24 Nov

Three ways friends and family can help you make a career change

Three ways friends and family can help you make a career change

Our close friends and family are the people who know us best.  Who we go to in times of crisis, and with whom we celebrate success. They are our inner circle.  But consider for a moment the role your close friends and family play in your own life choices.  How best can they help you make a career change?

Mum/Dad, what should I study?

Take for example our first, big, life choice – what should we do after school? A degree or an apprenticeship? Sciences, arts, languages? Electrician, mechanic, engineer? The choice we make has profound implications for the rest of our professional lives. So what do most of us do when confronted by this important decision?  We ask those we trust most for advice.

Unfortunately, at such a young age, we often ask the wrong question. “Mum/Dad, what should I study?”  Fewer ask “Mum/Dad, how should I decide what to study?” In the absence of better parental career advice, many young people go on to choose subjects (and there-after careers) that don’t always align with their true values and interests.  Professional services firm EY has recognised the influence parents can have on their children’s early life choices.  It recently launched a parental advice programme to help parents have better career conversations with their children.

The first people we often turn to for careers advice are our parents

Unfortunately schemes like these do nothing for those of us already in the world of work who feel unhappy with our career choice.  Recent research by the London School of Business & Finance found a staggering 66% of Millenials want to make a career change.  Many people I speak to openly acknowledge that they are in their current professions because either their parents encouraged them into it, or because they felt it was the type of job that their parents saw as suitable.

Inter-generational views of careers can differ wildly

Repeated studies have also shown that different generations can have very different views of careers and what they should expect from them. Older generations often view careers and jobs as a means to an end.  For example, to provide food and resources to raise a family.  Younger generations tend to view a job in terms of its contribution to society and making the world a better place.  What’s more they tend to value greater variety at work, and continued personal growth. Whilst these differences are by no means uniform, there is a risk that asking others for career advice (especially from those of different generations) can be a counter-productive exercise.

Maslov’s hierarchy of needs
When viewed through the prism of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, generational needs and expectations of careers vary widely.

Listen to your own head and heart, and seek long term satisfaction, not validation

When it comes to making difficult career choices, I believe that it’s more important to listen to your own head and heart. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Many of us are predisposed to doing the things we think will impress our friend and family, rather than things that can bring us long-term personal satisfaction.  We often fail to give ourselves time to self-reflect.  In the worse cases, we spend what little time we do have comparing ourselves to others.

Glamour and fame – Miranda Priestly’s (Meryl Streep) career advice in film the The Devil Wears Prada.

No.1 – Let friends and family be your mirror

Instead of being viewed as a potential source of answers, close friends and family should be seen as catalysts who can help you to make a career change. 

They can act as the ultimate mirror, sharing with you their perspectives on your values, strengths, and weaknesses. These insights can be incredibly useful when identifying and evaluating career ideas (see my previous post on identifying alternative careers).  This feedback, whilst helping confirm long-held assumptions, can also reveal traits that we weren’t aware of previously.  In fact, this form of feedback and insights can be so useful in career planning, I have included it as a specific exercise within my Career Re-Orientation Programme.

No.2 – Let friends and family help keep you committed

Friends and family can provide another valuable role to anyone considering career change. They can act as your conscience. Taking the decision to make a mid-life career change is not easy. It takes willpower and a resilient mind, and can be a lonely experience. Research has shown that by articulating and verbally sharing personal goals with people we value, we are significantly more likely to complete the task. Friends and family are particularly powerful people with whom to share our career goals because we respect them and don’t want to disappoint them.

A clear sense of direction can help you make a career change
Close friends and family can be especially useful at supporting you through a career change.

No.3 – Use your friends and family to introduce you to others

Your closest friends and family are likely to be people who have your best interests at heart.  They can be especially helpful if they work in different professions or countries, because they will have very different professional networks to your own.  If you are considering a career change, your close friends and family can often help by connecting you with people working in professions that interest you, enabling you to validate your ideas and understand more about different career options.


The influence of close friends and family on our life choices is immense.  Whilst inter-generational views on careers can differ, our inner circle can be a great source of support.  If you are looking to make a career change resist the temptation to ask for alternative career ideas.  Instead, ask your inner circle to be your mirror and conscience, and a source of connections through which to explore your own career ideas.

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Simon is CEO and Founder of Equipped 4 Change. Before becoming a career coach and adviser, Simon spent 6 years as a management consultant in London. A self confessed learning addict, he has also tried careers in politics (standing as an MP), and software development (his first job after university). He has a Masters Degree in Physics from the University of Durham and is currently studying Spanish (badly).

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