Staying in one career all your life is no longer the default. Most people will experience a career transition at least once in their professional life.
A 2012 survey by Future Workplace found that “91 percent of millennials expect to change jobs every three years.” And that was eight years ago! Fast forward to the dusk of 2020, and the job market seems to more fluid than ever.
Many people are either pondering or already in the process of a career change. And, since you’re reading this, it seems like you’re one of them.
Maybe you were recently made redundant and don’t want to go back to your old job.
Maybe, during the lockdown, you had plenty of time to think about your career and realized it’s time for a change.
Or, you’ve been pondering a career change for a while and, as yet another year in an unfulfilling job is coming to an end, you’ve made your decision:
You’re ready to transition into a new career. You’ve waited long enough.
But how do you go through such a profound change with confidence? That’s what this guide will help you with.
Why Now Is a Great Time for a Career Transition
The short answer to this is: Because you decided to. You’re finally ready to do what you’ve been thinking about for a while. That’s the most important sign to claim the life you want and deserve.
Apart from that, this last year has been conducive to change for all of us. In 2020, many people asked themselves big questions about their purpose and values. Among other things, this translated to pondering a career change. According to one UK study, during the lockdown people have been typing Google search terms such as “I want a new job” or “job change” even up to 194% more often.
To understand the deeper “why” behind this, we first need to define what a “career transition” means — and how transition is different from change. In the preface to Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes organizational consultant and author William Bridges wrote:
“Our society confuses them constantly, leading us to imagine that transition is just another word for change. But it isn’t. Change is your move to a new city or your shift to a new job. It is the birth of your new baby or the death of your father. It is the switch from the old health plan at work to the new one, or the replacement of your manager by a new one, or it is the acquisition that your company just made.
In other words, change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of these changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t “take.”
Living through the pandemic brought changes to every person on this planet — including you. To incorporate them, you need to go through a psychological process of transition. Since you’re transitioning anyway, it may be a good moment to incorporate a job change into it.
Changing careers is always linked to a sense of uncertainty and throwing yourself off balance. And while we’re off balance anyway because of the pandemic, many are using this state as an opportunity to readjust their direction in life.
This process, however rewarding, may be hard to navigate. Here’s a short guide to managing the psychological transition related to a career change.
Step 1: Change The Narrative Around Your Work
When one door closes, another door opens. A career transition is as much an end of a chapter as it is the beginning of a new one.
Because in our society we assign so much importance to work, switching careers is a big change to your self-identity. You’re essentially changing the story about who you are. You’re becoming the next version of yourself.
To create space for the “new you” to emerge, it’s important to have closure. Reflect on your professional past and acknowledge the part of your journey that is now ending. You may do that by answering some big-picture questions, for example:
- What has my previous role taught me?
- Which achievements am I most proud of?
- Which aspects of my work do I want to change moving forward?
With that, it may be easier to identify your next step. For some people, this is straightforward — they already know what job they want to take up next. If that’s not you, you can either do some brainstorming or hire a career coach to help you chart a direction.
Remember that, at this stage, your career transition is mostly about that — a direction, rather than a definite destination. You still don’t know what you don’t know. At this point, you may only be able to pinpoint the industry you want to transition to and not a precise role.
This is fine — an approximate direction is a good start. As you’ll be learning about your options, your idea for the new career will start to crystalize. With time, you’ll be able to see yourself in that new role, company, or industry more vividly.
As a consequence, you’ll start attracting the right opportunities and people who’ll help you make the transition.
Step 2: Talk To People Who Already Did It
Speaking of people, they’ll be an important part of this change. When going through a big transition, it’s important to feel that you’re not alone.
The easiest way to find support is to meet people who already work in the industry you’re seeking to enter. Better yet, speak to those who already took the leap and made a career change similar to yours.
Often, this requires activating what Herminia Ibarra calls “weak ties:”
“The golden rule of networking for career change has always been to mobilize your weak ties — that is, the relationships you have with people you don’t know so well or don’t see very often, in order to maximize your chances of learning things you don’t know already.”
We used to do it through networking events, but these may be hard to come by in the pandemic. Luckily, we have social media. LinkedIn can be a great place for job search or just seeking general information about your new career.
My experience of reaching out to my “weak ties” (or even strangers) on LinkedIn has always amazed meme. Many people, even the busy ones, are willing to help. To increase your chances of others responding to your messages, I recommend following a few rules of online networking etiquette:
- Offer them something before you ask for anything. This can be quick feedback, letting them know a page on their website is down, or something else that will be easy enough for you — and helpful to them.
- Praise their work. Appreciating people for what they do will make it hard to ignore you. Acknowledge their blog, a successful TEDx talk, or let them know you’ve read their book. Just make sure your praise is genuine!
- Be clear about what you want from them. Many people on LinkedIn send general messages about “wanting to connect” — but what does it even mean? Make your request clear and you’ll already stand out from the crowd.
