Most of us go through multiple career transitions in our professional lives – it could mean moving from one company to another, moving within the company from one function to another or moving from one industry to another. While some succeed in making such a transition, many struggle to integrate into the new environment or to grow professionally.
Outside the obvious fear and anxiety about the new role or the new industry, there are unanswered questions; such as, when should you make a career move, what are the key things to keep in mind when transitioning and are there things you can do to be more successful in the new role?
So, here are some tips and tools to help professionals manage a career transition successfully.
Don’t try to time the move
There will never be a “right” time to change careers. If we wait for things to be ideal on various fronts, such as family, finance etc, that time might never arrive; simply because life will keep on throwing surprises. So, when should one think of switching careers?
Some professionals wait for their careers to stagnate, before they think about moving on. Now we all go through career stagnation in our professional lives, when our careers plateau. This period may last for a few months to several years, depending on individual to individual. During this period, one generally feels low – low on motivation, low on energy and develops some level of frustration. Making a career move at such a stage appears more a forced move; it’s more about getting out of the current situation, rather than getting into something you really want to pursue.
It’s like you have no option left, but to switch companies or roles. Now the chances are that when you make a move in such situations with low morale, you will take a lot of time to boost your energy levels and motivation back. Hence, it is unlikely that you will give your best from day one in the new job. You will take more time to settle and create an impact. On the other hand, if you make a career move when you are doing well and at the top of your game, you have a lot of momentum and energy behind you.
Leveraging prior experience
When you change industries or functions, your past experience may or may not be relevant. Hence try to leverage your experience, but don’t make it your baggage. Sometimes, experienced professionals tend to give too much importance to their past experience and tend to see everything from that lens, not realizing that their past experience may be creating a bias or a barrier in the way they think or operate.
There will always be some skills which are transferable across functions and industries such as people management, communication, time management etc. Try to build on such skills which might be relevant in the new role as well. It is important to recalibrate – what part of your past experience will work in the new organization and what will not.
Invest in re-skilling and learning
When we think about changing careers, it is also the time to think about developing new skills, relevant to the new role/industry we aspire to move into. Usually, skill development happens through training programs within existing organization, relevant to that specific industry. However, a career move is a good to time to invest time & money in learning new skills. Spend some time in researching the right set of courses/training programs which will enhance your profile and prepare you for a new role.
Learning should continue when you join the new company as well. Roll up your sleeves and spend some time in the early days to get into details about your job, the new function and organization. The key here is having the attitude and willingness to learn new things in the new domain. It is less about “unlearning” and more about learning new things. Sometimes, our experience and seniority come in the way of learning new things. It creates a mental block. To be successful in the new role, it is important that you clear this block and have an openness to learn.
Be impactful during early days
Try to show some quick impact in the initial “honeymoon period” when you join as a lateral hire. Some organizations might give some time to a lateral hire to settle into a new role, whereas others may not, and you might be expected to perform from day 1. Despite all good intent, most organizations don’t have a very structured program to help integrate lateral hires –you are mostly on your own.
Hence, it is important for you to quickly settle into your new role and pick up an area where you can show some impact. Don’t take too much time in adjusting, since very soon you will realize that you are being considered part of the system and your performance is being measured against your peers, who have been in the firm for some time.
Most people pay a lot of emphasis on networking skills and often confuse it with stakeholder management, though these are distinct skills to develop. Networking, in simple terms, means the ability to connect and build relationships with individuals and groups, usually for some mutual benefit. Stakeholder management, on the other hand, requires you to navigate the organizational matrix to find out who are your key stakeholders, who will manage your career and who are the key decision makers in the organization.
I highly recommend spending some time in setting up 1-1 meetings with your key stakeholders to introduce yourself in the early days. Make sure you update them regular – in person or through emails about your progress. Also, over time, make sure that you can align some of your deliverables as per the priorities of your key stakeholders. You should ideally not be working on things which are completely tangential. Understanding the stakeholder matrix might take time, but time spent in this area can reap dividends in the long run.
A lot of professionals would be going through a career transition phase right now, in the Covid times; hope this serves as a guide for all of them!
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