First Steps for a Career Transition

So it’s time to figure out the next step in your career. Where the heck do you start?! It can be daunting or overwhelming to figure out what comes next and tackle a job search. 

What should I do first?
Who should I talk to?
How do I find opportunities?
What resources should I use?
What should I tell people?

We get these questions all the time, so we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide for navigating a career transition.
 

Step 1: Understand why it’s time for a change

You’re not happy. Or you’re bored. Or you’re just not inspired by your work. It happens to all of us at some point. The first step is to really understand why you want to move on.

Only when you understand where the pain point is, can you figure out how to solve for it. If it’s the role, you can explore other roles in your industry or company. If it’s the company, you might look to transition into a different one. If it’s the industry, then you know you want to explore other fields.

Ask yourself: Am I unhappy because I’ve outgrown my position and it’s not interesting anymore? Am I just unhappy with the company culture (and what does culture mean in my current situation)? Do I like my day-to-day work but dislike my boss? Where’s the frustration specifically?
 

Step 2: Identify your type of Transition

No job search is alike, and knowing what kind of search you need to do is a critical piece of the puzzle.

The clearer you are on what you want, the easier you can jump into revising your resume, applying for opportunities and reaching out to your network. How do you know if you’re pretty clear? If you know the type of job and/or the type of organization, and the specific industry you’re interested in, then your transition is clear and targeted.

But for many of us, there comes a point where we’re reevaluating everything. In this type of career change we might be thinking, ‘Maybe this isn’t the type of position I want. Or maybe I want to be in a different industry. What the heck do I even like or feel good at?!'

If this sounds like you, you’re in a second type of job search – exploratory and open. Looking at job postings and applying for positions is not the best place to start. Strategically, your best bet is to do some soul-searching work and clarity finding around your interests, skills, motivations, and vision for what you want your work life to look like in this next chapter. You’ll need to do exploratory work to get to a more clear and targeted place before updating your resume.

Ask yourself: Which kind of job search am I going to be doing – clear and targeted, or exploratory and open? How clear am I on what I want to do next? Do I know the type of role? The type of organization? The industry? Which parts are clear, which are fuzzy?
 

Step 3: Put together a plan & resources

If you know what you’re looking for, your next step is to put together a plan to target places you're interested in working, or types of positions that are of interest. Start with these steps:

  • Look at lots of job boards to get ideas for positions and organizations that fit your interests. Not sure which job boards to check out? Start here.
  • Compile a spreadsheet to track job postings, applications and people you want to talk with.
  • Reach out to your mentors and close professional network to tell them what you’re interested in specifically, and ask for their feedback and advice.
  • Download this handy Job Search Training Calendar. Job searching can be like training for a marathon - this calendar is chocked full of steps and ideas for how to build up your search. 

If you’re conducting the broader exploratory search, you’ll be reflecting deeply on what comes next. In that case, your plan of attack might involve the following:

  • Search Eventbrite, MeetUp, associations, membership groups and networking organizations that might have events you can attend to learn about different industries, companies, and other career development topics.
  • Research your alma mater's career resources that might be available to you.
  • Talk to 5-10 professional contacts about where you are in your career and what you’re trying to figure out – often people who have worked with you in the past are the a great source of information, and can give you a helpful perspective on where you can excel given your skills and interests.
  • Look into career exploration programs in your area. If you’re in New York, check out some of our programs like our Life Design Series or Career Mapping Workshops.
  • Explore working with a career coach who can guide you and help you uncover the answers you’re looking for. For more on working with a career coach, start here.
  • Read career blogs like The Muse, Career Contessa, Idealist Careers and others for advice and other resources. We've got some additional career reset tips here too.
  • It's always best to start with what works right now. Identify your Bright Spots and go from there. 

Ask yourself: What resources do I have that will help me find my next opportunity? What’s my timeline? Who are my go-to people in my network who can and will help me? What webinars, workshops, blogs and organizations can help me figure this out?
 

