Opinion: The key to career transition is authenticity

by External16 Mar 2016
Amanda Sheard outlines some essential elements to consider if you're undertaking a career transition.

When Mark decided to wind up his sales and marketing business and go into recruitment he wanted to create a story that underpinned the connection between his past and current role.

He stressed that starting his own business and building it from the ground up was not that different to starting up and running a search desk. A high energy and social person, his marketing consultancy, though successful, had become a lonely place as he was a sole trader.

Mark was looking forward to leveraging old contacts, creating new ones and working within a high energy environment in a larger team. He settled very quickly into his new role and was able to leverage the marketing skills and commercial understanding as a former business owner to great effect. Success in the new role came faster than other new starters in the organisation because of these transferable skills.

The key lesson Mark learnt was making a career transition takes courage and authenticity and involves taking an inventory of the skills that are transferable to create an exciting new beginning. 

Like Mark, you might have made steps towards a new start. Maybe you know what you are going to do next, however it’s not always easy to explain it to others. You might be ditching a corporate career to start up a new business, taking a new role in a different industry or perhaps taking a career sabbatical. 

Whatever the transition, you are likely to draw unwanted comments from colleagues, friends and family. 

Typical responses range from:
  • ‘I didn’t know you were qualified to do that’
  • ‘How can you afford it?’
  • ‘Are you sure you’re suited to that type of work?’
  • ‘Making a career change at your stage could be risky’
  • ‘I hear that industry is going through a downturn’ and on it goes.
Comments like these test our resolve and remind us that not everyone runs with the pack. Whatever you decide to do next, it’s important to consider what your career narrative is; how does being authentic to yourself and your values shape the future threads of your career and life?

When you know yourself well, it becomes easier to point to the values and themes that have shaped, and will continue to shape, your career. 

Lisa had worked in senior HR roles for more than a decade. Originally a psychologist, she had crafted a career which was focused on making a difference to people and organisations. Developing leaders was a particular strength and she was a mentor for many in the organisation.

Though she loved her career, as she took on more senior positions, her working hours and stress increased - often to the point where she felt that she was not able to devote as much time as she would have liked to her family. 

After a number of months travelling overseas and interstate for work and with her last child about to start school, she was finding her schedule punishing.

This realisation led her to decide it was time to take a sabbatical to spend time with the family.

Having always coached and mentored leaders in her organisation to be authentic to themselves, show their vulnerability and stand up for what they value, she found herself faced with the same question. Did she have the courage to follow through and ask for a career break? 

What if she was unable to go back to her role or what if she struggled to get back into the job market as a more mature worker?   

She was able to negotiate a one year career ‘sabbatical’ and potentially return to her old role. The decision was personally liberating and colleagues and associates gained new respect for her as they were able to identify the underlying themes that connected her professional life. 

She was being authentic. Her transition to a sabbatical was successful and her loyalty to her firm is stronger than ever. She is now negotiating a part time return to work at the end of the year.

Once you decide on the transition, it’s vital to think about the value that you will bring to a new role or venture?  

Though you might feel your transition is really about the continued search for meaning and purpose – which it might well be – don’t forget that in the marketplace you have a value proposition to impart.  

In the case of Mark it was his marketing ability, proficiency to network and sociability - all great attributes and skills to bring into a new environment. 

For Lisa, when she returns to the workforce she will have a renewed sense of energy and focus underpinned by years of experience.  

Both Lisa and Mark’s examples illustrate the importance of keeping fresh and agile through your career. Given that you might be in the workforce for 40 plus years, it’s a marathon you are training for, rather than a sprint.  Much like an Olympic athlete, in order to stay vital you will need to regularly recharge and refresh to enjoy peak performance.   

Explaining your career transition in a compelling way, drawing the important connections between your values and self and communicating the unique value you offer are three key ways to focus on attaining great results when reinventing your new direction.

When embarking on your career transition consider the following:

Analysis paralysis:   
Career transitioners can get stuck in overanalysing the right career move. The pressure – often self-inflicted – comes when we consider our transition in it being our calling or true vocation, which can add too much pressure on the decision.  

When Saul quit his job as an architect in his 30s to study robotics the voices of others around the practicality of his choice was exacerbated by his own fears that robotics might ultimately not be his vocational calling. With many of us changing jobs several times in our lives, it’s important to put your choice in perspective. Saul started his studies then switched to IT where he is now happily employed as a program manager. Narrow your transition focus down to two to three areas, then start your targeted research. Remember it’s possible to change course along the way.

It is an iterative process:
People rarely wake up one day ready to reinvent their career overnight. Sometimes the most successful approaches involve making small changes to a current role, taking on a secondment or a stretch assignment, networking with others in the area you are interested in or taking a course to learn new skills. You might make smaller changes role-by-role. Sometimes financial imperatives will dictate the pace at which you can make the changes you desire. 

Ask yourself the right questions: 
Think about what is important to you about your career rather than jumping into what it might be. What sort of environment do you flourish in and what is most energising? What careers were you drawn to when you were growing up and why? Focusing on what nourishes and stimulates you will help you to discover the right direction.

Get professional help: 
A career coach can guide you through to the next stage more effectively than trying to do it on your own. You will have access to tools that will assist in clarifying your career drivers, values and personality style, plus you will get all the support needed on how to present at interviews, how to craft a brilliant CV while being able to research the companies, courses and vocations that you are looking for to make the right move. You will also obtain advice and help on negotiation, interview techniques and much more.

The importance of self-belief: 
Visualise yourself in the new space and you will find that feeling you are already there can be very powerful. It’s sometimes hard to shake off the old ‘you’ – especially if you have had a career for a long time and associate yourself closely with your work. Don’t let the naysayers win. Often others are so used to your career that they find change challenging.  In this instance remember that other people’s opinion are none of your business! This is your transition and it’s unique to you.

Network, network and network:
If you think you want to work in a new profession or role, start by having a coffee with those who do currently do this type of work. What does a day in their life actually entail? You might find that this makes or breaks your decision to retrain or transition before you go to all the effort. If you decide you really want to make a change, start widening your network of people who can help.
About the author
Former journalist Amanda Sheard is a great example of how careers no longer follow a linear path. Straight out of University, Amanda worked as a journalist for many leading media outlets. However, her true passion was in helping people reach their full potential in their career. Not to be deterred by people who encouraged her to stay in her chosen profession, she decided to re-educate herself and move into career and talent management. Today, she is one of Australia’s multi-faceted business leaders and is the NSW General Manager for Davidson Consulting & HR Solutions. Amanda brings her combined expertise in marketing and communications with organisational and learning and development, consulting and leadership advisory to her role as General Manager in NSW.