4 steps to a successful career transitionFeatured

“You’re not qualified to do anything other than {insert what you currently do here}.” Heard this from your colleagues before? Thought it yourself? It’s easy to question your capabilities when you’re considering moving into something new. In this post, I want to convince you that it is absolutely possible to do something new in your career: whether moving to a new role, company, or industry. You already have the skills and intellect that you need to make any move you can imagine. There are four things you’re missing, which I’ll walk through as a series of simple steps here: Making the choice to move onDeciding on what you want to do nextLanding a job in that new area Transitioning effectively into that new job Below, you can find pointers for each of these four steps drawn from my own experience in having made two major career transitions and from coaching more than 50 people through their own career transitions. These four steps should help get you started, but if you’d like additional support along the way, check out a link for my free career transitions Q&A at the end of the post. Step 1: Am I ready to move on? Your target mindset: Introspective and accepting Skills you’ll need: Self-awareness, self-reflection, decision-makingPotential pitfalls: The “I can make this crappy situation work” approach, loss of hopeOne of the hardest things to do in a career transition is to make the decision to move. It’s easy to get caught feeling that you can, should, or have to make things work where you are.I know you’re capable of staying in your current job, should you choose to do so. The key question I have for you is:Do you want to stay in your current job? If, in your gut, the answer is no, my request of you is to have the courage to listen. If the answer to this question is, “yes, I want to stay,” you still have unfinished business where you are. Either way, what’s critical in step 1 of any career move is the skill of self-reflection - asking yourself what you want. For those of us who are new in this area, it’s often easier to spell out things that we don’t want. That’s fine too. The important thing is to connect with your desires and make a conscious, deliberate choice to stay or to move on. Provided you’re ready for the latter, your next step is to explore. Step 2: What do I do next?Your target mindset: Curious and exploratory Skills you’ll need: Networking, info-gathering, self-reflection, decision-makingPotential pitfalls: Skipping this stage entirelyOnce you’ve decided that you’re ready to move into something new in your career, take a moment to pause and celebrate. You’ve opened doors for yourself by making that decision!Your next step is to gather information on what it is that you want to do next. Give yourself a few weeks or months to investigate what’s out there. Identify what’s missing from your current role, and what new roles, industries, or companies can fill those gaps. Identify what will play well to strengths that you want to emphasize or what will enable you to grow in areas that you're excited about. This exploration will enable you to focus on one or two target roles for your resume and interview preparation in the next step. Too often, however, I see folks rushing to apply for jobs, skipping the exploration stage entirely. The risk in doing so is that you can end up applying for jobs that you’re not that excited about, may become deflated from rejections from that smattering of jobs, or may even land another job that you’re not satisfied with! My recommendation, therefore, is to explore comprehensively before applying so that you can hone your sights on what it is you’re truly excited about. Your goal in the exploration stage is not to obtain a job - it’s to obtain information. My favorite tool for information-gathering is: The informational interviewAn informational interview is a 30-60 minute conversation with someone who can provide more information on an industry, role, or company that you’re interested in. In these conversations, you are not asking for a job. Your goal is to ask questions and acquire information. In fact, there are three things you can gain from an informational interview: 1) you can learn from the person you’re speaking to, 2) you can practice speaking about your career experience, and 3) you can grow your network. I recommend conducting at least five informational interviews before making a choice on what to do next, if not more. After each interview, take note of your gut read on what you heard, how well you delivered your “career journey elevator pitch” (more on this below), and what paths you’re excited to move forward with. This will help give you focus for the next phase, when you apply for roles. Step 3: How do I get a new job?Your target mindset: Targeted and confidentSkills you’ll need: Clear communication, careful listening, self-advocacy Potential pitfalls: Applying without focus, viewing interviews as a test that you need to aceOnce you’ve identified one or two roles that you’re excited about, it’s time to start applying. There are plenty of resources available in this area in terms of resumé and interview prep, but I’ll add my two cents as well.By the time you interview for a new role, you should have what I call a “career journey elevator pitch” - a 90-second description of what you’ve done in your career thus far, where you want to go next, and how the role you’re applying for will help you to get there. If you’ve been conducting informational interviews, you’ve gotten a chance to practice this pitch so that it will be easy for you to recount in your eventual in-person interviews. Ideally, this pitch will be similar to the summary statement at the top of your resumé.On resumés, my view is that they should contain a summary statement up top, should be brief, and should reference the jargon and action verbs used in the job listing that you’re applying for. For example, if the listing asks that you “lead,” be sure to have some bullet points that mention your history of leading. If the listing asks for knowledge of SQL, be sure that “SQL” appears on your resumé. On interviews, a critical mindset shift for me was that they are a bi-directional assessment of fit, not a test. If you’re in a “test” mentality, it can situate you in right/wrong thinking and elevate your anxiety. Give yourself the flexibility to problem-solve with your