Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Quitting your job???? Don't you know there's a recession on????

I swear, if I could have a pound every time I've heard a version of the above question I'd be a seriously rich girl by now. One of the first things you realise - when you first announce your intention to change career - is that not everyone agrees that it's a good idea. I reckon it's fair to say that once you've made that decision, you need a mind of steel to resist some of the doubt and incredulity that comes your way. As if making the decision to do it wasn't hard enough!

Obviously I'm not referring to my closest friends, boyfriend or family; they were relieved as it meant they didn't have to hear me moaning about my job anymore. Well, my mum isn't totally comfortable, bless her, as I explained in my previous post ("Back To The Beginning") but I'm sure she'd want the best for me.

No, the people I'm referring to here were my accountancy colleagues, or friends that had been colleagues, even the ones who'd proclaim (either in the office or at Friday drinks) that they didn't like their jobs either. Many of them thought I was mad. I remember when I handed in my notice last summer at the accountancy firm I worked at: I'm sure my boss just thought I had a bad case of PMT. It took some time for me to convince him I was absolutely serious. "But... but... but..." he spluttered, "don't you know there's a recession on? You won't find another job! Accountancy firms aren't hiring that much at the moment, you know, it's not like two years ago!"

By that stage, I wasn't quite so fussed. I'd been planning this for a good few months, since about Christmas 2007 in fact. Even if I didn't know what career I wanted to change to at that stage, knowing back then that I definitely wanted to change career was enough to galvanise me into taking my first action: sorting out my finances.

What? I hear you cry. You mean like budgets and savings? But that's boring! And you'd be right. It is. But necessary. Who was it who said "when the going gets tough, the tough have cash"? Making a career change isn't always smooth sailing. So, you have to be prepared. That means financially as well as emotionally - the last thing you want to be thinking when you're worried about whether your career change will work or not is "Shit - I'm flat broke!"

After doing some research, I was shocked to discover that I was being vastly underpaid; the market rate for someone of my skills and experience was about 10-15% more than what I was being paid. I asked my boss for a pay rise. He refused. I realised then that I had to leave.

The other factor in my decision to leave was that around this time I started to get sharp pains in my chest, like searing hot knives, on a permanent basis. I was only 26 and in good health. The doctor was convinced it was stress; while I was doubtful of his diagnosis for a while I did notice that as soon as I handed in my resignation notice, the pains magically disappeared. 'Twas a miracle, I tell thee!

Before I handed in my notice, I contacted a recruitment consultant to sound out the job market, and in particular, the market for temporary and contract jobs. In summer 2008, the job market was certainly a lot better than now, so I was able to get a temporary job in commerce rather than an accountancy firm. I figured that, while I had enough savings to last me a few months without work, it wasn't enough to give up accountancy completely. In fact, with a mortgage to pay, it may well take quite a while before I am able to give up accountancy completely. But I'm on the way to doing so, rest assured.

The temp job paid pretty well, which was good as it enabled me to to save more money into the "emergency cash fund". (Also known as "career change fund" or "my boss can shove this job up his arse fund" - take your pick). It was so hard trying not to spend the extra cash I was earning - why is it that the moment you go on a budget, suddenly you are surrounded with so much temptation? I think the only thing that kept me from splurging during this time was the knowledge that the less money I had saved for the career change, the longer I'd have to stay being an accountant!

While I still don't have the financial resources right now to quit accountancy completely, I've had time to read books on changing careers and think about what I want to do. I can't quite sit down and say "OK, I want to do X, and I definitely know that's what I want to do," so what I've decided to do is follow what I'm interested in and actually try it out. My temp contract finished last month, so I'm looking for another accountancy job to continue funding the career change, but in the meantime I have started that English Literature A-Level I wanted to do 10 years ago. I found a place that does distance-learning qualifications - it's called the National Extension College and for those of you in the UK, the website is http://www.nec.ac.uk/. I spent ages looking for a reputable distance-learning company as there's some real scams out there on the Internet, and I found this one on a UK government advice website.

In addition to that English Literature A-Level that I've finally got round to doing, I'm also doing an A-Level in Sociology (opted not to go for Psychology in the end), also by distance-learning with the National Extension College. I had to use some of my savings to pay for all of them, but hopefully it'll be worth it.... when I actually get started on the courses! The good thing about doing it this way is that I get to try out whether it does suit me or not; and if it doesn't, then I suppose I shall retreat back to my accountancy stepping-stone and think again.

So.... that's a potted history of how I started my career change, and where I am at the moment. Obviously it's very much a work in progress and there are topics I've touched on, like personal finance issues and first steps, that I want to go into more detail and share my tips and advice on. Probably the next time I take an afternoon tea break.
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  1. Interesting. What was the government advice website? (Sounds handy to know where to go to be pointed in the direction of reputable training organisations!)

  2. Hi Becky,

    The site I used was the Directgov site (www.direct.gov.uk). From the homepage I followed the links to Education And Learning, then Adult Learning And Skills, then What To Learn, Where To Learn, then finally E-Learning. Scroll down the page to the National Extension College (NEC for short).

    Another site one can try - in the UK of course - is Hotcourses at www.hotcourses.com, where you search for any course you like (the courses don't even have to be the school leaver qualifications like GCSE or A-Levels, it can even be short cookery or DIY courses if that's what you want) and that's how I managed to establish there were no part-time evening courses for A-Levels that I could attend. That's why I had to consider distance-learning; obviously I knew the Open University (www.open.ac.uk) provides degrees by distance-learning but I didn't know any providers of A-Levels by distance-learning. That's where I found the NEC.

    There are forums you can find if you search on Google as to which distance-learning institutions are genuine or worthwhile, and which are not. I checked these out for negative feedback or cautionary tales before booking my courses.

    So far, I've had no problems with the NEC; the tutors that I've been assigned to my courses so far have been friendly, approachable and easily contactable. The NEC write their own materials for each course, and they are beautifully presented. There are lots of exercises to work through and assignments you can do to submit to your tutor for marking and feedback, before embarking on the coursework assignments which count towards the qualification. The only downside of the NEC is that their courses are rather expensive. I managed to book mine when they were running a New Year's discount of about 30% off.

    The other provider of distance-learning I've heard of in the UK is ICS Learning (www.icslearn.co.uk) - they are a lot cheaper than the NEC but I've heard mixed reviews about them, such as the tutors aren't easily contactable and in some cases people have complained the course notes provided are photocopies(!) I'm not sure if any of this is true as I've never tried them out, but on the other hand there seem to be people who are perfectly happy with the support and tuition they're getting and doing really well on their courses with ICS.

    This isn't a plug of the NEC by the way, just my opinion of the course so far :-) If anything changes or starts to go wrong with them, I'll be sure to let you all know!

  3. Thanks, this is helpful!