How do you change careers?
From shooting beer adverts to teaching physics, Tom Mumford discusses how he changed careers– and how you can too. Here's some career advice to use when looking for that perfect job.
When I was at secondary school, I chose to take GCSE Media Studies. I did this partly to play with cameras but also to learn a skill that I could actually see myself making a living from. I liked a few subjects at school, including science, drama and PE, but I couldn’t really see how I could make a career out of any of them.
Unfortunately, our media course was taught by the English department at our school who had no idea how to operate a camera or edit a video. In fact, anything that wasn’t classic literature seemed to annoy the teacher immensely.
Anyway, after obtaining a disappointing set of grades at GCSE, I researched courses that could help get a foot in the door of the TV and film industry. I eventually found a couple of BTEC courses at a local college, which was lucky, as with my grades it was the only place that would take me. Media was now a viable career option. I was training with professional equipment, working to industry standards and being taught by ex-industry teachers.
After doing well at college I was offered a place on a respected BSc (Hons) Film Production Technology course. This was a continuation of my BTEC course but at degree level. Now we had much better equipment and much more experienced teachers.
Towards the end of the course, supported by the university, I set up a small production company. We shot corporate videos all over the UK. A couple of years in I sold my stake in the company and set-up a new company, based in London. This time we produced commercials for TV.
But this was just the start - and by no means a career I would be stuck with until retirement.
New job, country and wife
After a few years, I sold my stake again and moved on, this time to Thailand.
Whilst at university I had joined the scuba diving club and had reached a fairly high training level with BSAC. I had found a course in Thailand which trained experienced divers into professional underwater videographers. As I was already a qualified camera operator I thought it sounded perfect.
One month later I was on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand, where I would stay for the best part of a year, diving and filming. I’d also fall in love with my future wife on this trip, but that’s a story for another day!
After completing my training and becoming a certified BSAC Professional Underwater Videographer, I headed back to the UK where I worked as a producer at a TV studio in London. I also worked freelance on a number of projects and in a number of roles from camera operator to producer. I filmed in Spitfires over the Kent countryside; I lived in the South African bush filming African wild dogs, elephant, giraffes, etc. I even filmed under the frozen mountain lakes in Austria.
However, eventually I started to hate living in London. I had a good salary, but it all disappeared into rent. I hated commuting. I hated the cost of a night out. I hated the fact that it was just so easy to spend money.
We'd just got married, back on the remote Thai island of Koh Tao, and were on a ‘two-week’ honeymoon in Chiang Mai. As we thought about packing our bags and heading back to London, I got a job offer from an American film production company who had an office in Chiang Mai. I was now their new international producer. I spent the next year based in Chiang Mai, travelling all over South East Asia shooting movies, high-end beer commercials and TV shows.
It was great, but another company had moved into town and started to suck up the more interesting projects. Thankfully, at this point, I was offered a position as head broadcast technician for Royal Caribbean, based in Miami. I took it and so we spent the next three years sailing and living on cruise ships in the Caribbean.
My wife and I have always wanted to settle down and start a family, ideally in the UK. And we were becoming increasingly aware that our current lifestyle (at sea, in the Caribbean, like pirates) couldn’t be much further away from our stable, settled family-starting future. So, we left and came back to the UK.
I got a job working in the same London TV studio I used to be a producer at, but now it was run by a different company, and I was now the project manager.
The job was great, the people were great, and we felt reasonably settled. I got stuck into the new job, I had a good relationship with our clients, I was second only to the managing director, and the job itself was something I was good at.
The problem was that I didn’t feel like I was actually ‘doing’ anything. Yes, I was working long and often unsociable hours, and we were producing all kinds of interesting (and not so interesting) content.
But what was I actually doing? Ultimately who cares about the content we’re producing; does it help anyone? Does it inspire or drive debate? Does it encourage exploration? Does it educate? No. I realised this job doesn’t for me, and I needed to change tact in my career. It was time to take a different approach and get on with the job search.
Career transition: Becoming a teacher
After travelling around the world, I’d started to feel a need to ‘do something’. Something that would positively impact those around me. Something that would actively make a difference. And that’s when I quit my well-paid TV job in London, moved out to Surrey, and started to study to become a teacher.
Since I made that decision, I’ve heard the following countless times:
“Why would you leave that job?”
“You realise teachers get paid peanuts, don’t you?”
“You must be crazy packing it all in to teach!”
These are all valid points, although often made by people who perhaps work in uninspiring jobs with little to no job satisfaction. There were, however, a few people who understood, and they appreciated that drive to do something useful with their career.
I trained for 18 months to be a physics teacher. Physics has always been a passion of mine, but as I mentioned, until now I’d not seen a way to make a living from it.
In those 18 months, I ‘bolted on’ a physics specialism to my Batchelor of Science (Hons) degree. I completed an SKE Physics and a PGCE course with the University of Sussex. I completed the i2i SCITT course with Weydon School in Surrey. I also completed a set of TSST physics courses with the Institute of Physics and the University of Southampton. I did all of this while teaching a half-timetable at a local secondary school.
In my training year, I’ve taught kids from a whole range of ages, abilities and backgrounds, from primary through to A-Level.
In July this year, it was all over, I’d graduated from Sussex, Southampton and Weydon, I’d got more certificates than I could display and I was ready to start my new career in teaching. Well, after the summer break anyway...
It is hard work, long hours, rubbish pay, and all under a government who want to increase our workload and decrease our funding even more. My school alone is set to lose £343,000 from our annual budget by 2021. That will mean losing nine teachers.
But my new career is definitely worth it. When you're able to help someone understand something that completely tied their brain in knots, or help them boost their confidence -- or even deal with a problem outside of school - it is worth it. That's what I go to work for.
When I first considered leaving the media world, I tried to find jobs that could match or exceed my salary, or that had great bonus packages or a great pension. These are all important things to consider, but they should not be the primary focus of your search.
I was once told that if you do what you love, the money will find you. And it’s always worked for me. Although my salary may now be smaller, I feel I have gained a skill that I can take anywhere in the world and get paid well. I have almost infinite job security (physics teachers are like gold dust). I now have more time to dedicate to friends, family and a number of side-projects that I’ve been working on.
How to change careers
So, how can you change career, or even get out that job which you may feel is out of reach?
My short and simple career advice is that your primary focus must be you. Not your salary. You are not a job. Don’t let your career define you. Seek out a career that suits who you are, not one that simply ticks the ‘pays the rent’ box. I wanted a job that would challenge me, not exhaust me. I also wanted a job that would enable me to explore my passion for science, whilst enabling me to help people.
On your job search, you should also look ahead, rather than just jumping in. Research is very important. I was lucky enough to be able to go into schools to observe teaching and even get involved in lessons before I took the leap. That helped me a lot.
You should check every training centre. Read reviews. If possible, speak to people who have made the same job change. Also, put money aside. Chase what you're interested in. Don't chase the money.
But talking of money, try to get six+ months of living expenses into savings. Be realistic with salary expectations of the new job. And leave your old job on good terms. Don't just walk out holding up the middle finger. You never know if you'll need to go back...
By Tom Mumford