Four lessons I’ve learnt from my career changes, Catherine Shepherd



When thinking about writing a blog about career change, I thought about the huge number of articles, podcasts, and videos that are already out there, and had a major imposter syndrome moment. I was sure I couldn’t offer anything useful. But then I gave myself a kick and reminded myself that as much as coaching is all about the client, sometimes an example or story from my own experience can be helpful.


So here is some of my story about career change, that might help you with your thinking...


If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you’ll see I’ve made a number of career changes over nearly 30 years of working, some more significant than others – UK to Australia and back again; private to charitable sector; large global organisation to SME; full- time to part-time; permanent to temporary; employed to self-employed; and most recently from the majority of my work being face-to-face to the majority being virtual.


Some I chose for myself and my career, some to better balance work and caring responsibilities, and the latest was of course imposed by the pandemic.


As someone who often coaches people around career moves, I would love to say all these moves have been carefully planned, well thought through, and have worked out exactly as I envisaged. I hope you’ll find it reassuring when I say “if only”!


Instead they’ve been a combination of investing time and sometimes money in my knowledge and skills; making the most of opportunities when they present themselves; making a move when I’m no longer stretched or motivated (although sometimes I haven’t moved soon enough); and many rejected applications and failed interviews.


The following factors might appear ‘back to basics’, but they are an important part of the process of a career move or change:



Are your knowledge and skills good enough for what you’re considering?


I have emphasised ‘good enough’ because of the oft quoted research that “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.”


Women more than men tend to pay attention to the list of requirements for a role (whether generated in their research for a move or seen in a job advert) and interpret those as ‘need to have’ rather than ‘nice to have’ or even ‘start of a negotiation’. When you also throw in that career breaks can make women feel out of date, and caring responsibilities leave little time for self-development, are women being overly critical about their knowledge and skills?


To follow up the initial research, Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: A Practical Guide For Brilliant Women Like You, asked over 1000 people “if you decided not to apply for a job because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, why didn’t you apply?”


The answers where women and men diverged in their top reason were:

  • “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy” (46% women, 41% men)

  • “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to put myself out there if I was likely to fail” (22% women, 13% men)

  • “I was following the guidelines about who should apply” (15% women, 8% men)


Are you interpreting what you need for the next step literally rather than flexibly?



Are you making the most of an opportunity when it presents itself?


In my experience, women tend to talk more about “the right move” than men, so might be less likely to just ‘give an opportunity a go’ (whether that is a new project/ role/ team/ organisation/ career) and ‘see what happens’ - knowing that whatever happens they’ll learn something about themselves and the type of work they do or don’t thrive on.


I’m definitely not an expert in gender socialisation in childhood, however research indicates that girls more than boys are rewarded for being ‘good’ and being ‘right’ in childhood, and that can be difficult to unhook from in adulthood. Are you waiting for the ‘right opportunity’ rather than ‘an opportunity to learn from?’.



Are you giving enough weight to your interest and motivation in your work?


Everyone has times when they accept that they are in a job that no longer really motivates and inspires them, but gives them things that are important for everything else that is going on in their life, such as a friendly team, short commute, predictable hours, decent salary, safe pension etc.


But I wonder, when research shows that even in the 21st century women still take on more of unpaid caring and household duties than men, whether women tend to stay in less enjoyable roles for longer because of their multiple responsibilities.


I have also seen, with myself and others, how eventually this drains energy and confidence, making a needed career shift or move harder. Are you paying enough attention to your interests, aspirations, needs?



Are you being realistic about how many rejections, wrong turns, false starts this might take?


In our social media dominated age, with people carefully presenting images and stories of their careers, it can often seem that people leap from one success to another. Does my LinkedIn profile mention the 10+ rejections I had trying to find a role after moving to Australia? Or how much I struggled with a full-time employed role when my son was pre-school age? Of course not.


I’m in danger of ending on a gloomy note, but I’m trying to offer reassurance that particularly when juggling multiple priorities, a career move will take a while, and maybe knowing that helps.


This is where a friend who can cheer you on, help you take action, and reassure you after a setback is key. And if you’d rather not ask a friend, a coach can also help. Are you prepared that a career move might take a while?