Features May/June 2020

Career Transitions: When “Having Enough” Just Isn’t Good Enough

By Nithya Krishnan

Consider a regular morning at work. You’ve been in the job long enough to perform both simple and complex tasks each day. You’ve excelled at the way you handle these tasks and manage them quite effortlessly. Do you sometimes feel that this mode of working indicates a saturation? Does it demotivate you because you feel you’re not being challenged enough? Or does it annoy you, because you’re not learning anything new but seem to be working long hours to finish a plethora of mundane tasks?

Every career has a peak where everything seems to be going great, but there is a natural tendency to slump and reach a sluggish point. Some ignore it and believe that the situation will get better with time. For others, this situation creates restlessness and disinterest, and tackling these feelings is harder than we might anticipate. On one hand, there’s the stability of our current situation, which means doing things that are familiar; on the other hand, it could be a dead end.

Many of us experience this situation at different points in our career. You wonder what more you can possibly do in your current role. But as all jobs demand, we need to sustain our productivity despite experiencing these troughs. By reflecting on the fundamentals of our core skills, we can begin considering how we can branch out. And this is what career transitions are all about.

Imagine you’re taking a trek for the first time in your life. You’ve been briefed on what the terrain is like. But through the course of the trek, you experience fluctuations in weather, your campsites are uninhabitable, or you don’t find the kind of food you were expecting. Things don’t turn out the way you or your guide expected. What do you do in such a scenario? You ponder. You think. You try to apply your past experiences to see what might work in the current situation. This is precisely how a career transition happens. It might be a maze at the beginning, but you get your bearings as you explore all the aspects of the potential change.

There are various reasons to consider a career change—for example, to:

  • Get better pay
  • Optimize work-life balance
  • Tackle new tasks and challenges
  • Move to a field that you have a keen interest in

Regardless of the reason, preparation is important when considering making such a change. The better the changes you make today, the better and more fulfilling tomorrow will be.

The Crucial Question: Why the Change?

A career transition requires you to address a fundamental question: Why? Depending on how long you’ve been in a certain role or job, this is a crucial question to ask yourself. It will help you validate whether this is something momentary or something that needs an investment of time and thought.

Career transitions start with your current role. To ensure a successful career transition, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s incomplete in what I currently do?
  • Does my current role make me unhappy?
  • If yes, what can fill that gap to turn things around?

Look to mentors, coworkers, or friends to talk through your thoughts. This circle of people likely comes with diverse skills and experiences, and these conversations could spark an idea you hadn’t considered and assist you in making a move.

Jot down what you like doing and the strengths you have that can help you execute a certain job. Start assessing yourself on what you do best and the factors that make you excited about tasks or assignments that you performed in the past. There are many assessments available to guide you in your strengths, but the best judge of the job or role that you’re most suited to is an introspective you.

Here are some thoughts and actions to help you discover your “why.”

Look for a New Job or Role in the Same Field

When we spend a lot of time doing a certain job, we get good at it. With time, we might also enjoy the process of doing that job, which comes from learning more about your team and the industry. Over time, you might also involve yourself in tasks that aren’t strictly within your role, but your skills and competencies help you execute those tasks. As a result, you might consider changing roles, because you are doing it—you already understand the job, and doing it full time gives you a chance to fully explore the new role as a next step in your career. Look for opportunities where you can leverage your core skills and discover new learning opportunities in a new team.

Look for a New Job or Role in a Different Industry

Perhaps you have been working in your current role for a long time, and it’s no longer challenging work for you, or there are no more contributions you can make in that industry. If so, look for similar or related roles in other industries. This can give you a significant change in focus and provide you with a job that uses your skills, but with a twist. For example, a technical communicator might want to switch from technical documentation to writing marketing content or vice versa. In this example, you still use your core skills of storytelling and communication, but in a different arena.

Reinvent Your Personal Career Path

Perhaps you want your career to take a complete turn. Your interests are on one end of your career spectrum, and your current job is on the other end. This reminds me of colleagues and friends who long worked in the technology space and now want to move back to their roots, literally—yes, back to agriculture—a huge shift, indeed, but not an impossibility.

An entrepreneurial spirit is essential for such shifts, as you must think through the risk, and work accordingly to make such a big change.

Preparing Yourself for a Career Transition

Do Your Groundwork

When considering a career transition, invest time in doing your groundwork toward the shift. Identify the following:

  • The possible areas you can move into
  • The kinds of roles that suit your skills and strengths
  • The core skills required for the new role
  • How you can leverage the experience you’ve gained and use it in the new role

In other words, prepare for your next move. Understand what a new role or job demands, and then assess your skills and ability to do that job.

Skill Assessment

Consider what skills are required to perform a new job, and determine the skills you need to acquire or build. Having the credentials and qualifications that the new job demands puts you in a favorable position for landing an interview. If you’re switching roles, identify what your core skills are. Use these as a base, and see how you can branch out. This provides a starting point for learning new skills that fit the job you’re considering. If you’re moving completely away from what you’re currently doing, be sure you understand the core skills of the new job and begin building those.

