By Perminus Wainaina
What happens when you wake up one day and want to change your career?
Last week, I met up with Maureen, who started out as an engineer, then moved to customer service. We first met three years ago, and as we caught up, she reminded me of how she transitioned from one career to another. I interviewed her on why she made the change, and lessons you can pick when you want to change your career.
Before getting to why she looked for the change, I wanted to first understand why she decided to pursue a career in engineering.
“I grew up in a rural setting. Most of the people –including my parents, are farmers. However, there was an accountant and an engineer in the village. Both these professionals were doing well in their careers, so of the two, I decided to go for telecommunications engineering.”
What happened after you finished your university education? Did you know then you wanted to follow a different path?
“No, all through school, I was excited about engineering. I pictured myself years in the future as a successful engineer. At this point, if anyone had told me I would leave everything to follow a different path, I wouldn’t have believed them.”
When did you know you wanted to change?
“After I graduated, I looked for a job for two months. Just before I got an engineering job, I got an offer to work at a call center. But the engineering job came before I could accept the call center one. I went for the engineering job.
Seven years later, I had moved up my career. I held a managerial position, overseeing a department of 18 professionals. This is when I started feeling a gap in my career. Something was off, but I couldn’t figure what it was.”
When did you figure you wanted to change your career?
“It took me months. All along, I was continuing with my job, but I felt something was amiss. I tried everything I could to figure out what it was.
Then, one day, I had taken a few weeks of leave from my job. A friend approached me, she told me she had just started a company, but she didn’t have someone to receive calls when customers called. She asked if I knew anyone who could help her in the meantime.
I didn’t know anyone, and I thought that was that.
A few days later, she called me. She asked how long my leave was.
‘Three more weeks,’ I told her.
‘What if…’ she said, ‘what if you helped me with the calls for a week, as I’m looking for a more permanent solution?’
I explained I had no training on customer service, but she agreed to sit with me on the first day and take me through it.
On the first day, I was nervous. I knew how to deal with systems and software, not people.
Through the first call, my voice was shaky and uncertain. As I continued, I gained my footing, and my confidence grew.
When the week was over, she still hadn’t found someone; I offered to stay on till my leave was over.
By the third week, I found what I had been missing. I felt a satisfaction I hadn’t felt in years.
I knew I had to change my career, but I was also afraid. Was I to leave a well-paying job for something I had not studied? Something I only found out about three weeks ago?
I decided to look for a career coach to help me figure out what my future was to be.”
Was career coaching helpful?
“Yes, it was. If I was to have it my way, I would have left my job when my leave was over. The career coach helped me put different factors into picture.
After the coaching session, I enrolled for a PR & Communications Diploma Course. After I was done with the diploma, I did a few short courses, including customer service training at Corporate Staffing Services.
Once I had both the academic and practical skills, I embarked on looking for a job. I got one in a bank, and soon after, I resigned from the engineering job.”
Was there a pay difference from the job you left to the one you took?
“Yes. The pay difference was very significant. I was earning a Ksh. 120,000 salary as an engineer. The customer service job offered Ksh. 65,000.
While the pay was lower, the customer service job was satisfying. I felt whole!”
That was three years ago, where are you now?
“After a year in the bank, I applied for a managerial position at a telecommunications company. I got the job, and that’s where I have been in the last two years. My career has flourished; I hold a management position, I earn more than I was earning as an engineer, and I feel satisfied with my job.”
Maureen’s experience is an inspiring one, but there are also several lessons we can learn from her. These lessons are;
1. Job satisfaction is better than a high salary – I have seen professionals struggle in a profession they are not interested in. If you feel you’re passionate about a different field, look for ways to get into the career. In some cases, it’s as easy as changing departments at your workplace, other times, you have to make the change altogether.
Before you can make this change, first practice what you feel passionate towards. Look for volunteering opportunities, or even work part-time.
First, understand what the change will involve, what it entails, and if you’re truly passionate about it.
2. Make a plan before you change – You may feel so strongly about changing your career, that you’re ready to quit your job and pursue the new career.
Let’s learn from Maureen’s experience. Before she quit, she first gained academic qualifications and practical skills.
Don’t just jump into the unknown, transition carefully into the new career.
3. You can change your career at any level and age – In the career coaching session, one of Maureen’s greatest worries was she was well established in her career as an engineer, she had a young family, and was in her mid-30’s.
With careful planning, she was able to change her career, without disrupting her career or family. However, she does admit she had to sacrifice some luxuries in order to achieve her goals.
4. There’s a price to pay for career satisfaction – Going for what you want isn’t always easy. Maureen had to sacrifice time for school, finances to cater for her education, and a lifestyle change to cater for the career change.
At the end of the day, you’ll be more productive working in a career you’re passionate about than one that simply offers more money. In case you’re not in a job you enjoy, you can always make the change, following Maureen’s experience as an example.
Perminus Wainaina is the C.E.O and Managing Partner at Corporate Staffing Services, a leading HR & Recruitment consultancy firm based in Westlands. Through personalized career coaching he assists mid-level and senior professionals get solutions to complex and challenging career issues that they are facing. Click here for more on career coaching.