I love to share stories of women who’ve changed career to inspire others that you can do whatever you want to do. You simply have to believe that you can do it.
Today I’m sharing Emma Waltham’s story of a career change from research scientist to recruitment to career coach.
Tell us about your career change
Looking back I’ve had a fair few career changes. The first was from research scientist to editorial director (with several pivots and promotions along the way). The second was a leap from publishing to recruitment, into a client services director role, working with organisations in Europe and Asia on large graduate recruitment projects.
What prompted you to change career
In all honesty, these changes were easy to make. There was a pull rather than a push – opportunities appeared and I took them. It just happened. No strategy, it was organic. I guess I was always up for a challenge and confident about my ability to take on something new, which helped.
The next career change however was not so straightforward, perhaps because this time it was due to a push.
After my first baby, I didn’t feel that my old director-level role in a corporate organisation could flex enough to give me the work-life blend I needed. I may have been wrong, but I was afraid if I went back to it, I’d hardly see my baby and I’d find the juggle so difficult, I’d burn out. At the time, I couldn’t square this circle, so I left, took a career break and had my second child. When she was a toddler, I found myself asking, ‘What next?’
This turned out to be a difficult question to answer. I had many transferable skills in a wide variety of roles and sectors. While I knew this gave me alternative routes to try in returning to work, it also made it difficult to hone in on one particular option.
What was your lightbulb moment?
In the end it was a conversation with a friend that brought about a lightbulb moment. My oldest friend suggested to me that I became a coach.
This took me by surprise, but it immediately resonated with me, because out of everything I’d done in my working life, it was the one-to-one work I’d done with my line managers that I missed most. I could see that coaching, helping people get the results they wanted, could be something I would enjoy and be good at.
Even so, I procrastinated for a while. My children were still young. I didn’t know whether to get a qualification and, if so, which one? I spoke to a friend who is an executive coach to ask for advice. In the end, a year later, I embarked on a Coaching Certificate at the University of Cambridge and never looked back. The year I spent studying was enriching and stretching, and I loved working with my new coaching clients.
Once qualified, my first paying client was Oxfam. Following a tender process, I was awarded a contract to work as a coach as part of their Future Skills programme, which gives women career coaching to help them with their life chances. All the women I had the privilege of coaching were an inspiration to me. And it was wonderful to be able to do something that had so much purpose and meaning, and get paid for it.
What do you love about your work?
As well as working on Future Skills, I’ve developed a private coaching practice, working with mums who are looking to get their careers back on track after taking a break or a step back.
I find coaching endlessly fascinating and rewarding. No two clients are the same. Plus, it gives me the flexibility I need, as I can work around my children and truly enjoy the time I have with them, without feeling I am having to juggle, juggle, juggle.
I love working for myself and have enjoyed working out how to build a business.
What challenges did you face?
It hasn’t been plain sailing: figuring out that I wanted to be a career coach took a while and it was huge decision to enroll on the certificate course.
I was nervous about the commitment I was making to study intensively at a time when my children were still young.
There was a cost involved too. Would it be worth the investment? And subsequently learning how to set up and grow a business has been a steep learning curve, having to do everything myself, with no team to delegate to like the old days.
What have you learned?
It was right to invest time in exploring what the future could look like for me. Not just the type of work, but what kind of work-life blend I wanted and what a fulfilling life means to me.
Thinking that through meant I always had confidence in the choice I made.
And that has given me resilience through the difficult times to make it to where I am today.
Thank you Emma for sharing your story.
Emma Waltham is career coach who helps women reboot their careers after having children. If you’d like to get in touch with Emma, she writes the Career Returner Blog and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
If you have a career change story to share, please do get in touch, I’d LOVE to hear from you. You might not think your story is interesting but honestly it’s SO powerful to hear about what other women have done.