The Many Kinds of Career Transitions

The Many Kinds of Career Transitions

Career transitions are brought on by external and internal triggers. While there are parts of the transition process which are common to both kinds of transitions, there are also particular skills and mindsets which are more helpful in each kind of transition. 

What are external and internal triggers for career transitions?

External triggers for transition are often found in the environment e.g. 

  • An organizational restructuring because of which one’s role is redesigned/eliminated. With the increasing trend towards digital transformation, strategic transformations, mergers/acquisitions, cost restructuring, spin offs etc, there is no knowing when a career transition is likely, based on such changes
  • New waves of skills emerging because of which one needs to upskill/reskill quickly or switch because one’s existing skill sets are no longer relevant. 
  • New opportunities coming one’s way but not with a great deal of supporting information which gives clarity
  • Career adjustments in dual-career couples, when one of them has to move to another city/country, one takes a sabbatical/study break etc

Read – Applying Design Thinking to Designing Careers

In transitions caused by external triggers, a critical part of successful transition is Sensing what is going on in the external environment – having one’s antennae keenly attuned to trends, opportunities, market intelligence. This calls for the skill of Active Listening by tapping into networks – both of people and ideas at the intersections of one’s expertise and interests. And it’s not just enough to actively listen – you have to tell your network what you are looking for, especially the ‘weak ties’ in your network – they become your extended receptors of information for sensing what is going on outside and relaying it back to you when the right opportunity arises.  So really put yourself out there– cultivate the mindsets of openness and curiosity and being intentional about reaching out. 

How can you reach out and expand your influence intentionally? 3 steps are

  • Building authentic, personal connections
  • Putting the other person’s interests ahead of your own when it comes to networking
  • Communicating your expertise/competence on social media, through your presence and very importantly by being a ‘generous giver’

One thing to particularly watch out for, given today’s rapidly changing world of work, is to cultivate agility, so you can respond quickly to what is happening in the external environment. Living under a rock, ignoring the signals and portents for change is harakiri in today’s times. I have met capable, diligent people like this, whose very diligence tripped them up as they continued to go about doing what they knew and did very well, without acting on the signals from the outside which were foretelling a different story. Agility, or the ability to process external information and respond to it through a new set of actions and behaviours is the other critical skill in an external transition. 

successful career transitions

Being agile and alert to triggers in the external environment is necessary for successful career transitions

Internal triggers for transition are unique to each individual and often include life situations such as

  • Increased care-giving responsibilities such as parenting, taking care of aging parents, single parenting 
  • Burnout, stress, lack of fulfilment at work, health concerns
  • Desire to start an entrepreneurial venture

Transitions which are precipitated by internal triggers require what I call Sense-Making, or taking the given situation and interpreting it from an internal lens of what really matters to oneself. The skill of Deep Listening where we listen in an open, non-judgmental way to ourselves, to understand our values, abilities, motivations and aspirations greatly helps in a transition of this kind. Just as in Sensing, the key mindsets were of openness and curiosity, in Sense-Making, the mindsets of resilience and clarity are gold. 

triggers for transition

Process the internal triggers for transition carefully

Being in a rush to take the immediate next step, and skipping this sense-making process, often brings one back to the same unfulfilling/confused state as before or sometimes makes it even worse. I have met a number of people who process the internally triggered transition in a haste, and take action without deeply listening to themselves, only to find that they have little conviction in the action taken and are wracked by feelings of guilt, remorse, doubt and fear. 

What does the internal shift look like in case of such a transition?

  • Changing from thinking that “I have to do succeed at all times” to “It’s ok to try something new and maybe it will fail
  • Going from “I have to do it myself”, to “I can seek help/enable others to do
  • Shifting from focusing on what’s happening ‘inwards and downwards’ to focusing on what’s happening ‘outwards and all around

In both kinds of career transitions, whether caused by internal or external factors, we have to go through a difficult period of changing how we see ourselves and reframing our narratives of who we are – whether in terms of new skills, new behaviours, new roles or new actions. Supportive relationships who can both challenge our entrenched ways and show us new, expanded possibilities are a must to navigate transitions successfully. That is why it is extremely helpful to navigate a transition with one’s own ‘success team’ egging one ahead, ready to keep supporting, challenging and showing one the mirror.

In the case of externally induced transitions, having a set of mentors from diverse areas, especially those areas which lie at the intersections of different domains, will ease the process of moving into a new and unfamiliar domain. A typical example would be of veterans who are transitioning into the corporate world and find it immensely useful to seek out mentors from specific domains that they wish to move into. 

For transitions triggered by internal factors and life events, working with a career or life coach can make a huge, positive difference. While friends and family often give us ‘safe advice’ in such times, a coach can bring much needed clarity in an unbiased way and also show us possibilities which we may not be aware of, by expanding our awareness of our own potential.

What kind of transition are you going through? And what is helping you in dealing with this transition?

Read Also –  Are You Guilty Of Any Of These 7 Career Sins?

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Kavita, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, brings 20 years of experience in Experiential Learning, Coaching, Personal Growth & Change. Her forte is Career Transition Coaching and Leadership Development for mid-senior individuals, helping them find success and fulfilment at work . She also teaches Career & Self Development courses at leading management institutes including IIM Kozhikode, IIM Udaipur, IIM Indore and at the IITs.