted us all. “It’s given us permission to acknowledge that some things weren’t working for us, and to say that we valued our time. People are willing to work hard as a valued staff member but not willing to spend 70 hours a week in work. People want to return to the social element of the office but they also got pleasure in having a life. And there’s always been graduates who don’t particularly want to work in an area, but now they’re more willing to say it’s not for them.”

So, if you really want to change the direction of your career, where do you start?

“Always think about your transferable skill set - not just what you have learned but also how you can apply them to different areas,” Brady says. “We have shifted how we think about careers as something that you develop through your lifespan, rather than something that occurs at one point. I always recommend to help you understand your values and motivations. Think about the functional parts of your role that you do and don’t enjoy.”

Collins says that this challenge presents companies with opportunities - particularly to reimagine what they want their workplace to be like. Related to this, with the talent market now “the busiest it has been for 30 years”, companies who communicate their values and vision will be in a good position to pick up the staff who have left other firms.


“The balance of power has shifted. If you’re looking to change roles, ask yourself three questions. First: what am I really good at? For a journalist, it might be writing, research and editing. Second, what puts fire in the belly? Maybe it is diversity and inclusion - linked to your values - that matters most. And third: what can you get paid for this? Try to overlay these questions with a cultural match - that is, what you didn’t like in the last organisation and what you want in the next work. That is your career sweet spot: what you are good at, what you are passionate about and whether there is a demand for your skill.”

Traditional careers or a job you start after college and stay in until retirement have become rare so, although the recent movement has been prompted by the pandemic, some element of change was always inevitable.

“Research around the future of work suggests that, in about ten years time, 40 per cent of careers we know today will no longer exist,” says Collins. “It’s now all about developing skills over a lifetime: it might mean, for instance, that a nurse trais and retrains in different areas, perhaps moving into corporate wellness and travelling with that skill.”

Collins recommends that graduates looking to make a change should reach out to their network. The past year has seen a growth in employee referral schemes (where an existing employee recommends someone else for a job in their company): in some instances, a successful referral can lead to a big bonus for the person who made the recommendation, and people who are referred by a friend or peer will often skip the first few stages of what may otherwise be a five-round interview process.

But how to know whether the company you’re applying for is any better than the one you’re leaving behind?

" can be valuable," says Collins. "You might get some polarised reviews on it but it is a valuable tool for anyone starting a new job. Also, reach out to your personal network and ask what it is really like to work for the company. Staff turnover can tell you a lot about a company, so ask how long people tend to stay with the company. Ask about office culture and what happens before, between or after meetings. How are things done around here?"

Although companies are increasingly interested in people who have a degree and less concerned about what exactly that degree is, some roles will require upskilling or retraining.

“If someone is coming in from a very different area, learning new skills or doing a course can show a company your commitment to making a change and that it’s not just a flight of fancy.” says Collins. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a level nine masters degree: a professional diploma of seven months - from a good, reputable accrediting body - can be valuable.”

It’s no harm to think long-term, either. “People need to futureproof their career around their life stage, especially if they know they want to have a family. It’s healthy to bring that work-life balance to bear and it’s okay to opt out of, say, a very busy investment banking job if you want to focus more on being present for your children. It is healthy to question the model.”

Case study: "They dumped all this extra work on us"

We spoke to David*, a recent graduate who has decided to upskill and change job.

“We were in the office, and news came through that schools and offices were closing the next day. It was all a bit of a rush: the managers asked if we had laptops at home that we could use to work on; if we didn’t, they gave us a computer.

“Those first few days, that first week of the pandemic: everyone was winging it and we thought it’d all be over in a few weeks. But months later, that initial shock and excitement had worn off and my housemates and we were struggling with working in our bedrooms.

“I was on the phone to clients all day and there wasn’t really anyone checking in on us. We couldn’t get off the phone after a rough call and get that bit of reassurance from our colleagues, or just have a bit of banter by the kettle.

“This was my first big job after college, but I came to realise that this company - the lack of support, the poor mentorship, the not-very-enticing salary, the lack of fun - wasn’t for me. It was almost like, if they couldn’t see us and gauge our emotional reaction, it gave them license to dump all this extra work on us. Not only that, but I realised I didn’t want to do customer support anymore.

“There was so much uncertainty though, so I couldn’t just up and leave. But now I’m seeing and hearing that it’s a candidate’s market, so I’m looking at doing an online course to improve some of my ICT skills, perhaps through Springboard. We hear of companies where things are a lot better, so I’m actively looking for work. I’m not staying here any longer than I need to.”

David’s* identity is known to The Irish Times