Anyone who has made a career transition knows that you think about making it long before you take action. It often starts being increasingly frustrated at work and the frustration doesn’t move away.

I worked with a woman, Hailey, who was a director of marketing in the auto industry, said, “It’s not like it was before. Earlier in my career, I would have great days and bad days. There were always more great days though. The bad days usually had to to with someone else making a bad call or a system crash. But, the next day things would get better. Now it’s not even bad things happening really, I don’t like how it feels to be here anymore. And I’m the boss.”

Hailey had worked her way up from being the receptionist at a dealership to a director’s role by continuously making suggestions. As a receptionist, she offered new ways to handle client calls. As the accounting assistant, she came up with a new way to follow-up on late payments. And when she saw that the dealership ads were not really different, she asked if the dealership would pay for a marketing class she wanted to take. Now, years late, she was thinking about leaving.

Hailey asked me, “I am thinking about leaving this job in the late summer, when should I start the career transition process?”

I said, “You are already in the process, you’ve made a decision to make a change. My advice depends on some more specifics. I have a few questions about your plans that will help me to offer the best advice.”


When to start a career transition and how to career stories


The Five Questions to Ask About When to Start a Career Transition

  1. When do you hope to have a new job?
  2. Are you looking for a similar job or something different?
  3. Do the people in your ideal industry already know you and your value?
  4. Are you looking for a position in the same industry?
  5. Do you plan on landing through your network or by applying for jobs?

The answers to these five career transition questions can help you figure out when to start taking action. If you’re looking to land a job in the same city and sector, you can start 3-6 months before you want to land. If you’re changing sectors, you can start the process 12-18 months before you want to land. (This gives people time to get to know you and your work + help them adapt to seeing you in a new light).

It’s common to not know what you want to do next

Herminia Ibarra, who researches career transitions, found that the #1 reason people kept getting stuck in their career was not about fear, but about not knowing what they want to do next.

If you’re not sure what you want to do next, I suggest finding your career stories. Start with the 7-day Career Stories Challenge

A career transition branding example

If you do know what you want to do next, here’s a story about why you want to take some time with launching the new you.

Imagine that your family doctor decided that she didn’t love the stress of being a doctor anymore and was going to close her office and work as a family photographer instead. If you came into her office and it was a photography studio, how would you feel? And how likely would you be to hire her as a photographer? Probably not likely. You weren’t warned about the change. While she might have been thinking about making a change for years, this is your first time hearing about it.

Now, if she planned on this transition and you noticed that she started to show examples of her photographs in her waiting room and she started a photography blog, you might ask her about it at your next meeting. She would tell you she was thinking about making a move towards being a photographer but would ensure all her patients had referrals to new doctors.  You would start to see her in a new light. If she consistently talked about photography online, you might start to see her as someone who was a doctor, but really wants to be a photographer. You see her as credible at both, and if you were asked if you knew any photographers, you are likely to refer them to her.

The same works for your career story and brand. It takes time for people to adjust to what you say you offer. It takes more than one big announcement to bring your audience along with you. And while a lot of people think their first clients will be outside of their professional network, usually your first clients are people you know. People buy from people they know and trust. 


Want help planning and strategizing your career transition?

Book a call with me to talk about working together to plan your career transition. I help people figure out what story to tell during their career transition and how to launch it intentionally.