April 19, 2021

The career transition cycle: Your path from one job you love to the next

Have you ever thought of all the stars that have to align for the job of your dreams to work out?

It can be overwhelming. Especially as you advance through your career, and applications, interviews and other assessments become increasingly intensive, and connections become more important.

However, like with most things in life, a little planning goes a long way. In fact, an intentional mindset and a thoughtfully curated toolbox has helped many of my clients find their way from the job they have to the work they want.

We’ve discussed the seasonal nature of this process, how you figure out whether it’s time for something new, how to conduct a landscape scan and more. There’s a lot to this, and there should be. This is your life we’re talking about!

Today, I want to share another tool with you. One that is slightly different but extremely useful. I call this framework the Career Transition Cycle.

This lens is useful for looking ahead from one job to the next, and then for mapping your way to that next opportunity, settling in successfully, and – hopefully – finding the happy union you were hoping for.

Happily employed

As we start our trip through the career transition cycle, let’s begin with the place that I hope most of you spend most of your time: In a job that gives you plenty of what matters most to you.

There’s no prescription for what this should look like. You might be happy because you are getting opportunities for growth and exposure. Perhaps you get a lot of satisfaction out of working with a collaborative boss and team. Or maybe you’re relieved to be earning the income you need while having the time you value with friends and family. Whatever your perspective, you’re not looking for a change, because your needs are being met where you are …

Until they aren’t. That’s when it’s time for a look around.

Search targeting

The days of 40 years’ employment with the same company are in the past for most of society. There will inevitably come a time when you want something different, or life forces you to look for something different. You might feel a nagging sense of unfulfillment. You might have a new boss whose style differs dramatically (and painfully) from your own. You could be downsized, you might fall in love with someone on the other side of the globe, or you might have a far-flung family member who needs you nearby.

Whatever the reason, it’s time for a change. And so, you start to look for your next opportunity.

Ideally, this stage allows time for thoughtful consideration. I walk clients through a career analysis, where we blend blue-sky questions (which of the Four E’s of Your Career Evolution do you want out of your next job?) with the limiting parameters (where would you never live in a million years?) Overlay that with key job market information, and you start to solidify your targets.

Sometimes you need to move through this stage quickly, such as when the primary family breadwinner is laid off. But even then, you can zero in on options that will enhance your career. Search targeting is about finding the jobs you want to go after. Then, you move into the really exciting part.


After you have identified your targets, it’s time to do some exploratory outreach. You might speak with a recruiter or connect with a former colleague who is now employed by one of your target institutions. Connections will be followed by refining your CV, submitting materials and then embarking on interview prep and execution.

This can be a lengthy stage, and an overwhelming one. It is also more complicated with a higher number of targets, so consider aiming for 2 to 5, and no more. There’s nothing more nerve-racking than sitting on an offer from an institution you feel so-so about while you are just starting to interview at the destination of your dreams. Do you put all your eggs in that dream basket, or can you keep irons in both fires? And can you do so ethically — being truthful and fair to both? It’s tricky!

As you move toward the offer end of search-to-offer, you will likely have to negotiate, considering the currency you value most as part of your conversation, then communicating this information and your final decision professionally and gracefully bowing out anywhere you are still under consideration.

When you’ve accepted an offer, you move into one of the trickiest stages of all.

Onboarding and offboarding

This stage involves balancing competing demands from your current employer and your next one with integrity. This can be difficult, but if you succeed, you’ll reinforce your reputation with both your current colleagues and your next team.

First, you must manage the message of your departure. How will you tell your supervisor and team you are leaving? The message you share and the way you share it matter.

In addition, take care not to stretch yourself too thin. Your time and energy are critical resources in this in-between time — especially if you are relocating or making some other complicated life change to go along with your career move.

Meanwhile, your new employer surely wants your time and talent now. You may have to set boundaries so you aren’t inappropriately pulled into decisions you shouldn’t yet be making or exercising authority you don’t yet have. Instead, focus on learning what you need to learn and the key people you need to learn it from, bringing an open mind and integrity to the process. The “snowball technique” is one I like for learning a new landscape. It will serve you here and in your next stage of the career transition cycle.

The first 90 days

Congratulations! You’ve made it to your new role, and if you play your first three months right, you will be well on your way to success. Your job now is to augment what you already know with on-the-ground knowledge, forge a strong, collaborative relationship with your supervisor, get to know your colleagues, and prioritize listening to your direct reports. Key informant interviews are helpful here, and I often coach people to ask everyone you interview, “Who else should I be talking to?”

This is a period of more than just meeting-and-greeting. It’s your chance to make good first impressions. It’s also important not to be pulled or pushed into making key decisions too early. Give yourself the grace period of 90 days before you make any decisions you don’t absolutely have to. Learn who you are working with, the culture of the organization and key information about political considerations and power dynamics. That will keep you busy and start you off well.

Your career transition cycle

Hopefully once you have settled into a new job, you find the fit is good and you cycle right back to where we started – happily employed. Of course, sometimes things don’t work out, and if that is the case, you can move back into search targeting.

Most of us go through this process multiple or even many times in our careers. Fortunately, we usually learn something new each time that enhances our career transition cycle the next go-round.

My clients have often said recognizing that there is a pattern and a process is helpful, particularly if they find themselves needing to consider a career move unexpectedly. I hope this description of the cycle is helpful to you, and I’ll be interested to see your comments about it and perhaps about your own career transition experience.

Unlock your potential and align with what matters most to you. 

It’s that simple.

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