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Achieving Effective Career Transitions

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In a time of drastic change it is the learner who will inherit the future.” – Eric Hoffer

Author Byline: Frank B. Leibold, PhD.

Today new job entrants will have over 10-12 jobs and five-seven distinct careers. This new “boundaryless” career with a “protean” orientation places the primary responsibility for career management on the employee not the company. These factors will require all employees to more effectively manage their career transitions while developing the required competencies needed for success. Here are several suggestions:

1. Career changes are the norm today!

—So expect them, prepare for them by developing the lifelong transferable competencies (LTCs) required for success in the new knowledge economy.

2. Career changes are occurring later in one’s life and often involve a move from a larger company to a smaller one and perhaps even a new occupation. If you were downsized like displaced textile workers in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina you should be trained for the new knowledge economy. And the Census Bureau just reported 35 percent of seniors over 65 have been forced back to work to meet their basic needs.

— You have to take charge of your own career and acquire the needed training and/or education that will provide you with the skill-sets that will allow you to achieve smooth career transitions even at an advanced age.

3. Research on recent college graduates finds that many react negatively to early experiences in the workplace by becoming defensive about their abilities. Because they shun feedback in the aftermath of a setback at work they have trouble adapting their outlook and habits to help them succeed.
— You should request early feedback, both positive and negative, and then seek training or additional education to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Richard Bolles’ book, What Color Is Your Parachute, and Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors are the best and most used guides for new graduates.

4. For those in the workforce your ability to accept personal responsibility for work outcomes and to thrive under individual scrutiny improves your chances of successfully making a transition from working for a traditional large company to a job at a small firm or as a consultant. I can personally attest to this in my career transitions from Corning Incorporated to starting my own small consulting company and finally becoming a college professor.

— If you move to a smaller company expect that you will be doing more things with fewer resources
so your adaptability skills and tolerance for ambiguity are important. Seek out a mentor who can help
you with the transition. Also concentrate on your abilities to do the job not the new unfamiliar
environment for it will become familiar and always stress a positive mental attitude.

5. Career analysts find that most of mid-career professionals believe chance has played a significant role in their ultimate career path and that they highly value staying open for unexpected opportunities. People who rate themselves as intelligent have a higher need for change in their professional world. They regularly see possibilities and opportunities around them but must be wary of allowing boredom to encourage them to seek change just for the sake of change.

— There are two important messages here: don’t discount an opportunity because it’s in a different function or occupation—compare your competencies with what’s required before you dismiss it—and never take a new job just for the sake of change! I have interviewed for new jobs and although I didn’t accept them I always felt better for being considered…and who knows it might be a good fit.

6. Efforts at self-change characterized by an unrealistically high payoff in an unrealistically short time actually reduce satisfaction with your life.

— Make sure your career expectations are realistic and if you decide to make a change follow through on it after discussing it with a trusted and candid friend and your family. Imagine new challenges as opportunities, not as obstacles, and make sure your expectations have a “reality” check.

7. Further research on employees who experienced layoffs that had nothing to do with their performance found that flexibility, a willingness to try new tasks and learn new skills, was the single best predictor of how long people stayed unemployed—especially important with today’s over nine million people out of work and six job seekers for every available job.

— If you are confident in your abilities decide what you would really like to do and seize the opportunity but make sure you are being motivated for the right reasons! For example if status and perks are what you are really seeking they can quickly become drowned in a sea of managerial responsibilities and tough decisions. I have seen too many accept their first managerial job, which they soon become weary of, and long for their previous individual contributor status only to feel trapped and miserable with their decision.

8. Nearly everyone feels some anxiety when starting a new job. However people who focus their attention on their identity rather than their uncertain surroundings feel less stress and report becoming comfortable in their new position in half as much time. Those managers should adeptly assess their staff’s abilities.

— If you do make a change focus on the confidence of your ability to do the job and the surroundings will become more familiar over time. And some anxiety is normal! Quickly make an assessment of your organization’s talent—weaknesses and strengths—and make any changes required for you’ll find that there is no substitute for an outstanding staff—it makes your job a lot easier. I always found that great managers have enough confidence in their abilities to surround themselves with people with potential abilities that are better than theirs.

9. If you are contemplating a change take an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses as well as your skills. Then think about what you would really like to do—a passion for your work will increase your odds of success and overall satisfaction and happiness. Then develop transferable skills that will allow for a more confident transition from one career to another and from one function, occupation or industry to another.

— In order to do this effectively you should understand what your “career anchor” is. For example, are you more interested in things or people? MIT Professor Edgar Schein’s lifetime of research on careers has shown that we are all motivated by a single “career anchor.” There are seven such anchors (see Schein’s book: Career Anchors). Ask yourself the question: What would I really like to do? If it’s realistic start to prepare for your passion.

10. You should also understand how a career change will affect your relationship with your spouse and children. In order for you to perform at 100 percent you need to have a satisfying family life- many people don’t consider this. There is nothing worse than going to a job everyday with an unhappy family.

— Life is too short so take control of yours! But make sure you and your family understand the implications. For example leaving Corning Incorporated after 20 years to start a new company was a family decision for me. You’ll need their support!

Author Bio: Frank Leibold after a distinguished 30-year business career with three multinational corporations and nine jobs-culminating in the position of Group President-re-tooled himself and obtained his PhD.. Frank then became a nationally recognized university professor of marketing while founding his own global management consulting company. He and his wife reside in South Carolina and spend time traveling to visit and spoil their nine grand-children–two in Australia. His new book: The Key To Job Success In Any Career will be published in October 2010

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