How to Begin Navigating a Career Transition

Navigating a career transition need not be overwhelming. Here are seven questions for successfully navigating a career transition that should be answered before taking the leap.

What is a Career Transition?

A career transition occurs when someone changes the nature of their career path. It means they have already invested substantial time on a particular career path, and now seek to change to something fundamentally different.

Consider Mary, who graduated with a Bachelors Degree in accounting. For the past ten years she has worked in two different accounting firms, and has risen from an entry-level accountant to senior staff accountant.

A career transition is not Mary changing accounting firms, or becoming a staff accountant for a manufacturer, or moving from staff accountant to controller. Why? Because she is staying on the same fundamental career path in finance and accounting. She may be changing jobs, titles, and employers, but still on the same path.

What kinds of moves would represent a career transition for Mary?

  • After ten years she decides to quit accounting and sell real estate instead.
  • Mary decides to open her own accounting practice after she obtains her CPA.
  • Mary plans to return to school, obtain a Master’s in Business Administration, and then find a management job in manufacturing.

Five Questions Mary Should Answer First to Help Her Make a Successful Career Transition

1. If I decide to make a career transition, how could it impact my life? Often a career transition requires someone to gain specialized knowledge or certification in his or her new career path. A transition may mean an initial step back in compensation, and possibly relocation. So it is disruptive, versus what someone has previously done. This is not a decision to be taken lightly or made because someone dislikes their employer. It requires a great deal of thought and investigation before moving forward.

2. On average, how long will it take me to make a full career transition? The exact answer to this question will vary by individual, by the nature of the transition (from what and to what), and how much someone is willing to invest in making the transition. Making a full career transition will mean that Mary has mastered the new role, is performing well, and is sure the new career path is right (or wrong) for her. Depending on all the particulars of her transition Mary should expect it to take six months to as much as two years.

3. What are some tools I can use to make my transition easier?

1. The first tool Mary should use is an assessment known as a vocational interest inventory. This type of instrument will help her match her behavioral preferences, latent skills, and personal interests, to career path choices aligned with who they are. Top instruments in this area include Campbell CISS, Strong, Kuder, and many others (she can Google vocational interest inventory). A vocational interest inventory will help her answer the question, in which career paths will I be most likely be happy and successful working, and what are some roles and positions I might want to consider?

2. A second tool to help Mary is the Job Search Readiness Assessment, which will measure what she does and does not know about the current and emerging best practices of conducting a job search. It answers the question, how do I go about obtaining employment in the new career path?

3. A third tool is for Mary to build a complete LinkedIn profile that is written with her new career path in mind. It highlights the education, skills, and experiences that would make for a strong candidate in that new career path. It has embedded the keywords employers are using to search for candidates.

4. It will benefit Mary greatly to join one or more professional organizations associated with her new career path. This will offer her an opportunity to network with people in her new profession as well as learn of member company employment opportunities.

5. Of critical importance is networking. Most jobs today are found because someone learns of a position that is not advertised. Building a network on LinkedIn of people in the target career path is a must, as well as networking via LinkedIn groups and professional organizations.

6. Another important tool is the informational interview, which will help Mary learn about the realities of working in her target career. She should participate in a minimum of three. In addition to gaining a perspective of what her new path will look like, each is likely to produce valuable inside connections that may help her find opportunities within the employers her interviewers represent.

4. I’m considering taking a year or so off to care for a family member. How will this affect my ability to change career paths?

1. Key questions for Mary to answer when she is nearing the time she wants to return include, “Am I ready and able to return?” , “Should I return part-time or full time?” and “What are the employer’s expectations/requirements for my return?”

2. During her time away from work Mary should investigate how she can use the time to gain the skills that will be needed in her new career path. She should assess the skills, knowledge, and certifications she will need in order to secure employment in her new field. Online courses and courses offered by her local institutions of higher learning could enable her to learn on her own schedule.

5. With my type of career transition, what is the most important thing for me to focus on ? The type of transition is less important than what will make it successful. It boils down to how prepared you are to make a transition (deep research, self-assessment, analysis) and how willing you are to rise above the hurdles you will face in the transition. Have you invested in building a network? Have you built a strong presence on social media that would attract employers in your target career path? Have you researched target employers and reached out to people there?

Bottom Line

Career transitions are not easy. But they need not be overwhelming when planned intelligently.

This article was in part excerpted from the seventh edition of the textbook included with the Job Search Readiness Assessment.

I help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools, the Job Search Readiness Assessment for experienced professionals/skilled workers and Graduate Employment Preparedness Assessment for students/recent grads both assess and explain over 3,000 career and job search best practices. I also work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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