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Uni grads earn 15-20% more than those without a degree.2

Deakin postgraduates earn 36% more than undergraduates.3

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How to kick-start your career change by switching departments

Changing direction in life can be daunting. If you’re mid-career, the thought of changing jobs might conjure up fear rather than excitement. The good news is, there is a way to make a career switch without leaping too far from your comfort zone.

According to ABC Life, half of Australians want to make a career change, but two-thirds don’t know where to start.

The decision to change careers is rarely one people take lightly. We invest a considerable amount of time, money and energy into building our careers and changing course can feel like going backwards. Alexander Newman, Associate Dean and Professor of Management at Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, says one easy way to maximise results and minimise risk is to go sideways and switch departments instead.

Does your job need a do-over?

People seek to change careers for different reasons, but one thing that binds them all is job dissatisfaction. According to Prof. Newman, there are numerous reasons why someone might find themselves considering a career change.

‘You might be stuck in a job that isn’t you or find you’ve outgrown your role,’ he says. ‘You may feel you have limited opportunities for career progression within your department.’ Or, sometimes people decide they’re a bad fit for the organisation and no longer associate with its values. Unless this is you, you don’t necessarily have to think about moving on completely.

How is your current job ‘fit’?

Before deciding to switch departments, it’s important to think long and hard about your present situation and why your role isn’t ticking your boxes. It will help you reconnect with your career goals and values, and critically assess career alternatives.

‘A term we use here is embeddedness,’ Professor Newman says. ‘Ask yourself, how embedded are you in your job? People are typically embedded at work when they have high levels of “fit” in their workplace. My advice to anyone contemplating a career change is to look at your core values and skills and work out how they align with your existing role and workplace.’

There are two key concepts here:

  • Person-job-fit: this refers to how well someone is suited to a position and the tasks it involves.
  • Person-organisation-fit: this measures the compatibility between an employee’s values and an organisation’s values.

If your person-organisation-fit is sound, but your person-job-fit is out of whack, switching departments could be a viable alternative. Brainstorm ideas for career alternatives by researching your options both within and outside your current industry or field. If you’re feeling paralysed by choice, talk to friends, family or a careers counsellor.

What are the benefits of moving internally?

Switching departments is one way to reap the benefits of a career change without sacrificing the skills, relationships and entitlements you’ve built up. It provides the opportunity to learn new skills and develop alternative career paths without the risks inherent in leaving altogether.

‘When you leave any job, you lose your social relationships and professional connections as well as any leave entitlements you may have built up,’ Prof. Newman says. ‘Sometimes people don’t want to lose these things, so they choose to switch departments instead. If you work in academia or a corporate organisation, it’s wise to think inside as well as outside of the box when it comes to career changes. Chat to your manager about what your options might be.’

'My advice to anyone contemplating a career change is to look at your core values and skills and work out how they align with your existing role and workplace.'

Professor Alexander Newman,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

Some other advantages of switching departments include leveraging the industry knowledge you already have and positioning yourself as an agile employee.

‘Agility is an essential skill in order to make it in today’s intensely competitive and rapidly changing job market,’ Prof. Newman says. ‘The old world of stability is gone. The new world of agility is here.’

Ambition vs loyalty: can you have both?   

If you’re looking for greater job satisfaction and growth, disengaging from your current role while quietly looking for another job can put you in a bit of a rut. In some cases, it’s more effective to be transparent with your managers and co-workers about the change you’re seeking to make.

‘Increasingly you see a lot more people switching departments and trying new things because nowadays most people get bored of the same job after a long period,’ Prof. Newman says. ‘Sometimes change is driven by the individual; sometimes it’s driven by the employer. When you move to another department, there’s not the same stigma as there is to getting a job outside the organisation. In my view, two to three years in a job is enough to show loyalty.’

Be ready to move, to adapt and to chat to your supervisor about your desire for change or skills development. There are benefits for employers to promoting or rehiring within an organisation, too – they save money, the learning curve is shorter, and you both maintain your investment in specific skills and training.

‘I always say to people, never stop thinking about what you’re going to write on the next line of your CV and stay abreast of new opportunities in your department or organisation,’ Prof. Newman adds.

Ultimately, undertaking career change can be daunting, but it will make you more resilient. Assess the skills you have and what will translate in a new job, and see if you can side-step within your own department before packing up your desk. Staying in a job or team that isn’t a good fit for your skills or personality won’t make you happier – but changing career paths might.

Worried you’re settling for less-than-perfect? Shake yourself out of a career rut and secure a new role.

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Professor Alexander Newman
Professor Alexander Newman

Associate Dean, International, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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