Facing an Unwelcome Career Change? Six Questions to Support Your Journey


Dr Ann Villiers is a career coach and Fellow Member of the Career Development Association Australia (CDAA). She was awarded Life Membership in 2019, and the President’s Award for Professional Leadership in 2015. For this article, Ann draws on her research for CDAA’s 2022 report Navigating Life’s Career Transitions: Essential Support and Services. You can also read a summary brief

Many Australians are facing major career changes brought about by burnout, industry changes, business closures, and new technology. These changes may be unexpected or imposed. That could mean possible unemployment, retrenchment, reskilling or retirement.

How can you handle such changes? Here are six questions to ask yourself, so you know more about what could impede your change, what professional support is available, and why it may be useful to tap this help.

1. Do I understand the nature of career transitions?

The CDAA report explains that career transitions:

  • are experienced by everyone during their lives.
  • fall along a continuum, varying in size, type and origin. 
  • are processes with various steps to navigate. 
  • require career-related skills to reach goals and make sound decisions. 

But, many people either lack these career-related skills or feel they don’t need them. 

Perhaps you’re thinking, “But I don’t have a career.” It may help to understand that when career practitioners talk about a ‘career’, they are talking about paid and unpaid work, parenting, care work, volunteering, leisure activities, learning and education, and how these influence choices, decisions, and how people live their lives. 

So, there may be more to consider than you think when making sound decisions about a major career change.

2. Do I know what challenges I may face?

People may not be aware of what can impede making an effective career change. Some people don’t know what information to look for, have misconceptions about occupations, or do not realise how job searching has changed. A person may experience low confidence, lack motivation, have outdated or aging skills, and lack faith in their ability to find new opportunities.

What these challenges mean is that without professional help to explain, explore, and encourage, people may be disadvantaged in the labour market.

3. Do I know what help career practitioners offer?

Career development is the term used to refer to the discipline and practice of helping people with their careers. 

Career practitioners see careers as being about the process of managing life, learning, work, leisure, and transitions across the lifespan.

Career professionals have recognised qualifications in Career Development, abide by professional standards, and meet annual professional development requirements. They go by several names, including career development practitioner, career coach, outplacement consultant. Their services help people to make good decisions about career changes, work, study and training, ones that fit their personal circumstances, interests, skills and life goals.

If you work in a region, industry or occupation for a long time, you may wonder if any help you seek needs to come from a person who has similar experience. The CDAA report points out that this can be an advantage, but by itself is not enough to provide a service tailored to your needs.

What is important is to seek help from a professional career practitioner who has the skills, experience, and knowledge to build rapport and trust with you, explore your circumstances, interpret relevant information in your context, and help you to identify possibilities aligned with your interests, strengths, values and commitments.

What to do to handle a career change may seem obvious, such as look for alternative work and learn some new skills. But it’s the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ that can be overlooked when working through a major career change. For example:

  • Why am I considering that job or occupation? Does it fit with my skills, values and circumstances? Are there better opportunities that I don’t know about?
  • How do I go about finding occupations that suit me?
  • How do I use information about in-demand skills?
  • Why am I considering investing in a course of study?

Having help with the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ can deliver important benefits, such as:

  • relief at having someone to explain things and give clarity to your goals.
  • support to build the confidence to make a change.
  • short-cutting to quality, relevant information. 
  • showing how to meet the many demands of career changes, such as job searching, preparing job documents, using social media, personal branding and networking.

4. Can you identify and explain your transferable skills?

A commonly experienced career change challenge is the ability to identify skills gained in one job or occupation and explain how they apply to another job or occupation. These skills are called ‘transferable skills’. For example, a person who solves problems in their job may be so familiar with this process that they take it for granted, and do not see that their problem solving skills are relevant to a job in a different industry.

When facing a major career transition, being able to identify and explain transferable skills increases your changes of seeing opportunities and finding work. You may need professional help with this process.

5. Do I know people who will support me?

The CDAA’s report explains that effective career transitions are more likely if you are surrounded by people who will stand by you no matter what happens. Such people might be family members, friends, employers, work colleagues, mentors, and members of community organisations. 

Career practitioners can help you build skills to expand your support network, such as how to talk to potential employers and develop an appropriate social media presence.

6. Has your employer read CDAA’s report?

If you know change is coming, ask your employer if they’ve read CDAA’s report. There may also be local organisations who could learn from it, such as your local council, your local members of parliament, your union and organisations that support industry transitions.

Reading the report will increase their understanding of:

  • the nature of career transitions. 
  • the difficulties people face during career transitions and what professional help they may need.
  • what factors contribute to successful industry transition processes.
  • how governments and businesses can further support workers’ career transitions.

This knowledge is particularly important if you live in a community facing major industry transitions. The CDAA says that past Australian and international experience shows that these processes need to be well-planned, locally-driven, fair, well-funded, and where needed, phased-in over several years.

A standardised, one-size-fits-all approach to career support won’t work. Any transition process needs to be tailored to local circumstances and include widespread, ongoing consultation with all those affected. 

To give you an idea of how such support works, the CDAA’s report includes case studies of members’ experience in delivering various career transition services.

You can search for help on the CDAA’s website.