Attend Interviews

No amount of preparation is enough until you exercise it in the form of interviews. Being prepared is important, but taking action to interview for the job is more crucial. Interviewing helps you learn the specifics of a particular job at a particular company. It also helps you understand how you perform as a job candidate—what went well versus what went poorly—and (hopefully) gives some constructive criticism to learn from.

Network

Build and maintain a circle of professional colleagues to increase your chances of finding and landing your dream job. Although your skill will speak to the job that you’re applying for, you’ll get to an interview faster if you have the right network in place. Ensure that you keep an updated, professional profile or resume on platforms such as LinkedIn. It’s the easiest way for anyone to look you up and see how you fit with the job. Getting recommendations from coworkers, managers, peers, and mentors can help substantiate your potential as a team player.

Shadow Someone with Your Desired Job

Some jobs demand that you already have specific experience. In such cases, consider shadowing an individual who currently holds the job or role you’re seeking. Doing this can give you insight into what the job is like and what you must bring to the table in terms of skills and credentials. A look into the job can also help you determine what new skills you need to acquire while you’re still performing your current role.

Apply for Internships, Fellowships, or Temporary Assignments

Some companies offer temporary assignments or internships, and you can interview for the role that you aspire to. If it’s a good fit, you could be selected to intern in the role. In this way, you can express your interest in a career change, practice the new skills, learn the nuances of the role, and determine through the course of doing the work how well it suits you.

 

Managing the Emotional Side of a Career Transition

After spending a good number of years in a job, we subconsciously get habituated to it. We might worry about losing that comfort, and in the process get too emotionally attached to it. We might fear that letting go of it could turn our career in the wrong direction. This is how resistance interferes with career change.

Every Job Is a Learning Experience

You’ve likely spent enough time and thought about making a career change to determine whether it’s the right move for you. Just contemplating making a change turns out to be a stressful process, but you tend to know in your heart whether it’s time for a change—even if the idea scares you. Overcoming your fears and committing to change is a personal victory. If you’re strong enough to decide to change careers, you’re equally strong enough to complete the change process and come out victorious. Every job provides an opportunity to learn. This is what builds your professional repertoire. Although a job might be different than your current role, and might demand that you start fresh, it also likely comes with a good share of learning. Nothing is crystal clear when you begin; you build expertise over a period of time. Invest your time responsibly and mindfully, eliminate those fears, and move ahead, and you’ll achieve that victory.

Your Path Forward

A career transition is about you and your career. It is not a betrayal of your colleagues or company. Don’t be hard on yourself. You likely developed excellent working relationships with colleagues, had mentors along the way, and feel indebted for the help that others have given you. But allowing this to stand between you and a new opportunity does you an injustice. Instead, head out there and make the most of the opportunities that come your way. Your network and relations are here to stay. You never know what opportunities might unfold that allow you to work with these colleagues again.

Embrace Change

Another emotional challenge you might encounter is the need to change certain aspects of your work—especially if you have spent a long time in a certain role and job. With experience comes comfort and an ease of working in the job. It’s a habit that happens effortlessly. However, when you change jobs, roles, or careers, that affects the job and the way you function. You must be open to this kind of change and be accepting of it. Your experience might help you navigate through the course of the new job seamlessly. Embrace the change, and try not to be rigid.

Build Your Personal Brand

You’ve likely taken a significant amount of time to establish yourself in a certain role, and a career transition might seem like all that work will be forgotten and never considered again. Instead, consider that a career transition can give you the chance to keep your core skill intact and add a new dimension to your career repertoire. For example, as a technical communicator, I have always been driven by a customer and user focus. I write for a technical audience. When I took the role of a UX advocate, I continued to keep this core skill intact. In addition to content, I began looking at user-centricity through designs. This helped bring the worlds of content and design together.

Don’t Settle Until You Land Your Dream Job

This quote from Steve Jobs has always resonated with me on the topic of career change:

The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.

The process of changing careers and searching for a job that suits your skills and personality can be long and frustrating, but when you land that dream job, you understand that it was worth the work and wait. Every job helps you develop traits and skills that you learn along the way or already know how to do. Either way, do them well. Be patient, build your expertise, expand your network, and always be open to learning. This will pave the way for you to find the right job—one that is both professionally and personally rewarding.

Nithya Krishnan is a User Assistance Development Architect and UX Advocate by profession. In her 13 years of experience in the field of technical communication, she has authored end-user documentation assets across domains such as healthcare, mobility, database modeling, and enterprise on-premise and cloud-based solutions. With an academic background in information technology, her interest lies in creating a cohesive learning environment for all roles involved in the software development process. Keeping a keen focus on user-centricity, collaboration, and transparency, she helps create better and more delightful product experiences through her writing. You can connect with her at www.linkedin.com/in/nithyakrishnan.

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