7 Steps to Career Transition

I meet a lot of people that don’t feel passion for what they do, aren’t challenged, want to do work that serves a greater purpose, or feels a strong pull to a particular calling.

The question they have in common: How do I get from here, to there?

The good news: It’s not as difficult to transition your career as you might think if you have a plan.

The slightly-less-good news: It takes some time. Most people don’t transition their careers overnight.

First, I’ll tell you about my own transition from a .NET software developer to a Career Coach.

My transition took four years to execute, but now I love my job and do what I am most passionate about; helping people meet their career goals.

Let me take you back to 1994. My mother started an executive coaching firm and I was her guinea pig for various assessments: DISC and the MBTI, to start; followed later by StrengthsFinder and WorkPlace Big Five.

She explained how my personality could motivate, inspire, and influence people. I was captivated and utterly fascinated by her ability to explain my motivations and fears, how I could get the most out of my natural tendencies, and what my potential barriers to effectiveness were.

Watching her perform lit a fire in me. I wanted her job. I wanted to know how people tick and to help them understand themselves the way she helped me.

But, there was a problem: I was twenty-three.

I didn’t know much back then, but I did know that no one was going to pay a twenty-three-year-old to coach them. I was just a hop, skip, and a jump past childhood.

For a while, I let the idea of coaching go and pursue a career in IT. However, the desire to coach never left me.

In 2004, I began introducing my co-workers to StrengthsFinder. By 2009, I was facilitating workshops and debriefs at work. After I became an Operations Manager, I started doing team builders and coaching engagements with some of my direct reports.

Fast-forward to late 2011. I decided to try to join the Learning & Development team at work, which would give me more opportunity to coach people. The problem was I had no formal L&D leadership experience, and there were no open positions. Details.

I contacted the VP of the department and asked her to be my mentor. She agreed. Around the same time, I contacted an L&D manager and volunteered to facilitate a customer service training class, receiving top scores on the participant evaluations.

When a position opened up, I had already been volunteering and building relationships with team members. I interviewed for the job and beat out candidates that had years of experience leading an L&D department. I had passion, credibility, and established relationships in my corner.

In 2012, I became certified in 360 feedback tools and other coaching instruments. I was taking on mentees in my organization and it was soon recognized that the people I mentored got promoted.

Around the same time, I started serving as a volunteer career mentor at my church. I mentored and coached hundreds of people in the evenings and weekends on a volunteer basis and continued to hone my craft.

.NET software developer to Career Coach is a pretty dramatic leap, so I’m confident you can jump the gap, too.

The best advice I have for transitioning your career is to focus your effort and energy. Your resources are finite, so you must ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to take on moving me toward my long-term goal, or is it diluting my energy?” It’s OK to say no to things that don’t align with your goal.

In reviewing my transition story, here’s a breakdown of 7 actionable steps:

  1. Find a mentor that does work you want to do. Learn from them. Ask them to recommend books and resources, skills to develop, organizations to volunteer with. Ask them to share the path they took to get where they are.
  2. Ask around and identify organizations that allow you to gain experience through volunteer work. A woman that works for me really enjoys editing, so she currently volunteers as editor for a non-profit newsletter.
  3. Get involved in extracurricular activities, special projects (at work and in your community) which build relevant skills. When I was in IT I was always looking for growth relevant to my coaching aspiration. I mentored other developers. I got involved in cultural initiatives at work. I used development dollars to obtain coaching certifications and training. I volunteered to coach associates.
  4. Obtain a certification – There are many skills you can gain through certification. My certifications in coaching have been a valuable foundation to build on. If a degree makes more sense and is an option, consider going back to school.
  5. Take Independent Courses – Many training companies and universities offer coursework to help build your knowledge and skill. The more related skills and training you can add to your resume, the better.
  6. Assessments – If you are passionate about moving into a new field, you likely have a strong aptitude for it. Assessments are a great way to provide language to explain that aptitude to others. When people try to pigeon-hole you into roles that match your experience, you can reference your desire to transition your career and explain how your assessment data supports your natural fit for the roles you are targeting. A great place to do this is in a cover letter.
  7. Lastly, you’ll need to convert your resume from a chronological format to a functional format. Chronological resumes list all roles chronologically, most recent to oldest, followed by education.

Following is an example of a functional resume for a graphic artist that wants to become a teacher.

First, they list all their transferable and somewhat useful skills relative to teaching.

Next, they include a Related Experience section and list experiences where they’ve gained relevant skills. In this example, the graphic designer was a teaching assistant in college and lists this under Related Experience.

Below Related Experience, they have an Additional Experience section, where they list the graphic design work that they’re trying to move away from, followed by volunteer work they’ve done to gain additional relevant experience. 

Notice the volunteer work, though unpaid, provided relevant teaching and content development experience.

Also, be sure to include anything in your accomplishments that relate to your desired career, even for unrelated jobs. When I was in a technical role, I included coaching successes I had in my key accomplishments on my resume.

The plan will work if you work the plan. Keep calm and stay focused!

This post was written by Kristin Sherry. Kristin is a member of the Crossroads Career Board of Directors. She is the best selling author of YouMap & Your Team Loves Mondays…Right? She joined our board in 2019 and lives with her husband and 4 kids in North Carolina.


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