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My Experience of Changing Career to Economic Development, and My Lessons on How to Make the Most of Being an Outsider


Like any impressionable young adult, I chose my career following those who spoke highly of the promising and fulfilling world of consulting.

Late nights, sky-high offices and ‘optimising’ business units sounded like a bit of me. Ha! The naivety.

Thanks to my Masters’ degree, I landed a graduate role in the business change team of a large retailer, delivering projects that augmented online store operations. My parents were proud that I – a second generation immigrant – was able to achieve a level of success that they could only aspire to, become financially secure, and harness the opportunities they provided by emigrating from Ethiopia following civil unrest and famine.

Yet, after three years into my job, my passions still weren’t ignited. Project after project, I felt increasingly disillusioned with my career. I pondered, ‘By now I should love this role, no?’

Midway through applying for a promotion, I realised how much I was deceiving myself by mistaking the allure of money and prestige for actual fulfilment. So, I set out to rediscover my interests with a much wiser pair of eyes.

Fall in love with the process

After months of soul- and Google-searching, it finally hit me: I already had my career epiphany in university.

I vividly recall the moment I first felt the spark of passion for Economic Development. During preliminary sessions at the university hall, I noticed my professors kept emphasising the importance of selecting a dissertation topic aligned with our interests and knowledge base. As they spoke, I couldn’t shake off the excitement about Economic Development, despite it being a niche field not commonly found in the curriculum of most UK university economics courses

I found ED through my love of my home city, London. The skyscrapers, the hustle-and-bustle that I could see from my house growing up, was my bright future right in front of my eyes. So why didn’t any other UK cities have the same grandeur as mine?

Which brought me to theories behind what makes a great city: great infrastructure, population density, agglomeration benefits etc, and as I read more it felt like I understood my home and myself a little bit more. I was undeniably drawn to this topic.

I knew deep down that this would be the most captivating research I would undertake during my university years.

Economic Development was where my passion truly lay. It’s been both surreal and reassuring to circle back to my true calling. Now, the question remained, How could I ensure that this career path was the perfect fit for me?

Making up for lost time, I’m re-immersing myself into the world of ED by writing my blog,, volunteering for the Institute of Economic Development’s Early Career Network and attending industry events. 

Knowing that I’m pursuing something that is 100% more interesting makes me feel I have much more control over my future than at any time before.

Find the right mentor 

As I transition from retail to ED, I’ve realised the importance of expanding my network to align with my evolving career path. 

Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of learning from a variety of mentors, each bringing their own unique insights to the table. While some have undoubtedly stood out for their exceptional guidance, at other times me and my mentor weren’t as compatible – which I believe qualifies me to say, I’ve become a connoisseur in selecting the right mentor for the job.

Vanessa, one of my first mentors, was a senior manager at the time. When I was applying for the role in retail, I reached out to her for a virtual coffee chat. She was of African descent, had an early career background in management consulting, and was only two to three steps ahead of me career-wise. Trying to find someone in a professional role of Black-African descent is challenging, trying to find one on your dream career path can be near impossible.

I knew I had to learn more from her! I acted quickly, poring over her LinkedIn profile and career history before I asked her for our first chat. By the time I asked her to be my mentor, we already veered beyond stereotypical coffee-chat catch-ups as we reminisced over Notting Hill carnival (pre-Covid) and harped on about the Black-British experience as working professionals. I will remember our mentor-mentee relationship fondly for the level of respect we had for one another and how that helped boost my confidence.  

This mentor relationship ended a year later, but I learned valuable lessons for looking for my next mentor/sponsor:

  1. Find someone who inspires you.
  2. Be sure about why you want them to be your mentor.
  3. Make a great impression before asking them to be your mentor.

 And, since attending my first IED conference in November 2023, my experience in securing mentorship has:

  • Helped me find a valuable mentor.
  • Provided great career guidance for my career progression.
  • Brought a supporting cast who steer me in helpful ways such as suggesting starting this blog.

Embarking on the next chapter

It’s been an interesting time and I’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way.

First off, it’s made me realise that true fulfilment comes from chasing after what really lights a fire in your belly. Secondly, lean on mentors and peers you know will back you; it will take time to find them, but they will be invaluable.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 21-year-old self who just graduated from university to not worry so much about picking a career that ‘makes sense’ and to go with my gut. It’s so much more important to find something that you can be good at and enjoy rather than chasing roles for prestige or for the renumeration package. They’re not worth forcing yourself to fit into the mould for.

Now, as I look back on my journey from Retail to Economic Development, I’m feeling optimistic. Between my blog, volunteering gigs and getting involved in professional networks like the IED, I’m carving out my own path and I’m grateful for it.

So, here’s the bottom line: Stay true to yourself, stay focused and stay inspired. If you’re thinking about making a career change or diving into something new, don’t question your instincts. Embrace the journey and chase after those dreams like there’s no tomorrow!

Kirubel Getachew is an Aspiring Economic Development Professional.