interviewers and allow yourself a chance to perform at your best by remembering that you’re assessing them, too. If your interviewers are not people whom you would enjoy solving problems with down the road, that job isn’t the right fit for you. Finally, on recruiters: treat them with kindness and respect. You’ll be negotiating with them if you get an offer and they may be an advocate for you during that process, so I recommend treating them like a person, not a robot. Once you’ve landed a role, the last component of making an effective career transition is successfully starting out in something where you’re brand new. Step 4: How do I transition effectively into a new role? Your target mindset: Humble and ready to learnSkills you’ll need: careful listening, networking, self-carePotential pitfalls: Frustration, perfectionismWhen you’ve gotten a new job offer, take another moment to pause and celebrate. You’ve done something remarkable! Congratulations. To stick the landing in your new role, it’s important to stay in a learner’s mindset. Many folks want to deliver results right away in a new job, but in doing so, they forget to ask the questions that only newbies can ask.The good news is that if you’ve done informational interviews, you already have networking and careful listening skills in your toolkit. Now’s the time to deploy them again in your new role. Identify the who’s, what’s and how’s of your job and ask as many questions as you can. Gathering context and building important relationships can be more critical early on than getting results out the door. Finally, throughout all four steps of this transition, but particularly in your new role, it’s critical to keep an eye towards self-care. It’s possible to burn yourself out quickly when doing something new, finding yourself frequently put in situations where you’re frustrated or confused. Remember that your career is a marathon, not a sprint, and give yourself the sleep, food, and relaxation time that you deserve.Need help with your next step?I’m confident that with these four steps, you will be able to navigate a successful career transition. If you’d like to hear more insights on how to transition effectively in your career, you can subscribe to my newsletter here: hope is that you’ll use this post and the newsletter to make your career transition as smooth and free of frustration as possible. Happy searching!
Thank you for the step by step guidance! It helps make the transition feel less daunting; I'm currently in step 2, and self reflection. Looks like I have quite the journey to go but this is very helpful so I don't get carried away to just leave and jump into whatever is next. Bookmarking this!
So glad this was helpful to provide structure, @JennyLuu. I'm confident that by taking the time to move through each of these steps, you'll land somewhere that works well for you!
What are some other options for Step2? What are your thoughts about asking a team you are interested for a side project? Would the optics be bad?
Great question! To me, that sounds like a viable way to explore alternative options - though you are more of an expert than I am on the particular culture of your company. How do you think the optics would look?One idea: if you have a trusting relationship with your manager, you could communicate your intentions with the side project to be sure they are informed and bought in on you exploring new skills while remaining committed to your current role. What do you think?
Thank you @ToryWobber. I am on step 3..... it's been a long, sometimes difficult process but I am confident that it will be all be worth it!
I am confident in this as well, @SueCopeland! Keep finding ways to take care of yourself as you go - the journey itself can be draining, even if the end goal will yield more fulfillment for you.
Brilliant and tactical advice--really strikes an emotional chord. Love what you're doing and would love to connect!
Amazing, thanks so much @ambika! If you'd like to set up time to chat, feel free to snag a window on my calendar:
What a timely and detailed post. I've been trying to organize my thoughts around my own career plans, and your notes here include so many small but vital things that deserve consideration. Cheers!
Glad this is coming at the right time for you, @SorumPanchal! My hope is that this helps provide an over-arching structure without neglecting any of those details. Best of luck as you make your next move.
Great post! Thank you!! I especially love the point about not seeing interviews as tests. I really wish tech and engineering role interviewers got the same memo. The good interviewers see a technical interview as a 2-way problem solving exercise but I’ve found that many technical interviewers approach it with the ‘I’m testing you’ mentality. In some cases, they are praised by their peers or seniors for being the ‘hardest interviewer’. As an interviewee, how can we combat this (aside from deciding to avoid working with that person or team)?
Great callout @rutha128! My position on this may be somewhat controversial, but I lean towards what you suggest at the end - if a person is deciding to subject an interviewee to a deliberate "stress test," what does that suggest about how they will treat an employee on the job? In my first role, my hiring manager gave me a "stress test" interview and it turned out to translate to a culture on the team where there was a high tolerance for incivility, with expectation to "grow a thicker skin." I took the role because at the time I wanted *any* job, but in retrospect I can see that the interview provided me with a concrete signal of what the culture would be like. In my later interviews, I implemented a "no jerk" threshold as part of my assessment, with the logic that if someone is a jerk even in a best behavior situation like an interview, they may be even worse on the job. An alternative approach, if you're feeling courageous, would be to label what's happening during the interview. This could be something along the lines of "Hey, this line of questions feels like it's putting me in test mentality but I'd like to approach this topic collaboratively, as though we're working on this problem together as colleagues. How does that sound?" I don't know that I would have had the presence of mind to do this myself, but it could be a really interesting way to cut that tension by calling it for what it is. What do you think?
