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Changing lanes in your career – Bossing It

30 September 2022

Making a career change can be a daunting prospect, but also incredibly rewarding. We spoke to some of our alumni who have successfully taken a leap of faith to a totally new career path.

Kate O’Connor (BA 2012)

While studying for a BA in Politics & Philosophy at Cardiff, having done a couple of internships, Kate was offered a place on Accenture’s grad scheme. After a few years, she realised that being a Management Consultant just didn’t fill her with joy. As a keen improviser and comedy writer, she wanted to pursue a creative path, so she undertook a MA in Creative Advertising at Falmouth University, followed by a series of internships in Ad Land. The rest, as they say, is history. She is now a Senior Creative at Momentum Worldwide, part of McCann Worldgroup, and enjoys work every day.

Keep reminding yourself why

Even when we know we want to do something new, leaping into the unknown can be really tough. Ask yourself why you want to change careers – take that answer and then ask yourself why again, drilling right down until you’ve found the fundamental reason. That’s the thing that’ll give you the impetus you need to jump. Naff as it sounds, when I was psyching myself up to leave a very well-paying job in the City, I made myself a vision board that represented my ‘why’ and set it as my laptop background.

Remember that everything you’ve done so far has value

Even if you’re moving into an entirely unrelated field and having to start right at the first rung again, all the experience you’ve gained to date will come in useful at some point. Use your work experience to confound expectations of what a ‘junior’ can do, and use your soft skills to protect yourself and others from the unreasonable asks that are so often made of younger employees who don’t yet know how to say no.

James Orpwood (BSc 2002, PhD 2006)

James had a love for all things fishy since before he could walk, which, unsurprisingly, developed into a promising career as a fisheries scientist. However, his scientific career took him to Scotland where, surrounded by incredible mountain scenery, a new passion for fun in high places rapidly developed. An increasing urge to change career so he could lead people in mountains and wild places, was cemented by a climbing trip to the Himalayas where James met his wife. Following several years of determined and focussed re-training, James turned his dream into a reality. He now runs his own small business, James Orpwood Mountaineering, and works as a freelancer for outdoor activities and adventure travel companies.

Before the leap – have a plan, keep the faith, and remain flexible!

The idea of changing careers should be exciting! However, it can also be a daunting prospect, full of uncertainty (excitement!), and lots of what-ifs. Having a plan for your career change can really help settle your nerves, and keep your energy focussed towards your ultimate goal. Your plan could focus on key areas such as re-training, securing finance, and timescales. Plans will need to remain flexible – not every idea you have will come to anything, but I guarantee that once you take that leap of faith, doors will open for you which you never even knew existed!

After the leap – networking, take every opportunity, be yourself

Once your new career is in progress take every opportunity to network with more experienced people in your field. Don’t be scared to put yourself forwards, perhaps offering to “shadow” established practitioners. This can help build your experience with “real world” clients and may help you “get a foot in the door” with potential employers. Personal recommendations, a friendly demeanour and a good natter over a coffee will get you a lot further than a faceless email enquiry. Learn from the best – everybody had to start somewhere – but remain true to yourself, your values and your own ethos.

Our alumni networking platform Cardiff Connected lets you find fellow alumni working in your dream industry or organisation, so you can ask questions, request introductions, or see if they’d offer mentoring.

Steph Bird (BSc 2014)

Steph studied a BSc in Radiotherapy and Oncology, which lead her to work as a Therapeutic Radiographer at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford for 3 years. Her passion for volunteering and fundraising lead her to taking a leap into the charity sector in 2017. She started as a Community Fundraiser at The Brain Tumour Charity and later progressed to the Community Fundraising Manager, line managing a community fundraising team across the UK. Currently, she is the Community Fundraising Officer at Cardiff University, raising awareness of Cardiff University as a charity and supporting #TeamCardiff fundraisers.

Gain experience before making the move

I found that gaining further knowledge of the charity sector really helped my decision process and also aided discussion when securing an interview. From a Google search, I applied and was successful in gaining a place in Charity Apprentice, a part-time year course which enabled me to secure a solid foundation of knowledge of the charity sector and potential roles I may be interested in. It also opened doors to networking opportunities to ask questions to those working directly in the sector which gave me the reassurance and confidence I needed to know the decision was right for me.

Keep your options open

It’s always a good idea to think ahead and consider your options before changing careers. Things may not quite work out how you initially planned or hoped, so be sure to be open to other opportunities and paths. There are so many roles within a sector and it’s good to remember that roles can vary at different organisations too. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your line manager, colleagues, friends and family about options as they may be able to help provide some friendly advice or highlight training opportunities for instance.

Hannah Jefferys (MArch 2009)

Hannah completed her MArch in Architectural Design at Cardiff University in 2009. Upon graduating, Hannah worked as both a Designer and an Architect, but alongside this decided to follow her passion for Cider, establishing Sài Gòn Cider in Vietnam in 2013. The brand is now 9 years old and Hannah now works full-time as their Founding Director & Cider Maker as the business goes from strength to strength as the leading Vietnamese cider brand, Sài Gòn Cider offers award-winning, craft, organic cider made in Vietnam, using 100% juice, undiluted, as cider should be.

Your degree still holds so much value

My Masters in Architecture gave me so many transferable skills I still use today, for example:

  • Selling ideas – handy when facing customers and investors, not only clients and developers. Whether it’s a proposal for an education centre or a brand, the same principles apply.
  • Staying true to concept – from building massing to tiny details, all must speak of the same idea. It’s the same with a brand, if you’re about organic and artisanal, that should inform everything from the product ingredients to the communication style.
  • Creativity, resourcefulness, attention to detail, ability to work under pressure… the list goes on!

Go for it!

The voice of that burning desire to run your own business will unlikely stop shouting loudly in your ear unless you meet its demands, so make a plan and go for it! That business will not necessarily materialise from pursuing your career in a subject you’re qualified in. If the path doesn’t seem clear and attainable in the somewhat near future, then satisfy this desire another way. I’m passionate about architecture and design, but running that as a business wouldn’t have been my cup of tea. I only realised this in hindsight after I’d built a cider brand. Whatever your areas of interest, forcing yourself to set out a 5 year plan towards an end goal which satisfies you will help you realise when to rule a plan in or out and speed up finding a business which suits you. Decide. Plan. Do!

The Cardiff University community are a helpful bunch, here to help you get ahead in your chosen career. You can browse through their advice and top tips on a wide range of business topics in our ‘Bossing It’ series.