Live & Learn
It’s okay to change career paths after graduating. Here’s how

Written by Daniel Tay

Have you spent the last two to five years slaving away for a diploma or degree—and now want to do something totally unrelated?

There’s no shame in that.

Granted, your parents may throw a fit. Your professors will scratch their heads. Your friends might think you’ve gone mad—changing career paths during a global crisis?

But you may also have some cheerleaders in your camp.

You’re not alone in changing career paths

As technology continues to change the way we work, more people are becoming open to the possibility that they would need to switch careers in the future.

In a global survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 70% of respondents from Asia-Pacific said they were willing to reskill for a new job. The majority of respondents believed that new technologies and the impact of globalisation will drive job changes.

Singapore wasn’t represented in the BCG study’s country-by-country breakdown, but other data shows that people here are open to career switches.

For instance, since the launch of Workforce Singapore’s Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP) in 2007, more than 10,000 professionals, managers, executives, and technicians have participated and found jobs through the programmes. PCP training is geared towards helping mid-career locals start a different occupation or take on a redesigned job role.

Of course, your case is different—you’re not pivoting mid-career, but after graduating. And during a global health crisis that is triggering economic contractions.

But remember that you’re not alone in pursuing a new passion during the pandemic. Among the multitude of people who picked up skills in baking, gardening, sketching, and whatnot while on circuit breaker, some will surely continue to improve their newfound talents even post-COVID-19.

Five or 10 years from now, we might even hear success stories that began with, “One day, bored out of mind while stuck at home during a pandemic, I watched a YouTube tutorial and decided to try it out.”

But enough future-gazing. First, let’s get to the hard work.

How to change career paths after graduating

Switching careers sounds daring and romantic—but to succeed, you need to keep your feet on the ground, work hard, and keep trying even when you think you’ve failed.

Here’s how you can change career paths successfully after graduating.

1. Find your “why”

The phrase “find your WHY” comes from motivational speaker Simon Sinek. According to Sinek, “The WHY is the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us.” It forms the basis of the decisions we make.

We’re not going to delve into finding your entire life’s purpose here (you can take Sinek’s online course to start that journey). But it is important for you to do some soul-searching to pinpoint your reasons for wanting to change career paths.

For some people, the answer’s obvious: “My parents forced me to take up [insert programme here], but I’ve always wanted to be a [insert dream role here].”

For others, the realisation may have come later, and more subtly. Maybe you were exposed to an interesting new field during your thesis project. You may have become disillusioned with your chosen field when you did your internship. Or maybe you’ve redefined what you find to be important and meaningful work because of a life-threatening event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

No matter the trigger, you need to understand your new motivations, desires, and goals, and whether or not these run deep enough to drive a major, possibly long-term change in your life.

Doing so will not just help you identify a new path to pursue, but also keep you going when the going gets tough (and it will).


2. Ask for advice from insiders in the field you want to enter

Because you’ve decided to switch paths after graduating, you probably don’t have access to professors from other fields whom you can consult. So it’s time to get creative in finding sources.

Look for industry thought leaders and ask them questions on their blogs or LinkedIn posts, as well as during webinars where they’re speaking. Join a mentorship programme (offline or virtual) to understand what it takes to enter your target field or industry, especially for someone who isn’t academically trained in that area.

And don’t hesitate to leverage your network. Ask friends, family, former professors, and ex-colleagues in the companies you interned at to introduce you to people they know in that field.


3.  Get trained

You’re asking companies to take a leap of faith by hiring someone with no background in their field. So the best thing you can do is to minimise the risk companies will be taking—and you can do that by getting trained.

The good thing is many businesses are currently incentivised to take on trainees. With the roll-out of Workforce Singapore’s SGUnited Traineeships Programme, companies can take on trainees while shouldering only 20% of the training allowance, as the government funds the remaining 80%.

Workforce Singapore launched this graduate trainee program in Singapore to support recent graduates amid a tough job market. In March 2020, only 71 jobs were available for every 100 jobseekers in Singapore. The situation isn’t likely to improve soon; economists believe 150,000 to 200,000 jobs here will be lost by the end of 2020.

As traineeships can last up to 12 months, fresh graduates who can’t land jobs in Singapore will still be able to get the experience and training they need to launch their careers. You can look for a suitable traineeship at the job portal.


4. Hone your pitch

Prepare to work twice as hard to convince employers to hire you as a freshly graduated career changer.

To do this, Lauren McGoodwin, the founder of career mentorship platform Career Contessa, suggests connecting “your favorite parts of what you do now to what you want to do in the future”.

Are you a biology graduate who’s discovered a love for cooking and healthy eating? You could be a food technologist and help develop new, sustainable ways of producing food.

Did you study sports science but find that you enjoyed taking analytics courses to pass the time during the circuit breaker period? You can try training for business intelligence or data analyst roles in the sports and fitness industry.

Or are you doing a total pivot—jumping, for instance, from speech therapy to photography? You can focus on how the soft skills that are so important to speech therapy practice—the ability to empathise, interact with patients who have difficulty in speaking and holding conversations, and hold sensitive discussions with patients’ families—can help you be a successful photographer, if your subjects are people.

That’s because, as a photographer or photojournalist, you’ll need to make your subjects comfortable in your presence, even when the moments you’re capturing are personal or sensitive.

So practice telling your story succinctly to potential employers. What do you do best, and how can your background and skills help you contribute to the company and industry?

Just keep swimming

These times are tough for jobseekers. When you change career paths, you face an additional barrier, as you need to study and train in the new occupation you’re pursuing.

But in the words of everyone’s favourite forgetful fish, just keep swimming. As long as you know your reasons for switching, build your knowledge and skills, and make the most out of opportunities like traineeships, you’ll be on your way to reaching your goals.