- Keep it short. This one’s simple. The shorter the message you send, the bigger the chance someone reads it. Additionally, you also let them know you respect their time by being as concise as possible.
Once you start networking, you’ll get clearer on what your career transition entails. Then, you’ll be ready to make an inventory of two important things: (1) what great skills you already have, and (2) what you still need to learn.
Let’s start with the first category.
Step 3: Package Your Experience Adequately
Once you start picturing yourself in the new career, the way you think about your skills will also change. You’ll need to decide which skills from the previous job can be applied in the new one. However, this may not be as straightforward as it sounds.
First off, your biggest accomplishments from the previous career may not be the best brag points in the new one. Conversely, some aspects of your old job you never gave much thought to could now be your “unique selling points.” So you need to sit down and ask yourself:
Which experiences and skills from my previous role make me a unique candidate for the new one?
The trick is, there isn’t one right answer to this question. A lot depends on how you perceive yourself and your skillset. For example, when I was transitioning from doing social work to hospitality years ago, I highlighted empathy and emotional resilience as crucial skills to my new employer.
These weren’t the ones she requested in the job posting. But by explaining to her that social work taught me how to communicate with difficult people, I showed her I was prepared to handle even the pickiest customers.
Another thing to consider when presenting your skillset is the format you use. Some experts recommend getting more creative than sending a cover letter and CV. Instead, you can record a video or build a website to showcase your skills. This can help you “sell” yourself to a potential employer — but also, to go through the internal transition.
As you reframe your skills for the new career, your self-image naturally adjusts. When you present yourself differently to others, you also start seeing yourself in a new way.
Step 4: Get Clear About What You Need to Learn
Knowing your strengths and being able to present them is important. But so is being clear on what you still need to learn.
Philosophers of various times and cultures highlighted the virtue of humility. Good employers understand its value, too. They’ll appreciate it more than empty bragging and pretending you know something you don’t.
Admitting that you don’t know things isn’t about selling yourself short or doubting your skills. Rather, it’s about being open to learning opportunities. This is what each new beginning involves and a career transition is no exception.
Some people may confuse humility with an imposter syndrome. But they aren’t synonymous.
Imposter syndrome is a mindset suggesting that just because you don’t know everything about a subject, you’re “not good enough.” It paralyzes you because it seeks impossible perfection in skills and knowledge.
On the other hand, genuine humility empowers you. Assessing what you need to learn helps you realize that your professional life is mostly about that — learning. No one knows everything about their profession, and no one needs to.
When you’re willing to continuously fill gaps in your knowledge, you open doors of opportunities that were locked before. Any change you’re going through becomes easier to navigate. You’re able to let go of perfection and do your best instead.
That’s usually enough — as long as you’re not lying to yourself about what “doing your best” means.
Step 5: Stay Connected To Your Internal Power
Any change, big or small, involves stress. According to Pavel Krapivin at Forbes, “career transitions are often ranked alongside the death of a close friend in terms of the most stressful life events we can undergo.”
Speak about a career transition during a pandemic!
If you feel afraid, self-conscious, or anxious about your new job, the first step to deal with those feelings is reminding yourself that they’re valid. Transitioning to a new career is huge. It’s only natural to be emotional about it.
But dwelling on those overwhelming feelings also isn’t helpful. That’s why it’s important to have your trusted ways of tapping into your inner power. This will help you pull yourself out of the dark places in your mind when the going gets tough. Your internal strength will counterbalance self-doubt, hesitation, and questioning whether the leap you’re taking is even “reasonable.”
Ask yourself: What activities, people, music, books, and surroundings help you feel at your best? What is a sure way to boost your self-confidence? Write the answers down and use them whenever you feel shaky about your career transition.
Ultimately, remember that as much as we think we can control our lives, it’s not 100% true. We have agency over some things, while we can’t do much about others. This is true not just during a career transition, but in life in general.
Right now you may not feel very stable, and that’s ok. You can embrace that uncertainty and ride the wave, instead of trying to stop it.
Career Transition Is a Self-Discovery Process
It wasn’t the case a few decades ago — but currently, going through several career transitions in your life is the norm. It’s more likely than staying in one job or industry for life.
And that’s great. As society evolves, so must you. A career change is an opportunity to outgrow your previous self and start your life anew.
This also explains why it feels so scary. Any transition is a psychological process in which a part of you needs to die. Only this way, you create space for something new to emerge. Only through letting go of the old, the new can be born.
That is the way the world works in general. The current pandemic has shown us that there are few certainties in life. But that’s exactly what makes it exciting.
A career transition is one way to embrace uncertainty and finally move in the direction you always wanted to go. Will there be a better time to leap now?
At Big Self School we know stress builds up and leads to physical symptoms, mental health disorders, and burnout. It can be hard to pinpoint why it’s happening. Take our free stress test and discover just how stressed you are.