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Potential career changers looking for better work life balance

July 2024

The Early Careers Survey 2024 explores the characteristics and motivations of career changers as well as the impact that careers professionals can have on this group

Among the 6,102 students and graduates surveyed by Prospects as part of this year's Early Careers Survey, 41% were in employment. Of that group 28% indicated that they planned to leave their current employer in 2024.

Asked why they wanted to move jobs, just over two fifths (43%) of them expressed a desire to start a different career - and it's these career changers that this article will focus on. The vast majority of potential career changers, 87%, were graduates.

Year of graduation of career changers
2018 or earlier55%

Older respondents were overrepresented among career changers. While just 28% of overall survey respondents were over 35, two fifths (43%) of career changers were in this age group. Meanwhile, 57% of career changers were aged under 35.

Similarly, career changers in the survey were more likely than not to be in more senior positions, with three quarters being in intermediate or experienced roles (55%) and a fifth (19%) being in management when surveyed.

Why career changers plan to leave their employer
I want a higher salary47%
I want a better work/life balance44%
I want to advance my career38%
I don't feel appreciated35%
I want a less stressful job26%
The job isn't what I thought it would be23%
I want to relocate17%
To study16%
My job role's changed10%
My contract is ending6%

Those attending the workplace (as opposed to working remotely or on a hybrid basis) were also overrepresented within this group - with 59% of those planning to change careers working in this way, compared with 51% of all employed participants. By comparison, 31% of potential career changers were working on a hybrid basis and 10% remotely.

It follows, then, that respondents' citing a desire for a better work/life balance as one of the top three reasons for leaving their employer is understandable. The desire to earn a higher salary and career advancement were also common reasons given.

Following the pandemic, which led to the proliferation of more flexible working, and the subsequent cost of living crisis, it comes as no surprise that workers are seeking higher pay and more flexible working arrangements.

Next steps for career changers

Two fifths (43%) of those seeking to change careers indicated that they planned to start or apply for a job (37%) or do an apprenticeship (6%) - of which 2% were planning to do a degree apprenticeship. Meanwhile, 17% were planning to do full (9%) or part-time study (8%), while a third were still exploring job and further study options.

What career changers plan to do next
Start or apply for a job37%
Explore job and further study options35%
Full-time study9%
Part-time study8%
Apprenticeship or training scheme4%
Internship or work placement3%
Degree apprenticeship2%
Gap year, career break, or travel2%

When asked how prepared they were for getting a job or apprenticeship, 69% of those who said that they planned to do a job or apprenticeship as the next step in their career indicated that they did indeed feel ready to get one.

Notably, engagement with careers services increased career changers' level of preparedness, a finding that was true for all forms of engagement. For instance, 78% of those who attended a CV, cover letter and/or job application guidance appointment in 2023 said that they were prepared to get a job or apprenticeship, compared to 64% of those who did not.

Moreover, when asked about their preferred working arrangements, just 12% of career changers suggested that they would like to attend the workplace in their new job, compared to 81% who said they had a preference for hybrid (62%) or remote (19%) working arrangements.

These findings, coupled with those suggesting that both older, more experienced respondents, as well as those attending the workplace, are overrepresented among career changers, illustrate just how important the introduction of flexible working patterns might be for retaining talent.

In fact, when asked what factors were most important to them when seeking employment, work/life balance was rated as the most crucial factor when looking for a job, with 100% of indicating this when asked. It was followed by salary (98%) and career progression (94%).

And while work/life balance was also the most crucial factor for jobseekers overall, with 95% saying that it was important to them, career changers were more likely to indicate this when asked.

Engagement with careers services increases certainty

Most respondents planning to change careers sought career advice in 2023, with just 9% saying that they did not actively seek advice in 2023. Careers websites (67%), friends (44%), social media (34%) and Family (34%) were the three sources that career changers sought advice from most often.

Where did career changers seek careers advice in 2023
CV, cover letter and job application guidance30%
Job interview preparation26%
Careers events, e.g. job fairs26%
Careers guidance appointment with a careers adviser/teacher24%
Talks by college/university staff about courses21%
Talks by employers about careers20%
Careers lessons/workshops16%

Moreover, despite careers professionals (84%) being rated as the third most helpful source of advice, after industry professionals (91%) and work colleagues (90%), just a quarter of respondents actively sought their advice.

The positive impact that engagement with careers services had on the career plan certainty of career changers confirms their usefulness. As an example, less than half (43%) of career changers indicated that they were certain about their career plans - much lower than the figure for respondents overall (62%). However, over 56% of career changers who attended a careers guidance appointment reported feeling certain about their career plans, compared to 39% of those who had not.

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