Great tips @ToryWobber! Thank you. I love the advice about using informational interviews to perfect the career journey elevator pitch! I've got work to do!
Awesome, @sarapopo! I am such a huge fan of informational interviews as serving a wealth of purposes, so I'm glad that you are excited for what you can gain from the process. I know the work you're putting in will translate to amazing outputs for you!
This is great! A book I recently finished and highly recommended as part of the soul searching/wayfinding is called Designing Your Life. The book has some very interesting exercise.And Tory, you’re totally spot on jumping in the application process. I find myself doing that sometimes. So my question is: when do you know you’re ready to apply?
Great question, @EvelynC! My 2c: I'd say you're ready to apply once you have a decision on 1-2 target roles along with an idea of the size of company and industry that you're interested in. My rationale here is that if you're applying across a broad set of opportunities without a concrete decision on what you're excited about, your resume will have a lower chance of being a match. You may also have to endure more rejections, which can harm your self-confidence. On the other hand, if you're targeting 1-2 roles at a consistent type of company, it's easier to tailor your resume and prepare yourself for the types of interviews you'll encounter. In terms of timeline, I'd recommend that you carve out a few weeks - 1 month where your primary goal is to explore. If you find yourself feeling a need to apply faster, check in with where that sense of urgency is coming from. If you find your exploration phase spans 3+ months without any applications, then I'd recommend checking in with your decision-making process. How does that sound to you?
@ToryWobber I was forbidden to explore things when I was young. I am 31 years old now, and I am changing careers. I feel like I want to explore all at once and I also feel like I want to work a lot on what I want to achieve. It's very confusing... Sometimes I don't know if I am doing things faster than I should or if my process is in the right path. I didn't even know if changing careers was allowed at 31 LOL. Thank you a lot for sharing this post.
Glad you found the post helpful, @MargothPicado! It is ABSOLUTELY OK to switch careers at 31. It'd be OK to switch careers at 41 or 51, in my book - but maybe I'm unconventional in this respect ;) I'm certain that you are moving at just the pace you need to. Feel free to DM me if you'd like to have a sounding board for any of your specific ideas. Take care!
Tory- thank you so much for sharing this detailed outline! I am curious how you suggest requesting informational interviews? The primary networking platform I am on is LinkedIn, and I am assuming this is the best platform to request them on. If LinkedIn is the preferred platform to request informational interviews, should I connect with people before sending a message or use the premium InMail feature to direct message? Is it appropriate to be straightforward and directly request an informational interview or should I go about it in a more nuanced way? Would love to hear your thoughts on this!
Great questions, @elizabethanderson! Any platform works. I often like to be upfront about requesting the informational interview, framed within genuine flattery. Something along the lines of - "Your job looks fascinating. Could I ask for 30 minutes of your time to hear more about your role?" One thought I'll put out there: "cold" messaging on LinkedIn may have a low success rate if folks don't know you and are skeptical of new connections coming their way. I typically recommend starting your info interviews with your first-degree network and then asking them for introductions to folks in areas that you're exploring. I've usually seen more success with "warm" introductions where you have a mutual acquaintance than "cold" outreach, though the success rate of the latter isn't zero. In case it's helpful, I've written up a free guide to informational interviewing. You can check it out here: searching!
Thank you so much for your input Tory - this is all incredibly helpful info and I am excited to start reaching out to others. Thanks again!
Hi folks! If anyone is curious in getting more detail on these 4 steps or asking questions that may have come up for you along the way, I've got a webinar coming up hosted by Chapter 2 Club on June 22nd: to see some of you there 🙌
Thank you for sharing such insightful tips! For those in a similar position looking to make a career transition : Hi! I'm Rachel Serwetz, an ICF-certified career coach. My background is at Goldman Sachs & Bridgewater Associates, before moving into the career space to systematize my novel career exploration and job search methods and tools.My mission in life is to ensure people feel supported in making these critical, impactful career decisions. These decisions can feel stressful and tough, but with the right support (which you deserve), you can feel relieved, excited and confident in your next steps. I have been coaching hundreds of professionals for over 8 years and have developed unique processes and frameworks so that you can confidently clarify your ideal career direction and efficiently job search to land a role you feel fulfilled by. Happy to chat directly and see how I can help! Best,