The Truth About Navigating a Career Transition

By Gala Jackson

When I work with people to help them navigate a career transition, I spend quite a bit of time helping them become aware of the reasons they’re looking to pivot. Believe it or not, my clients rarely want to go through the tedious job search process just for more money. We usually discover that there’s a deeper reason why they want to leave.

An illustration of a winding road with a green sign that says 'career transition ahead.'

The average American changes jobs 12 or 13 times between the ages of 18 and 52. Of course, they do it for many different reasons. The research shows that often, people rarely leave jobs; instead, they leave managers and leadership. That’s a valid reason for making a move — but I’ve observed that it can also get in the way of exploring what you truly want from a change.

As you start your next job search, do these six things. They’ll help you think through your career transition comprehensively, uncover the deeper reasons for your move, and effectively search for the right new job so that a few months into it, you aren’t feeling the same way you feel right now.

1. Ask yourself the tough questions

Why do you want to change jobs or career paths? What work do you want to do? What skills and strengths do you have that are underused in your current role? What qualities do you wish your manager had? How do you want to grow as a professional?

Take time to inventory what is and isn’t working in your career right now. Whatever issues you don’t address as you make this transition will pop up again in your next role, so it’s worth making space to deeply reflect on what is most important to you — everything from the day-to-day work you do to who supervises you and their leadership style.

This involves exploring your values: What’s most important to you in life, not just at work? It can help to imagine the strongest, boldest, most courageous version of yourself and ask, “What would this version of me be doing if nothing was in the way?” Knowing what you value most can help you explore new directions and push past whatever’s been holding you back.

Once you’ve explored your values, take inventory of the value you bring. Good questions here include: What have you loved doing in your past jobs? Which tasks? Which experiences? What have you been really good at? What did you get positive feedback about? This will help you widen your perspective so you’re open to opportunities you may not have thought about before.

And finally, what’s important to you in your work environment? Do you work better as more of a self-starter or with clearly delineated expectations and feedback? What makes you excited to work with a company? What is the most and least satisfying part of a workday for you? What benefits will you need?

2. Create a checklist for your new role

Take the information you gathered from your time of reflection. With it, you’ll create a checklist to help you evaluate the new role you’ll be seeking.

List out all the things that you’ve identified as important to you about companies you want to work for, roles you’ll be looking for, the workday you’re seeking, and the benefits you’ll need. Now, it’s time to rank them against each other. Maybe you feel drawn to work for a mission-driven company but don’t care as much about its size. Maybe you’d be cool with a commute for the right opportunity to really grow in a role. Maybe you value decision-making responsibilities in your workday, but don’t rank creativity as highly. Maybe you’re interested in a particular benefit and would be willing to rank salary a little lower if you could find it.

Once you’ve done that ranking, you’ll be confident you’re searching for the right things and can ask the right questions.

3. Search your network, not job titles

Far too often, we start our transition searching for titles — but as I’m sure you probably know by now, searching by job title is frustrating at best. Job titles can be so vague. They often don’t accurately reflect the work you’ll actually be doing in the job, and they can be almost impossible to decipher in terms of salary and compensation.

When the people I work with start a career transition, I ask them if they’re open to job searching in a different way, one that will produce results significantly faster. Of course, they’re eager to learn more, but roll their eyes when I say it involves networking. I laugh at their unique reactions but absolutely empathize with their agony.

Networking gets a bad rap, and I understand why. It feels so transactional, and it’s often seen as insincere. But real networking — successful networking — is about building relationships with others. The trick to networking is to make it a mutually beneficial relationship. You just might be the link that can help someone land their job. Consider how you can support others while you’re seeking out resources and details. I recommend our networking email course, available free to all Ellevest members.

4. Tap into the hidden job market

You may have heard of the hidden job market — those positions that aren’t online and are usually filled before the general public even knows there’s an opening. You gain access to that information and those resources through networking: building authentic relationships and nurturing existing relationships.

As you’re tapping into your network, talk about your strengths, skills, and how you’ve added value to previous employers instead of asking for a title. Talk about why you want to work for the company or a specific type of company. It’s expensive to hire new talent, so recruiters and hiring managers are interested in getting to know you as a person in addition to getting a sense of your skills. Let them know why you, in particular, are an excellent employee and not just the right candidate for a specific job. This is also a good approach for internal connections you have at a company — again, you’re seeking them out to build relationships, not just to ask for a job.

Far too many job seekers never tap into the hidden job market because they present only one option when they’re networking. When that option isn’t available, the conversation ends. But it doesn’t have to if you focus on your strengths, skills, experience, and personality while asking more open-ended questions — like “Where could you see my skill set best used within your organization?” The answer might surprise you! That kind of question will help them keep you in mind when new opportunities pop up in the pipeline, rather than considering you for only one specific position.

5. Get referrals for online applications

The research shows that up to 80% of landing a new job is the result of networking, which basically means you can assume that the application you submitted did in fact go into a vortex. But there’s something you can do about it: Get a referral for every job application you submit. 36% of recruiters focus on referrals, and since many companies reward their employees when they hire through a recommendation, it can be a win-win. It’s important to also mention that 40% focus on LinkedIn as a method for sourcing talent. So tap into your network — former coworkers, industry professionals, friends, and family — and make sure you update your LinkedIn profile.

6. Create process goals instead of outcome goals

Last, set specific goals for your transition. One nugget of wisdom that changed my life and the way I view goal setting: Create process goals instead of outcome goals. I heard this at the Career Thought Leaders conference I attended a couple of years ago, and I share it with my clients all the time now.

Creating process goals instead of outcome goals requires you to focus on goals that are within your locus of control. A common goal when you’re searching for a job is, “I want to be in a new role within three months.” While that’s a reasonable goal, it’s ultimately outside of your control. (If you could control giving yourself a new job, I bet you wouldn’t be reading this article right now.) A better goal, a process goal, would be, “I will dedicate 45 minutes to my job search every day for the next 90 days.” That particular goal is something you can control — and as a bonus, you’ll cultivate healthy habits along the way.

To make your process goal even more specific, identify what you’ll do each day for 45 minutes that contributes to your job search and transition. (Hint: The first five steps I just outlined are a really good place to start.)

See a throughline in each of these six pieces of advice? They’re all about pivoting your mindset, not just the roles you’re looking for. If you can do that — and attach goals to each one — you’re much more likely to navigate your career transition into a role and company that will provide you deep satisfaction.


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Gala Jackson

Gala Jackson is Ellevest’s lead executive career coach and a director of coaching. She is passionate about helping women+ advance in their careers with clarity, courage, and confidence. Learn more about Gala here.