If you are thinking about a possible career change, there are five key areas to consider. Rob Nathan, MD of Career Counselling Services (CCS), explains his golden rules.

Why are you considering changing career?  You may have gone into medicine because your family or your school encouraged you to, rather than because it was what you really wanted to do.  You may have gone into medicine because you wanted to but now feel disillusioned with working in the NHS.  You may have had doubts about working in medicine but decided to stick it out – until new problems emerged.

Whatever the reason, a career change needs to be carefully considered. Following these five golden rules can help set you on the right track.

Golden rule #1: Changing your career should not be undertaken lightly

If you’re crystal clear on what you want to do next, and it ties in with your long standing interests, aspirations, skills and abilities then good luck to you in your new career.

If not, take time to think through what you really want from a career before you launch into applications. You may find a branch of medicine you enjoy more and find you don’t need to start all over again in a new career. You may find you need to move outside medicine but at least you’ll be moving with both eyes open and with a higher prospect of success.

Golden rule #2: Know yourself

When did you last sit down and work out what you want from your career? You need to consider your career motivators, drivers and values. What makes you want to leap out of bed in the morning?

Edgar Schein’s book Career Anchors (2006) suggests eight anchors.

  • Technical/functional competence: being valued as an expert or specialist
  • General management: taking responsibility for sizeable projects; enjoying uncertainty and risk
  • Autonomy and independence: being free of organisational constraints and procedures
  • Security: mutual loyalty and continued employment
  • Entrepreneurial creativity: creating a new business, product or service from your own original ideas and efforts
  • Service orientation: improving the world, and working with people who share your values
  • Challenge: the impossible takes a little longer, but not much. Stretching yourself.
  • Lifestyle: ensuring a balance between your work and non-work life.

Decide what your anchors are and you can steer your career with more control and direction.

Being at your best

We all too often focus on times when we see ourselves as not so good. It requires more conscious effort to focus your mind on when you have been at your best. Write down those situations when you have thrived, been in the zone – those epiphany moments. What were the conditions that enabled you to thrive? Seek to replicate them.

Golden rule #3: Identify what you want from a job

Try this once you have answered the questions above. It will help you to articulate precisely what you are looking for in a role, and assess what each potential role or career will, and will not, give you.

Job Satisfiers

Taken from the CCS Self-Assessment Manual


  1. Make a list, in any order, of those elements of work you must have in your next job. Be specific. You could think of tasks (what you will do), people (who with), environment (in what type of organisation) and rewards (pay, working conditions, etc.)


  • Making a difference
  • Improving people’s lot in some way
  • Opportunity to learn new skills
  • Taking on responsibility
  • Degree of autonomy
  • Working with intelligent fellow professionals
  • A large, forward-looking organisation
  • Flexible working options
  • Starting salary at least £40k per annum

Try and keep your list to 12 elements.

  1. Look again at the Job Satisfiers you have listed. Circle the three which are most important for you.
  2. If you have a friend or colleague you feel comfortable discussing this with, check if they agree with your assessment.

Golden rule #4: Develop a vision

Draw or sketch out your five year vision on paper – a picture speaks a thousand words. You might not be used to this kind of approach but give it a try. We find it can prove surprisingly helpful. Cover as much of your working and even non-working life as you wish.

If you can, talk it over with someone who won’t judge what you have drawn! It is not about artistic merit.

Use your imagination to picture the vision as having happened already. Talk it through in terms of what is (yes, use the present tense) happening, how you are feeling, what others would notice about you

Once you have clarified your vision, start talking to others about it, with friends or colleagues you can trust. This is a great way of making it more real, and also testing out its realism.

Golden rule #5: Set goals

Start with your vision, which is an ideal. Imagine that, on a scale of 1-10, your vision represents a 10. Ask yourself, where am I now on that scale of 1-10? Say you are at a 6. The next question to ask yourself is how come I am at a 6, and not a 1? In other words, what tells me that I am already 60% of the way there?

Now you are ready to set some goals. Start with small steps. Write down what one point up the scale would look like (i.e. a 7) and create some steps towards that goal. You are on your way.  Don’t rush into an ill-thought-out career decision. Give yourself the time to reflect on the vital, but often overlooked, ingredients of a happy career life, beyond what you are good at: what you enjoy, when you are at your best and what is important to you.

Rob Nathan CPsychol is managing director of Career Counselling Services, London. They help people in early and mid-career to reflect on their options.