ON PAPER HER CAREER AND lifestyle were sterling. Five years at a top law school with impeccable grades and honours from an Ivy League university led to her being hand-picked by a top firm. As expected, a substantial salary and bonus along with annual holidays to luxurious destinations such as Tuscany followed. The years of experience made her a shoo-in for partnership, but a decade into a profession as a litigation lawyer at a top law firm, she changed career and entered the recruitment industry. While initially settling for less pay, she is happier than ever. Capricious and whimsical? Hardly. Annie Tang is an example of many women who, after much thought and research, change careers. 'It's common for successful women to shift their career gears even when they are doing well,' says Louisa Yeung, a director at Michael Page International. 'Women in general will put a higher priority on family. My reason for making a switch from professional to recruitment [Yeung is also a qualified accountant with nine years experience] was mainly because I want to have my own family. 'Professional life is too demanding and pressurised and I wanted to strike a healthy balance between career and family life. So I made the change.' While the money thrown around by rival firms can cause companies to lose their top women, career changes are not always money related. Joanne O'Reilly, an associate director, Banking and Legal department of Michael Page, says: 'From a banking perspective, I've seen experienced lawyers/transactions people move to control/risk roles which have less volatile hours. The existing skill set is highly transferable and while the base salary numbers are not widely different, the discretionary bonuses would be quite a bit less. Several of our experienced hires at Michael Page were professional accountants, operations people - for example, settlements, trade support, client services - and lawyers who made the transition to professional recruitment.' In a mercenary society such as Hong Kong, more-work-less-pay might seem a contradiction in terms but O'Reilly says: 'Often the driving factors behind these moves relate to consistence in hours, reduced travel, more control over workload, the ability to undertake some work from home/off-site, the ability to balance family commitments, while still retaining a reasonable salary/total compensation in return.' So what are the first steps to take when you want to change? As the adage goes, look before you leap. Erika Humby, from Talent2 Recruiting firm, lists a 12-step programme but the initial plan of action is simple: 'If you've been in the same job for many years and are looking for a career change, the first thing to do is talk to a career counsellor or a good recruiter, research the new area you are looking to move into, make sure you understand all the pros and cons of the new area, position and any companies you are looking to target,' Humby says Being prepared and aware are key, and although your own company need not know that you're looking at the exit sign, some key advisers do, says Humby. 'Know what steps you need to take to get where you want to go and talk to people in the new industry to get a good idea about what it's like. Be confident that you can make the change and write a plan of action with what steps you need to take to be successful.' Tang says a professional move is rarely an overnight decision after a bad week at work. 'It wasn't on a whim. There are a few people, for personal reasons, who change career course 10 to 15 years into their job, when they achieve a lot and think, 'This isn't what I really want'.' She says this thought is common and does not mean a mid-life or mid-wife crisis. Career goals are often etched out at a young and naive age and once you've attained all you've set out to do, the yearning for more remains. 'I was seeking different challenges, I wanted more people interaction. I was that lawyer swamped with paperwork and working long hours - which I didn't mind in the beginning. But the work became quite repetitive and routine. There wasn't much of a challenge. I really wanted a change.' And change she did. She took charge of her life by doing research, making sure she was financially secure, asking and meeting the right people and hitting her target. 'Although I'm not a lawyer, I knew a lot of people in the field and know the ins-and-outs of the business. With my list of contacts and industry know-how, and my desire to work with people, the new job as a recruiter for law firms is ideal. It's worked out well for me.' Others choose to take time off and study instead of immediately shifting into a new office. According to Humby, looking at educational programmes that relate to your new career is fine but MBAs are not always necessary. 'It depends on where you are looking to go and what you want to do. An MBA is great to have but they're a lot of work and expensive, so make sure you have the basics first.' Anthony Thompson, managing director of Michael Page International (Hong Kong & Southern China), says: 'MBAs are not essential but can sometimes be advantageous. While no one needs to start from scratch, they must be realistic in that a career change will often entail a pay reduction - but this is a short-term issue and if they are committed to their new career direction they will be rewarded.' Resigning from your current company isn't inevitable or obligatory. 'If you've been working in the same role for 10-15 years, there's a good chance you enjoy working with your employer and have a good relationship. People should investigate options to change their career within that organisation because their employer may facilitate this and assist with supportive training. The other benefit is they will be more likely to maintain their salary level this way as opposed to taking a career change pay cut by going to another employer.' Being practical and realistic is the overwhelming message. 'If you're an HR manager and want to be a fighter pilot, then obviously it will be tough because they are very different jobs,' says Humby. 'Have a clear plan and make sure you write it down. And be positive.'