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Successfully Managing Professional Transitions


We embrace it, fear it, strive for it, hide from it.

Regardless of our reaction to it, change is a fact of professional life. In the past, it was common to stay at the same company, and often in the same job, for many years and even for an entire career.

Career longevity has changed over time, though. Now, the median number of years with the same employer is just over four years. Over the course of a typical 30-year career, you will probably work in seven or eight different roles and perhaps that many different employers. That's a lot of change. As the quote from Darwin above indicates, it is essential that we learn to manage the changes.

Even when the change is viewed is a positive one, such as a promotion or new job, there is some accompanying anxiety about the newness. Usually, you're moving from a high degree of comfort in a role to the discomfort of unfamiliarity during a professional change. While you're likely excited and eager to learn and grow, you may also be worried about how long it will take you to become proficient enough to contribute at your accustomed level.

Coping with Change That Has Occurred

Sometimes change is imposed on you and, for better or worse, you need to deal with it. Even with a welcome role change, you're often left to figure out how to proceed. There are some basic skills and behaviors that you can draw on to help you in those critical first few weeks and months.

  • Listen more than you speak.

Observe how your colleagues put their skills to use in your new environment. Allow them to share their experiences and provide input that could prove very valuable to you in your new role.

  • Gather input on what's working and what could work better.

In your new role, you likely have new customers or consumers of your work. Ask them how they would approach your job and what they want to see more or less of.

  • Learn how things are done before instituting new ways of working.

You're used to knowing what to do. Now is the time for you to be more of a clean slate.

  • Capitalize on your strengths.

You got this far due to skills you have in abundance. Lean into those skills and put them to work in your new role.

Crafting the Change You Want

Sometimes you want to bring about a change that you desire or in the manner that suits you. It's possible but requires you to be persuasive and an excellent communicator.

  • Float your ideas with trusted colleagues to gauge their reaction and enlist them to spread your message. The more people share the same ideas, the greater the chance those ideas have of becoming reality.

  • Talk about your vision for the company and function and how the role enables that vision. Communicate how the change that you're proposing would be beneficial for those around you.

  • Visualize your ideas. Write a job description and show where the role fits in the organizational chart. Help decision-makers by doing some of their work ahead of time so the transition becomes simple to envision.

Creating a New Path

Sometimes you want a change, but you are not sure what it looks like. You just know that you need to do something different such as finding a role that aligns with your values or planning for a major life change such as becoming a caregiver or retiring.

  • Clarify your goals. What kind of life do you want to lead? What are you looking to achieve?

  • Understand your motivations. Your values and beliefs are the foundation for the decisions you make in your career and your life. Getting to know yourself better is key to figuring out where you want to go.

  • Define your short- and long-term steps. Goals can sometimes seem too large to be accessible. By subdividing them into manageable chunks, you will allow yourself to make regular progress and to more easily pivot when needed.

You've Got This!

You have the ideas you need. As a coach, I help clients find the answers to their questions inside themselves. Coaching can help draw those ideas out so you can put them to use for your growth.

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