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The Process of Career Transition

By Kit Harrington Hayes

There is a difference between a job change and a career transition. When you leave one job and take another doing pretty much the same things in the same industry, you are making a job change. When you leave a job for another that involves performing a different function, or performing the same function but in a different industry, you are making a career transition. Job changes are usually fairly easy and straight forward, with little disruption to the rest of your life, while career transitions can be protracted and often impact your personal and family life.

Making a career transition can be a complex process with many variables. There is a logical flow to the step-by-step process described here but we all know that life is not linear. You will likely cover all aspects of the process when transitioning but you may not go in perfect sequential order.

People often find themselves in career transition when they’ve lost their jobs, especially in large downsizings. While their first instinct may be to look for another job like the one they just lost, market trends may indicate that those jobs are disappearing – perhaps going overseas or being replaced by new technologies. In these circumstances the impacted individuals are forced into making career transitions.

Many people also make career transitions by choice. They may decide to leave a job because they feel overworked and unappreciated, even abused. While productivity demands may be very high, others may find themselves bored or unchallenged by the content of their work. For still others, their work lacks meaning and purpose – they want to feel passion for their endeavor and know that their work makes a difference in people’s lives or makes the world a better place.

Often people “fall into” their early careers, following advice of friends or eager to please their parents. Some were just looking for a job to pay their bills, and somehow a decade slipped by. Life took over – perhaps marriage and kids, or even a promotion or two that enticed them to stay. In any case, if they are in a career they never really chose, they may decide to make a change. It usually starts with a yearning deep inside to find a career where they can be authentic and bring all of who they are to their work.

Where do you start once you know you have to make a major change in your work life? These are the basic steps of a career transition:

Goal Setting & Action Planning
Job Search
Career Management

Let’s take them one at a time. In articles to follow, I will write more expansively about each step in the process. For now, here are explanations of each of the steps.

In order to make a transition in your career, you need to know who you are and what you have to offer a new employer. At the same time, to do your best work, you need to do work that is meaningful and personally fulfilling to you – work that ignites your passion. Most people can’t just rattle off what those options might be but there are many exercises and assessment instruments that can help you clarify your values, interests, skills (abilities, talents, knowledge) and personal style (personality type). While there are a number of assessments available on line, many people find the interpretation of these exercises and instruments by a professional career counselor to be very helpful.

Once you know yourself well, it’s time to look at the world of work, including the current marketplace, to find out what’s needed. What fields are expanding because of new technology and priorities? What companies and organizations are growing? What major challenges and social issues need to be addressed? What (and who) is driving change, making news? Who are the key employers and what kind of talent are they seeking?

This phase involves research - reading local and national newspapers, the business press, trade publications and professional journals related to your fields of interest. Employment websites can be helpful for assessing job market trends. Informational interviews with people in fields of particular interest to you will provide a reality check

Decision Making
Next it’s time to put together what you have learned about yourself through Self-Assessment with what you discovered about the needs and opportunities in the marketplace through Exploration. Where are the overlaps between your interests (what you enjoy doing) and your skills (what you are good at)? Focus on those things that you both enjoy doing and do very well. Then look at where the needs of the marketplace align with your strongest and favorite skills. That should be the sweet spot for your job search.

Goal Setting & Action Planning
Once you have decided what you want to do in your next position, you need to set specific goals and map out a plan to get you there, including target dates. You’ll need to schedule time for writing your resume and marketing materials. You’ll have to decide on the kind of search you’ll conduct and line up resources. And you’ll need to figure out how this campaign is going to fit into your busy life.

Job Search
At this stage you’ll produce your marketing pieces, strategize your job search approach, and start carrying out your plan. Review your research (Exploration) for information gaps and identify sources of needed intelligence. Target organizations to join for both job search support and professional connections. Organize and prioritize your network of contacts and start setting up meetings. Bone up on interviewing skills. Finally, create a record keeping system to keep track of it all. You’re on your way!

Career Management
Once you’ve accepted a job offer, you can move to the last step in the career transition process. First you want to prepare well for your entry into your new position. How will build credibility in the organization? Going forward, consider how you will manage your career ongoing. It will be critical that you maintain your network, continue to build your skills and monitor the marketplace both locally and globally. Dare I say it? You are at this point anticipating and preparing for your next career transition.

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