Choosing or changing career

Whether you’re making those early decisions around choosing a career or changing your career path, having confidence in your career choices is something you can learn and build on. Career confidence allows you to weigh up the risks and rewards of your choices and make the right decision for you.


The first step in making confident decisions is to think about what type of person you are and what you want from work and life. Spend time getting to know yourself and research different opportunities to help make the best decision for you.

Review your personality, interests and values

Before looking at specific careers, you should spend time thinking about what motivates you as a person. Think about your:

  • interests
  • skills
  • values
  • preferences

This will help you build a picture of your ideal job and explore which careers match it most closely.

Looking at the broad areas of work that interest you is an important first step when planning your career or making changes to it.

Finding a career in an environment that suits your interests and fits with your values can help you feel more satisfied in your work.

Review your skills

Working out what skills you have and matching them to different jobs, can open up career options you may never have thought of. This can be a good confidence boost at a time when you need it, as you can really see where your strengths lie.

Don’t limit yourself to just looking for jobs in your skillset as you may miss out on wider options. It’s worth looking into new sectors which might suit you.

Transferable skills are abilities, aptitudes and qualities that can be transferred from one job or activity to another. 

Employers continually stress the importance of:

  • communication
  • numeracy
  • ICT
  • improving self-learning and performance
  • working with others
  • problem-solving skills

These are skills which work in every type of job. But they don’t just come from jobs. You may have developed these skills at school, college or university; training, employment; volunteering, or clubs and organisations that you belong to

Opportunity awareness

As well as self-awareness, knowing what careers are out there and the options that might suit you, can really help to develop your career confidence.

Familiarise yourself with the different jobs, occupations and sectors available, what they involve and whether they interest you. Be open minded and think about:

  • what different options are available
  • what experience, skills and qualities are required
  • how competitive are these options

Consider what's important to you in a job

Among the things to consider are:

  • location
  • salary
  • the job market
  • work enjoyment
  • work-life balance

Work enjoyment

If you don’t enjoy your job, you may want to think about moving to a different department within your organisation or to a different employer. However, if you don’t like what you do, changing department or employer may not improve things.

Consider what's making you unhappy - you could just be bored with the work and need a new challenge. Or you may be frustrated with a lack of progress or promotion within the organisation or with the culture of the workplace.

Work-life balance

Do you need a different work-life balance?  If your work-life balance is affecting your family life then a change of job isn't always necessary. Most employers now recognise that it makes good business sense to give flexible working opportunities for their staff.

Retrain or change level

Are you prepared to retrain or start from the bottom again? If you’re committed to a complete career change you'll need to think of the implications for you and your family, such as:

  • a decrease in income
  • a change of status/ responsibility/ prestige
  • a change in lifestyle and location

Talk through your ideas with your family and friends.


Consider how much money you want or need to earn. Changing career can have financial implications both in terms of earning while retraining and future earning potential in your new job.

Make a list of the essential and desirable features of your ideal job. An example might look like this:

  • involves dealing with people
  • close to home
  • will earn at least £15,000
  • in the 'public' or ‘private’ sectors
  • opportunities to travel abroad
  • linked to a favourite subject you’ve studied

Labour market

Labour market information may help you make decisions by highlighting trends in employment such as jobs that are currently in demand and jobs that have surplus supplies of qualified people.

The Skills Barometer has information about trends in employment and predicted growth areas in Northern Ireland.


When choosing a career path, it's important to do lots of research to figure out which type of job is the best choice for you. This will help you weigh up all the factors and options to help you make an informed choice. Researching in the right way can help you develop skills you can use again and again throughout your career. Think about:

  • what information advice and guidance help is available to you
  • where and how can you access this support

With confidence comes resilience, so even if things do go wrong, you won’t feel like giving up.

Use the career matching tools

Use the career matching tools to match your interests, skills and values with careers. You’ll get a list of career suggestions based on what you like and /or what you’re good at.

You can also get career suggestions which match your current or anticipated qualification level.

The tools also allow you to explore suggested options by:

  • type of work
  • working hours
  • industry
  • your qualification level
  • average salary

Use the tool most relevant to your age. Follow the instructions to either register or if you have used the tools before, to log in.

Exploring career options

Once you have a career in mind, the next step is to research the specific skills and qualifications you need for that career and then decide how turn your career plan into reality.

Careers A-Z tool

Use the Careers A-Z tool to explore your chosen career options.

You can choose a career from the A to Z list of all careers, or you can use the multi-selector tool to search for careers by industry, type of work or qualification level.

You can also match the subjects (A-Level, GCSE, or vocational) you study to the careers they can be useful for. You can also view information on higher education courses and education and employment-related issues.

Career profiles

In the Careers A-Z tool you can view career profiles for your chosen career options which include details of:

  • normal work activities
  • the personal qualities and skills required
  • pay and opportunities
  • entry routes and training
  • qualifications required

Compare your options, narrow down your choices and think about what suits you best at this particular point in time.

Ask yourself:

  • what skills do I need?
  • what are my best work/ training options?
  • how do they match with my skills, interests and values?
  • how do my options fit with the current job market?
  • what are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?
  • is there anything which could help or hinder me in achieving my goals?

Taking a gap year

Even if getting a job seems a long way off, taking a gap year can look good on your CV.  Potential employers see that you have spent time broadening your horizons and learning new skills.

Getting a qualification

Qualifications show an employer what skills and knowledge you have in certain areas. Don’t worry if you haven’t studied for a while. Many people return to learning after a break, and really enjoy the experience. You can study in a variety of different ways, including at home.

Vocational qualifications are work-related qualifications. They are designed to allow you to learn in a way that suits you, and give you the skills that employers are looking for. 

Work experience or volunteering are other ways of showing what skills you have developed.


Whatever stage you’re at in your career you can always benefit from gaining extra skills, knowledge and experience, particularly when competition for jobs is great.

There are various different training routes available and your own circumstances will influence what programmes are the most suitable for you.

Update or create a CV

A CV (curriculum vitae) is a short list of facts about your education, work history, skills and experience. A good CV is essential when looking for work and it is worth taking the time to get it right so that you can sell yourself to an employer.

For tips on how to write a good CV, or to create an online CV visit CVs and cover letters.


If you're unemployed, prepare to be asked about it at interviews. There's nothing to be ashamed of with redundancy or leaving a job.

Talk about how your previous career has helped you develop a range of transferable skills which you can bring to the new job and say how they can benefit the employer.

Develop a career action plan

Once you've decided on your new job / career, develop a career action plan.

A good career action plan will detail your specific goal, along with the tasks to be completed, such as job-shadowing, training requirements and drafting a CV, to achieve that goal.  

Include timeframes for tasks to help you keep on target and stay positive and enthusiastic throughout your chosen path. 

You’ll also need to think carefully about when to leave your current job to avoid becoming unemployed. You may want to save some money, especially if you're going to be training, or take a decrease in salary. 

Have a back-up plan

Having a back-up plan means you’ll have some ideas for what to do if your first job choice doesn’t work out. Your plan could include different jobs in the same sector or jobs in different sectors that use the same skills.

If your mind is set on a particular career but you hit a stumbling block, you could consider taking a different route, such as training or going in at a lower level and working your way up.

Help with career planning

Careers Service provides an impartial, all-age careers information, advice and guidance service throughout Northern Ireland. Talking to one of their careers advisers may help you focus on what you are looking for and also work out how to get where you want to be. 

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