Step 4: Clarify your unique value proposition

Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for in your next position, you should know why someone should hire you and what value you bring to the workplace.

Start with really unpacking what your strengths are and your major accomplishments. Maybe you know your value lies in being able to deliver high quality marketing campaigns for products and services through your analytical and communication skills. Maybe you know your talents allow you to connect with managers and help them further develop their skills and cultivate high performance team through your various relationship-building skills.

Whatever it is that you do, think about the special skills, talents and results you bring to your next position.

Ask yourself: What accomplishments really show my value that tie directly to the talents and skills I have as a professional? How can I communicate these in a minute or less to others to help them identify potential opportunities that I might be a good fit for?
 

 Step 5: Prep for the ‘What are you looking to do next?’ question

What kind of position are you looking for?’ is probably the most common question you’re going to get if you tell people you’re looking for a new position. Being able to communicate what you’re looking for clearly and succinctly is so important. In all the work I’ve done with professionals to help them identify and find their next position, this is always the most overlooked piece, and one of the most important. 

If you feel fairly confident about what you want your next career move to be, this shouldn’t be that difficult to answer. But preparation is key. Practice what you’ll say if a friend, acquaintance, or someone you’ve never met asks you (your answer might be different for different audiences.)

Still exploring your options? It’s still possible to craft an answer to this question. You can always say, “I’m doing a lot of career exploration at the moment. What I do know is that I am really good at x and y, so I’m looking for positions or organizations that would allow my to use those skills.

Ask yourself: What’s my answer when someone asks me “What are you looking to do next?” Do I have a few different versions for different types of connections, and can I communicate it authentically and easily?
 

Step 6: Compile your materials

As you’ve guessed by now, updating your resume is not step one. You need to know what you're looking for before you update and tailor your materials to speak to the type of work you want to do.

You’ll want to update your resume, get out the latest cover letter you wrote to create a new template for the future, update your LinkedIn profile, and think through who your professional references will be down the line.

Ask yourself: How do I update my resume and LinkedIn profile to reflect my unique value proposition and what I’m interested in doing next? Who are the people who can speak to my work when it’s time for a reference check?
 

Step 7: Applications & Networking

Looking at job boards everyday probably isn’t the best use of your time and it will likely stress you out. Don’t forget, if a job is posted on Monday, and you don’t see it till the following week, they’re not going to have closed the application window.

If you check job boards once a week, you’ll find the opportunities that might be a good fit without wasting too much time looking through the same postings. Plus, you could be spending all that time talking to friends and contacts about what you’re looking for and probably learn about jobs that aren’t listed on any job board.

Instead of being reactive in your job search by applying to open positions (that everyone else is applying to also!), try proactively talking to organizations and managers who are doing work you’re interested in. That way you’ll hear about opportunities and be first in line when they become visible to everyone else.

Ask yourself: How am I going to structure my job search so that I’m making progress every week and not burning out on looking at job boards online? What places or people do I know that are doing really cool work that I could talk to?
 

Step 8: Stay motivated & pace yourself

Sometimes the right job falls in your lap and the stars align. Other times it can feel like you’ve been in transition forever with no end in sight. Navigating a career change often takes time, effort and perseverance.

You want to build in some milestones to celebrate. Think about others who are going through the same process who you could collaborate and commiserate with on the process. Think of a few special rewards you can give yourself to keep plugging away.

And while we hope that everything goes smoothly, sometimes job search ruts can happen. Sometimes you have to take a step back and embrace the challenge with some new ideas or approaches. For more on embracing the rut, read this

Ask yourself: Who should I plan to go to when I’m struggling who will lift my spirits? What treat can I reward myself with after I’ve completed an application? What mantra can I create to help me keep plugging away when the outcome seems so far away?


There are so many parts of the job search, especially if you're not sure what you're looking for. Got other resources that would be helpful? Drop us a line and share 'em!