Navigating Your Future! Ten Best Practices for a Successful Career Transition

May 17, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-careertransition

At some point in our personal career journey we will all be faced with the need to move on from our current role to seek out and secure a new job in the external market. Whatever the reason for this decision, enacting the process of a career transition can be a challenging and daunting project in equal measure.

It is not something that most of us choose to do very often in our careers, so we may not feel fully enable and equipped to take on this challenge particularly if we have been in our current role and/or the organisation for a numebr of years.

Recruitment markets around the world are becoming tougher to navigate for individual job seekers. With too many busy search firms often unresponsive to direct approaches from aspiring job seekers and too many recruiters treating candidates impersonally and as cannon fodder for filling job short-lists, seeking out and applying for jobs can too often feel like an unfulfilling grind invariably involving a lot of hard work, little acknowledgement and very slow progress. 

But let us not get too despondent! There are many positive ways that individuals’ can take better control of their career transition process without being solely reliant upon the vagaries of others.

So what then is the ‘magic sauce’ for successfully navigating this journey?

Well these are the ten practices that I see the most successful job seekers do most often to move on in their careers…

1. What Do You Really, Really Want Next and Why? 

Asking this fundamental question is an absolute imperative in seeking out and securing a new role. If you cannot answer this for yourself, then it will be extremely hard to project this clearly to search-firms, recruiters, network contacts and employers who may have suitable opportunities for you. Perhaps you are already clear about this but quite often I discover that individuals are in a quandary when responding to this question with responses such as:

“I want more of the same in my current professional field but just in a bigger job, in a better organisation with more rewards & recognition and scope for growth”

Successful job winners not only think a lot about this fundamental question but they often turn to other close colleagues, friends or perhaps an experienced coach to help them formulate and focus on concrete options for what next.

Early clarity in this area will make the transition journey so much smoother as you move into action.

2.Define Your Distinctive Career DNA

Before projecting themselves into the jobs market, successful job seekers will invariably spend good quality time being very clear about what elements make up their unique and distinctive career DNA, addressing important questions in three critical areas:

  • What are my distinctive capabilities? i.e. what are the professional, technical, leadership and personal skills and capabilities that I have accumulated in my career to date that are likely to be in demand by others as a basis for future employment.
  • What are my preferences? i.e. of all the things that I am capable of doing from a career perspective, what are my strong preferences that should dictate what I actually choose to do next? Preferences are often wide-ranging and can include the nature of the work you most like to do, the environment, location and culture of the organisation where you would most like to work, your needs and considerations on work-life balance and your desire or otherwise to contribute to an enterprise who’s aims those go beyond just commercial outcomes and who seek to make a distinctive contribution to wider societal progress.
  • What are my success stories i.e. what are the most significant examples in my career to date that best illustrate my impact, contribution, ways of working and overall performance. These success stories are the golden nuggets of standing-out in any career transition process – they define you professionally in a way more general descriptions cannot.

All of which leads neatly to the next important career transition best practice.

3. Develop Your Career Narrative
Defining closely your career DNA is of little value unless you can credibly build and communicate an effective career narrative that conveys succinctly but impactfully what you are about and what you might be looking for as your next career chapter. Serial job seekers have a well thought through core narrative (probably with shorter and longer variations) for use when reaching out to others to seek new opportunities. A powerful narrative is expressed typically in two distinctive and obvious forms:

Your Written Narrative – essentially the key written components of your narrative are:

  • A well-written and presented CV that summarises your career to date, highlights briefly the jobs and experiences you have had but most importantly focuses on your career achievements.
  • Your LinkedIn Profile – now an essential part of your career narrative. This should  regarded as a living CV i.e. not only capturing your current and past roles but also covering recommendations and endorsements from others and most importantly including your commentary and likes on the posts of others and/or your own posts on interesting topical issues in you own field of experience and expertise that demonstrates elements of your distinctive thought-leadership.
  • Other Written Elements – high quality succinct cover letters for each role applied for, any presentational material required at interviews and a well-presented additional portfolio of projects/achievements to add depth to your CV if required.

There is much already written and available on-line about how to write CV’s and make best use of LinkedIn to support an effective career transition (maybe the topic of a separate, future article). There is no doubt that these written elements are very important entry tickets for the game of seeking out and securing a new career role however arguably of more importance is your …

Verbal Narrative – being able to describe your career to date and your aspirations briefly, clearly and with impact is absolutely critical in attracting and sustaining the interest of others in assessing your suitability as a potential candidate for any available roles. Your verbal narrative will invariably be driven by the initial open-ended questions from a search consultant, recruiter, network contact or a potential employer. Successful job seekers will typically prepare and develop brief and impactful answers (no more that 3 to 4 minutes) to the following common trigger questions:

  • “Tell me more about yourself and how you have reached this point in your career?”
  • “Why have you chosen now to move on from your current employer?”
  • “ What are you looking for as your next career role and why?”
  • “What do you most have to offer any new employer that might stand you apart from other candidates?” or if the discussion involves a specific job opportunity “What skills and experiences do you have that leads you to think that you are a particularly good fit for this role?”

The very best career transition role models will have well prepared and rehearsed responses and statements that impactfully capture the essence of their career narrative. You can be sure these big open questions will feature in almost every networking discussion or interview process so why not make sure you response are well rehearsed, brief and impactful.

4. Tell Your Stories

As alluded to earlier, every individual I have ever met who has been really successful in managing their career transitions has mastered the art of telling powerful success stories about themselves and their achievements. The discipline this requires is two-fold i.e.:

  • Selecting your success stories – look back over your career to date and highlight  those examples that stand out as milestone events in your career and that best illustrate your capabilities in action. The more recent your stories the better – recruiters and employers really want to understand the actual impact you have had in your most recent roles. You also need to develop a good range of stories so you can select those that are most relevant to a particular job role or illustrate a particular competence e.g. leadership, project management, stakeholder management etc.
  • Telling you stories – many individuals make the mistake of over-talking and over-elaborating their success stories. The aim is to be brief but impactful giving examples of your successful achievements using a disciplined approach such as this simple BAR method for personal story telling:
    • The Background – briefly (1 min), what was the scale and nature of the problem or challenge that faced you for which you had to find a solution? 
    • Action – (say 2 to 3 mins) what actions did you take to respond to the challenge and how did you go about solving the problem? 
    • Result – briefly (1 min) what were the results attributable to your actions both quantitative (e.g. reduced costs. Increased revenues etc) or qualitative (great feedback, led to more challenging projects etc)

In telling your success stories, it is really important not only to be crisp and focused in your content but also overtly show your pride, conviction and satisfaction in your achievements. If you are about to embark on a career transition ask yourself “How could I improve the way I tell my success stories?”

5. Getting On the Recruitment Radar 

Projecting yourself really well to others is course a fundamental determinant of your success but getting noticed in a search for a new role is not something that will happen by way of hapchance or good fortune. To be effective this needs to be a highly purposeful and structured process to raise your head above the parapet and seek to stand out in the multi-layered, technology enabled communications world of the 21st century. We will deal with the vital role of networking in this process in our next best practice (see below). However there are some fundamental basics that all potential job seekers should do to attract attention to themselves and their job search:

  • Search Firm and Recruitment Agents Registration – make sure that your details (including your CV) are registered on the candidate systems of major search firms and recruiters (global and local). As a very minimum then, should a job opportunity be placed with these firms, there is a very good chance that your details will pop-up as a potential candidate for any new role where you meet the initial criteria.
  • On-Line Job Search Alerts and Applications – select the most powerful and comprehensive on-line sites where jobs are regularly posted and updated (e.g.LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, Google Jobs) and set your filters so that these sites notify you when new jobs matching your criteria are first posted.
  • And of course …

6. Network Like Crazy

Self-evidently, your contact network and that of others close to you is a vital source of information and influence in seeking out new job opportunities.  However, many of us are quite passive about our networks until we have some compelling reason to use it. Seeking out a new career role is just one of those very compelling reasons.

Successful job hunters observably are unrelentingly rigorous and disciplined about networking when looking for new job opportunities. A common process used by many looks like this :

  • Go back thoroughly over the various chapters of your career (collage, jobs, projects, assignments etc)  and for each career chapter ask yourself some critical questions i.e. who did I value in this period of my life, who valued me and most importantly am I still in touch or connected with these individuals now? We can easily forget people from our past as time and events slip by, so push yourself hard to go back over your  current and previous career chapters to find even more lost connections!
  • Prioritise these resulting contacts based upon who might now be in a very good position to heelp you in your search for a new role. Remember, just as you have moved on from your early years, your past contacts will have done so too and may be in a great place to help you out in your search.
  • Once have completed the preparation and priortisation exercise, start to reach out to your priority contacts and gently let them know you are looking for something new and seek their advice. If they are well disposed to you they will rarely tell you to go away and are more likely to either suggest some options for you or (often of most value) recommend and introduce you to someone from their network who can help you.

The magic of systematic networking is it gives a quick and powerful way of enacting many new conversations about potential opportunities that might never be openly advertised or in the hands of search firms. 

And of course don’t neglect other vital aspects of networking i.e. :

  • Do attend important network events where organisations and individuals in your field of interest are gathered and do your very best to engage and exchange contact information with as many people as possible for later follow up.
  • Most importantly, target and reach out to search firms and recruitment consultants who are most likely to hold mandates for the types of jobs you are looking for. If you are not previously connected to any recruiters, seek recommendations from friends and close colleagues who have had a good experience with different firms and individual search consultants (N.B without recommendations and introductions to recruiters you may find it difficult to access them via a cold approach for an introductory conversation).
  • Always follow through on any initial promising dialogues with network contacts. By definition, many valued networks contacts will be busy so you may need to be gently persistent in turning “of interest” conversations into something more meaningful.
  • Use social media platforms like LinkedIn to expand your network and showcase your expertise. Join relevant groups, participate in discussions, and share valuable insights to establish your online presence that will get you noticed.

On a final note, for many, reaching out to network contacts for help to find a new job can feel very uncomfortable. Of course you don’t want to appear to be desperate or over-pushy, but it is one of those professional moments where fortune invariably favours the brave. So do not be shy or reticent about seeking out the help of others in your job search. In my experience and observing others who do it vigorously, networking invariably leads to the discovery of some of the most interesting and often unexpected opportunities.

7. Patience and Persistence 

Seeking out a new role can often be frustrating, time- consuming and take an over lengthy time to make a breakthrough. So as a job seeker in transition, it is essential to build a level of persistence and patience to keep going and not be daunted by rejections or lack of feedback.

Talk yourself into the realisation that finding the right opportunity for you may take time, and setbacks are a natural part of the process. Cultivate a mindset of resilience and stay motivated through the ups and downs of your job search. If getting frustrated, avoid the temptation of accepting the first job that comes along versus taking longer to uncover a job opportunity that might be a much better fit for you. Persuade yourself that the additional time to find the right next job for you is a much better outcome than settling for second best.

And to help with this, develop a strong process and system for that keeps you organised and focused in tracking applications, following-up leads, and absorbing feedback received. Reflect on each experience to learn and improve your approach for future job pursuits.

8. Perfect Preparation

This best practice is a shortly stated but endlessly powerful in ensuring a successful career transition.

Implicitly and explicitly in all the best practices cited so far, is the need to ensure at every stage and with every dialogue, that you are well prepared in terms of your career narrative, your responses to anticipated questions, the outcomes you want from each dialogue and what follow-up plan you will follow. Keep a good record of key conversations. Also actively use your dialogues to seek feedback on your CV and other aspects of your career narrative so you can improve these elements in preparation for next time. 

Commanding and purposeful job seekers are invariably always excellent at preparing for every interaction and in their preparation they leave as little to chance as possible. 

9. Ace Your Interviews

No more is your preparation so vitally important as when you come to the job interview (s) stage of your transition. There is nothing worse than being told you are on the shortlist for a job that you really want only to discover that because you didn’t give of your best at the final interview, you end up coming second. Thorough interview preparation is all about giving yourself the best chance of success and ensuring that you stand out vs other candidates. 

To outline all the successful practices of outstanding interview performance would really require a whole separate article. However in summary, these are what serial job winners typicall do to perform credibly and distinctively at interview and maximise their chances of securing the job: 

  • Prepare very thoroughly but, most significantly, they don’t prepare alone.
  • Work with a coach, colleague or friend to discuss and role play (more than once) the interview process and address potential difficult questions and gain valuable feedback.
  • Learn how to respond to key interview questions with focus, impact and brevity – in an hour long interview if you spend 7 minutes answering the first question you risk frustrating the interviewer who will have plenty more questions to ask
  • Focus on both content i.e. what you say in response to open questions or request for examples and behaviours i.e. how to use mannerisms, tone & pace of voice, body movement, hand animations, eye contact etc to create a highly positive and credible impression of you (always remember at a short-list interview stage you are being assessed not just for your competence to do the job but also for your personal fit with the immediate team or the wider organisation.)
  • Fully assess the precise requirements of the job so you can use your success stories to very deliberately show how the job is right for you.
  • Research the organisation  for any news, developments, successes, performance data that is readily available in the public domain 
  • Research the background of the individuals who are interviewing you – know your audience. What do have in common? Who do you have in common in your network? What other information can you glean about the indivduals from others who know them?
  • Be succinct and bold about what you would bring to the job and add a new dimension to the organisation and …
  • Of course prepare some intelligent, perceptive questions to ask that not only give you very valuable information but illustrate your preparation, thoughtfulness and keenness for the organisation.

10.Develop Clear Criteria for Making a Job Decision

Successful job seekers spend a lot of time preparing clear criteria for helping them decide between different job offers. When faced with a job offer or several competing offers make sure you are clear on your criteria for accepting or rejecting an offer. Decide earlier on which of your criteria are non-negotiable and where are you prepared to compromise to secure a new role that ticks most of the boxes.

Factors that might influence your final decision about accepting a job offer or not are likely to include your values, career goals, and work preferences alongside compensation, work-life balance, future growth opportunities, company culture, and the overall challenge presented by the job. 

In this final situation, successful job seekers often seek advice from trusted friends, mentors or career coaches to weigh-up the pros and cons of each job offer very objectively before making a final decision.

Always remember that for the stages leading up to a job offer, you are seeking to influence a favourable outcome but you are not ultimately in control of this. However once an offer is made the control is handed to you to make a decision. This is where your criteria become super important in guiding you and if appropriate allow to push back and/or negotiate on some important terms. And in the final analysis if the job offered is really not right for you, do not be afraid to walk away.

Bonus Tip: Be Bold and Confident Throughout

And as a final best practice in navigating a career transition, make sure that you are bold and confident throughout.  Do not hold back or be shy in promoting yourself to others. Successful job seekers never under-state their capabilities, the importance of their preferences and their career achievements. Constantly remind yourself about all the positive things you have so far done in your career that make you proud. This will also help you to avoid settling for second best in deciding on any final role. 

Successful job winners, stay optimistic about securing a really excellent next job, they deal with uncertainty and view setbacks as learning opportunities for personal and professional growth. So believe in yourself and your abilities and stay committed to pursuing roles that excite and challenge you.

These best practices are of cause not fully exhaustive. In this context, it would be great to learn from readers about their own experiences of what has worked well from them in executing a successful career transition. There are undoubtedly many varied ways to achieve the same objective. 

Editor’s Note: The HR Observer is mostly read by practicing HR professionals, however, The HR Observer aims to cater to the HR community, including University graduates. Feel free to get in touch with our editorial team for any further information or feedback.

Tim Chapman

Managing Director, Brosna Career Consulting Ltd

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