How to Navigate a Career Change: Tips from Professionals Who’ve Been There Before

“Career change” can mean a lot of things.

The phrase encompasses both the good and bad side of employment – you’ve found a new mission for your life, you got sick of your old job, you were fired or were laid off. Regardless of the reason behind a career change, you’re going to face transition. And most likely, the Bureau of Labor Statistic says, that transition will happen about every 4.5 years.

stormy road

Dealing with that transition can be a pretty difficult process depending on how much time you had to prepare for it. A without-notice firing can send you into a tailspin while a planned transition usually comes with a gentler season of change.

There are plenty of opinions out there about how you should conduct your job search and handle your transition. We’ve collected some of the best insights.

If You’re Thinking About Leaving, Be Certain and Methodical in Your Decision

The feeling of being trapped in a job you don’t like can be pretty suffocating. If the pay is good, you might be afraid to leave because you’re not sure if you can command the same salary at your next job. If the pay is poor and you’re just scraping by, you may worry that the absence of a paycheck could ruin your financial life.

Because so much is often at stake, it’s important to make a logical decision as opposed to an emotional one, says career expert Karen Elizaga.

A few years ago she talked with Fast Company about the nuances of career change. Her advice to those thinking about changing careers? Jumping ship isn’t always the answer and don’t react too quickly.

Take a moment to analyze why you feel the way you do about your current job. Is there a possibility that you could change your emotions by changing your mindset?

“Sometimes simply changing your mindset or how you approach your work, how you work with others or how you take care of yourself outside the office can help [turn your career around] to better suit your strengths,” she said.

man and tie

If a change in mindset doesn’t work, then it may be time to leave. But that doesn’t mean you should take the first opportunity that comes along. We’ve all known someone who’s jumped ship at a job they hate only to land a job they end up hating just as much or more.

While a change in environment is nice, the honeymoon phase wears off pretty quickly. So, Elizaga said, be wise in your choice.

“If you’re really secure about where you excel and where you fall down, you can look outside and say, ‘Now that I know the kind of person I am and the kind of job I would enjoy, I can look out at the universe of jobs that are out there and make the move,'” she said during her Fast Company interview.

Know Your Long-Term Goals

If you’re clinging to the railing of a sinking ship, you don’t want to jump into a lifeboat engulfed in flames. Your goal is, after all, to leave the ship and stay alive.

When you’re preparing to leave your job for a new position or new career track, you need to have a long-term plan mapped out, says BroadbandTV CEO and Founder Shahrzad Rafati.

“What do you really want to get out of your career? What are your long-term goals? I always believe it’s important to think five to 10 years ahead,” Rafati said in a Fortune article. “The change that you make should be a logical step in an overarching direction.

Rafati also elaborated on the questions you should ask yourself before you leave because, she said, they should guide you to the job that will meet your needs:

  • If you’re leaving a place because of a poisonous work environment, you should focus your search efforts on a company that values positive workplace culture.
  • If you can’t stand the fact that your boss expects you to work late, search for a position within a company that values work-life balance.

Wrapping It Up: Be Smart About Your Career Change

When you’re in a place you hate, it’s really hard not to want to take the first job that comes your way. Truth be told, it’s equally as hard to acknowledge that a change in mentality could result in a change of your thoughts about your job.

Rather than take the easy way out – changing jobs without doing some soul-searching – you should make a concerted effort to understand why you feel the way you do about your job. Know why you don’t like where you’re at, what you need from your next job and, ultimately, where you want to be 10 years from now. Tough questions will lead to wise decisions.

Or, as S’well CEO Sarah Kauss said in her 2015 Fortune article, “Facing the unknown will always be daunting. But thinking of the short-term move in relation to your long-term career objectives can help make a career transition more appealing.”

Four Ways to Impress Your Boss Without Being Over-the-Top

bossThere isn’t a single one of us who wouldn’t want the chance to impress our boss, especially during that time of the year when we’re up for a performance review.

Now, you might be dreading the thought of dazzling your boss simply because it has connotations of sucking up. There’s definitely something to be said about that method of winning over your managers; when it’s done in bad form you tend to lose more friends than you make.

Fortunately, there are plenty of proven ways to win points with your superiors without being the perennial purveyor of flattery.

Make an Appearance Outside of Work

This doesn’t have to be a regular habit, but occasionally showing up to after-work events or parties is a great way to not only interact with your coworkers outside of the work environment, but to also show your boss you’re invested (even if just a little bit) in your job.

Again, this doesn’t mean that you have to say yes to every invite you get, but don’t say no to every invite you get, either.

As Business Insider Contributor Angelica Marden wrote, it’s totally normal to begrudge an after-work get-together.

“Prove you care by making an appearance for one drink, a short conversation, or the toast, and then sneak back to your mountain of work or personal engagements,” she wrote. “Your boss will remember whether or not you showed but will be too busy to notice when you ducked out.”

Not a bad strategy, in our opinion, but you may run into trouble if your boss keeps a close eye on everything happening and sees you scoot out after just a few minutes.

Make Your Voice Heard

Before you run off to your computer to send a scathing email about company policy, take a moment to think this point through.

Effective teams work because each player is clear on what’s happening on the field of play. What happens when one person doesn’t know their job? Disaster.

Don’t be that person who misses a crucial piece of information and then doesn’t ask a question later. Speak up when you have to, even if it means admitting you missed out on an important point. Chances are, you’re not the only one.

“Everyone appreciates clear communication and brainstorming, and the healthiest way to get support is to ask for it,” Marden wrote.

Take Ownership

You used to hear the phrase “buy in” tossed around when evaluating new employees. Do they believe in what we’re doing? Do they use our products or services? Can we count on them to love the brand as much as we do?

Buy-in is often used as a determining factor for hiring someone, but it also comes in play when managers consider an employee’s prospects for long-term employment with the company. And there’s nothing that’s a more powerful testimony of your worth than taking ownership.

Of course, “taking ownership” isn’t a single-dimension phrase. You can take ownership of a project, which means you embrace it and are proactive. You ask questions and get solutions.

You can take ownership of a mistake, meaning you don’t pass the blame on someone else but you accept your mistake and admit it was yours.

There’s also the aspect of taking ownership of a new role or position, where you attack it with confidence and enthusiasm like you did the first day you were hired.

All of these qualities of ownership reflect well on you and win points with your boss.

Carly Sec, a contributor for Hubspot, put it this way: “Don’t be afraid to bring big ideas to the table. This is the type of behavior that bosses love to see, as it exemplifies your ability to think about the business on a high level.”

Use Books to Increase Your Value

We all know that learning more about our companies and all the intricacies therein makes us more valuable as employees.

However, the tough thing with boning up on your corporate knowledge is that it’s really hard to calibrate when and how much you should say in certain situations. Dropping a knowledge dump on your colleagues and boss can come off as a little overbearing.

So, take a different route to increasing your value through learning: bring a business book to work with you. It doesn’t have to be an iconic work of old; it can be a contemporary book like Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk.

Reading it during lunch breaks not only sharpens your acumen, but it also acts as a conversation starter with your colleagues. And, in the end, your boss is bound to notice you reading up on the latest business and entrepreneurial trends.

A recent Men’s Health article noted, “You are developing your mind and your outlook … and turning yourself into a more valuable employee.”