The Secret Behind Making A Successful Career Change

If you are thinking about quitting your job or switching careers, make sure you know what motivates you.

The Secret Behind Making A Successful Career Change
[Photo: Flickr user Sascha Erni, .rb]

If you’re stuck in a mid-career rut and feel as though you’re dragging yourself into the office every morning, chances are you’ve already considered jumping ship. Handing in your resignation letter may provide a temporary dose of satisfaction, but then sets in the fear. What will I do now?


While the standard advice for career shifters–knowing you have a place to land before you jump and building up a nest egg to keep you going through the transition–may help reduce anxiety, what happens when that next job turns out to have the same pitfalls as the one you can’t wait to leave?

Chester Elton, coauthor of What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions To Work says while many of us make career shifts based on emotions–assuming a new job will turn our frown upside down–few of us take the time to assess what really motivates us.

The real trick to making a successful career shift, he and coauthor Adrian Gostick argue, is aligning your new career path to these motivations.

Motivations Aren’t Static

“During our lives, our motivations change,” says Elton. Perhaps when you first graduated from college, you were driven by the promise of a big paycheck, a corner office, prestige, and recognition.

But as you aged and matured in your position, you now find you’re more motivated by opportunities to be creative, or the chance to be challenged by a task. “It’s important to understand where you are today and what is really going to drive you,” he says.

In their book, Gostick and Elton identify 23 motivators, which they divide into five identities:


1. The Achievers

These are individuals who are motivated by a challenge, often perform well under pressure, and love to solve problems. Achievers get a rush out of crossing things off their lengthy to-do lists and enjoy being in control, preferring to lead rather than follow.

2. The Builders

These individuals are motivated by having a higher purpose and measure success not based on their paychecks, but by the impact they’re having on the world around them.

3. The Caregivers

These individuals prefer working with others to working independently. They are natural communicators and often bring a light-hearted, positive spirit to the organizations they work for, and are happiest in caring environments where they can constantly interact with others.

4. The Reward-Driven

Motivated by the almighty dollar, prestige and recognition, these individuals tend to be highly competitive, and are engines of productivity. They believe they should always get a piece of what they create and like to be incentivized by important-sounding job titles, monetary bonuses, large offices, and other special perks.

5. The Thinkers

Creative, autonomous, and risk-takers, these individuals tend to challenge the status quo, and can grow bored and frustrated when their work becomes routine. They often only find true happiness when they work for themselves or in organizations where they’re given a great deal of latitude, and are encouraged to be creative.

Motivators Are Key To A Successful Career Switch

Knowing what your motivators are can help you make a more successful transition to a fulfilling career. Leaving a job with misaligned motivations for another one of the same variety will only cause you to be unhappy and disengaged in your new job. “As we start to understand our motivators, we can find positions where we’re going to be happier and more aligned with what drives us,” says Gostick.


To find out what your current motivators are, Gostick and Elton recommend taking a timeout. “Take that quiet time to unplug, turn off your phones and computers, and really ask yourself what it is that motivates you and what is important to you right now in your life,” says Gostick. Make this process an annual event, scheduling it in your calendar just like a yearly progress review.

If you have difficulty identifying your own motivations, call a friend. Outsiders can often see what excites you better than you can. Gostick and Elton say mentors, close friends, or close coworkers can help you to identify your motivators.


About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction