Three Steps to a Successful Career Transition

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By Lynn Berger

This essay will focus on three basic steps that will provide you with some of my recommended tools for a smooth career transition. In today’s rapidly changing world, it seems unrealistic to expect to remain in one career throughout your life. Most people have several different careers in their lifetime. Occupational movement is inevitable because of changes in the marketplace, our lifestyles, values and desires. 

So, the question is posed – “How can you achieve the most successful career transition?” The best way to solve this is to imagine you are creating and putting together the pieces of an intriguing, challenging and rewarding puzzle. Each piece needs to be closely examined, shifted and viewed from a variety of perspectives. Once you are able to fit the pieces of your puzzle together, you will have created the complete image, which in effect, will become your career. You must understand that fulfillment will come to you when pieces of your professional and personal life are combined and  become whole. Those various puzzle pieces include, but are not limited to your: Interests, Values, Motivated Skills, Temperament, Needs, Limitations, Standards, and Background Influences. We will go on to discuss each piece in detail. The process starts with self-assessment.


Self-assessment is the process that enables you to become increasingly aware of your Interests, Values, Motivated Skills, Temperament, Needs, Limitations, Standards, and Background Influences. You must begin to learn about yourself in the present and understand who you are today, not yesterday or five years ago.

How do you identify your interests?

During the course of a day, your interests direct your behavior. For example: What sections of the newspaper do you read first? What websites, blogs, do you visit daily? If you think about your interests in this way, it might help you to begin to define where your primary enthusiasms lie on a daily basis.

There are also many standardized, highly valuable and reliable testing instruments (e.g.: Strong Interest Inventory) that enable you to measure these various components with greater sophistication. The best way to understand your self is to stop and ask what it is that you enjoy and what makes you happy? In general, people that share mutual passion with their occupations, tend to be more satisfied and more productive.

Many people incorrectly assume that interests are something they can enjoy after work, and that these passions cannot be turned into paid work. For example, Are you computer savvy? You could become a consultant and work at home. If you enjoy sports what about working in sports marketing? These are just a few opportunities that you may never have thought of – and there are many more. Kim is a perfect example of this. She loves furniture, travel and technology and she never thought it would be possible to combine them both into a career. She is now listing her furniture on the Ebay internet site and hopes to open an antique furniture store one day which would allow her to travel and shop for merchandise for her store. 

How do you identify your values?

One’s values, which are sometimes difficult to define, may change over time. Determine which daily decisions will provide you with the greatest fulfillment. For example, what do you value most at this point in your life? If you are a parent is it the ability to stay home with your child and watch him or her through daily routines? Or is it the security of knowing a steady stream of income will be coming into your home?

Ideally, you want to match the time in terms of both quantity and quality, you spend on activities with your values and guide your life’s decisions accordingly. You need to recognize changing priorities. Life circumstances will change and, irrefutably, the allocation of your time will change accordingly. If the importance of different roles is shifted, re-balance and re-evaluate your investment in them. This process begins by identifying what is presently most significant to you and then to budget your time and choices accordingly. The best way to make sure this occurs is to constantly fine-tune your life by being honest and aware that your priorities change.

How do you identify your motivated skills?

Think of a few of accomplishments in your life that have given you satisfaction – they may be vocationally or avocationally related. For example, you may have done one of the following: organized a fund-raising activity for your favorite charity, created a beautiful piece of art, or worked on an unusual project at work. There is usually a common thread that connects your professional and personal sense of achievement or satisfaction. This link is a motivator and provides you with the desire required to succeed. These motivators help you quickly learn skills which are usually displayed in different capacities like leadership, interpersonal relations, artistic ability, mechanical or organizational endeavors, and are generally transferable throughout different fields. Motivated skillsmake you feel proficient and give you enjoyment.

For example, consider the following skills:

  • Speaking before groups
  • Producing events
  • Conceptualizing
  • Problem Solving
  • Writing
  • Advocating
  • Organizing
  • Designing
  • Explaining
  • Working Outdoors
  • Building/Constructing
  • Analyzing
  • Training
  • Promoting
  • Selling
  • Computing
  • Delegating
  • Creating

Now, think about each skill in context of whether or not you consider yourself

    1. Highly Competent
    2. Competent or
    3. Have little proficiency.

Then, consider how much you enjoy using these skills. Finally, you are ready to understand your motivated skills in a more complete context.

Which ones were awarded the highest rating (High proficiency and enjoy using)? Which ones received the lowest rating (Have little aptitude and unpleasant)? This simple exercise may help you understand the concept of using skills that are enjoyable and in which you are proficient – these are your motivated skills. An example of a former client may help to highlight the value and distinction between using your motivated skills rather than relying solely on “just what you are good at”. Suzy was a Financial Analyst at a major investment banking firm in New York City. She was extremely analytic and quite good at her job, however, she did not enjoy analyzing numbers all day – people inspired her more. After this exercise, she decided to change careers. She made the transition into more of a counseling role and worked with people to help them discover what would add passion and satisfaction to their lives.. She decided to go back to school and become a career counselor. Now, Suzy is combining her interpersonal and analytic skills so that now she is excited and motivated to go to her job each day.

How do you identify your temperament?

A professional assessment instrument that is commonly used in the career-coaching field is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This inventory is utilized to measure your personality style and preferences. You are asked to answer a series of questions and your responses guide you through the procedure of realizing your personality traits and understanding who you are. The MBTI aids in comprehending how you generally look at the world and attempts to define what types of decisions you tend to make relating to your personality. Knowing your preferences and learning about other people’s preferences can help you become aware of your special strengths, work values, successes and personal styles. You can also understand how people with different preferences can relate to each other and be valuable to society through the use of the MBTI.

You should also consider your work temperament. For instance, are you calm, excitable, sensitive, anxious, energetic? These qualities need to be taken into consideration when you think about your career choices. Paul, for example, is a very energetic, positive person with an entrepreneurial spirit. He started working in a very conventional job at a highly conservative insurance company. His work was not in line with his temperament and was mismatched to his environment; it de-energized him and his creativity. When he started looking for a new position, Paul understood the need to match his personality with his work atmosphere and is now employed by an entrepreneurial start-up company. He is no longer feeling tired and drained, rather he feels stimulated and invigorated. Now, when he goes home to his family, he is calmer and can enjoy his time away from the office.

How do you identify your needs?

Getting your needs met is imperative. Our priorities transform over time and it is helpful to identify your current needs. When your desires are met and you are feeling satisfied, you are able to free yourself up and clearly orient your life around your values. Your personal needs can include: feeling accepted, accomplished, acknowledged, loved, cared for, in control, wanted, responsible, free, honest, ordered, peaceful, powerful, recognized, safe, etc. For example, Lisa’s needs changed and consequently affected her future career choice. For many years, Lisa thought she needed the security that her government job provided. The stability and schedule comforted her and she relied upon it. Her job was effortless and highly secure. As Lisa grew and matured she began to view the world in a more fluid perspective. Lisa wanted a more creative job. She left the government and is now working at a more entrepreneurial position.

How do you identify your limitations?

In addition to understanding your needs and the importance of fulfilling them, it is also important to understand your limitations. This issue may come up during the career search process for many individuals. Sometimes seeking out the opinion of too many people can cause more confusion than necessary. Some people, with the intention of helping, give damaging or limiting advice. Others can be helpful, but remember that you may be vulnerable and sensitive at this time in your life; this is not the time to make impetuous decisions. Judgments may become cloudy and you may not be realizing your limitations. You should conduct informational interviews; speak with at least three to five people in any field before you come to any conclusions or finalize any decisions. This will limit biases and provide you with a more balanced view of your choices.

How do you identify your standards?

These are your absolute requirements for happiness and fulfillment today. We need to constantly adjust to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable to us. Your requirements are constantly evolving and your professional and career goals should reflect these changes.

How do you identify your background influences?

Our background influences have powerful effects upon us and can affect us positively or negatively. You should ask yourself, “Are my decisions based upon my past influences or current desires?” For example, am I pursuing a career in medicine because several members of my family were doctors? Background influences can be motivators but many people have found them to be limiting and functioning in deceiving manner. However, when we act upon a desire, there is less friction and we feel more honest and at peace with others and ourselves. It takes time to begin to trust what you want. For example, ask yourself simple questions such as “Am I spending time with people out of obligation or desire? “In my free time, do I do things I truly want to do”? Try asking yourself these questions throughout your day and analyze your answers; you may be surprised how you spend most of your time. Do this exercise often and you will begin identifying the important aspects of your life that will hopefully lead to spending more time fulfilling your potential.

After you put all these pieces together and come to a tentative objective, you might want to see if your puzzle is accurate. I recommend trying out your new attitude and ideas either through a volunteer experience, internship or simply taking classes at a local university. For example, if you are interested in children, volunteer at a local school as a mentor or a tutor. If you love art, try to volunteer in a museum, etc. A client of mine currently works in an office setting and through this process, is considering making the transition to construction and working outdoors. He decided to spend time on the weekends, assisting and learning from a local contractor; as an added bonus, the contractor is repaying his gratitude by helping my client out with some repairs on his own house. There are hundreds of ways you can try out different situations and settings, be creative. Read all you can about the field, subscribe to several magazines and related periodicals, get involved in special interest groups (SIG’s), professional associations, organizations and anything that will acquaint and educate you about your prospective field. Also, it is very useful to network in all different settings and maintain contacts.

Now I would like to share some information about myself with you. I have made several occupational choices during my lifetime and the most important and influential choices have been those that I took the time and effort to thoroughly explore my options. I have engaged myself in this self-assessment process and have realized the benefits involved. I’m the first person to say that this is not an easy task and you will not find your answers immediately. The self-assessment process is time consuming and requires deep thought and proper motivation, but if you take the time to get to know yourself again, ideas, innovations and solutions will be apparent in your life. Think of this process as a treasure hunt. You need to dive deep and unravel layer after layer to get to the hidden treasure that is there, but covered up. The process can be lengthy; however, the rewards greatly outweigh the effort involved.


The second step involves making room in your life for this new beginning. It is important to create space and clear pathways, so then you can be nurtured and grow. You will have more energyonce you feel comfortable with your environment, mindful of your health, secure in your financial goals, and fulfilled in your relationships. By organizing your life, you will become more energized. Identify and eliminate those unnecessary papers on your desk, remove clothes in your closet that you have been saving and will never wear again. When you get rid of all those things that fill up space in your life, it will make it possible to welcome new opportunities and experiences that will revitalize you.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are your personal files, papers and receipts neatly filed away?
  • Is your home neat and clean? Do you live in an environment you love and makes you feel good?
  • Do you surround yourself with things that are beautiful to you, that you like to see, smell or touch?
  • Is there anything in your home you want to change or remove?
  • Is your work setting productive and inspiring?
  • Do you have adequate time, space and freedom in your life right now?

With regard to your well being, think about it in terms of daily habits or rituals that nurture your health and your spirit. Some questions to ask are:

  • Do you have adequate exercise and physical activity in your life?
  • Is there something you do that you look forward to every day?
  • Do you rush or use any adrenaline throughout your day?
  • Are you taking care of any emotional problems you may have?

Strength and vitality can be seen physically and emotionally. A person who takes care of himself or herself is more productive and seen as more valuable to their employer. Career transition time is the optimal time to reassess your financial situation and determine your basic needs and expectations regarding a new compensation package. It is a good time to realize how much money you must have to be financially independent. To help you understand this, create a weekly and monthly budget by analyzing your income and spending habits. Ask yourself if what you’re spending money on coincides with your values. Many people have no idea where they spend their money and are astonished at the end of the month when they spend more than they earn. If you begin to identify unnecessary expenses, perhaps you can instead add that money into your savings and spend it on what fits with your values. You should make an appointment to speak with a financial advisor that can help to assess your fiscal situation.

At this point, I would like you to take a minute and read the following recommendations that I have shared with numerous clients. These tips focus on the ways to manage financial stresses you may encounter if you choose to leave your present job or it is eliminated:

  1. Do not focus initially on increasing revenue; reduce costs instead. At first, this probably won’t feel natural or intuitive, but you’ll see it work for you.
  2. Identify ten ways money is spent in an unrewarding manner. Unnecessary expenses are those that can be eliminated without a significant reduction in happiness. The average household may spend10-25% of their income on unnecessary items.
  3. Start thinking about and exploring other potential income avenues. This may include anything for which you have an interest, skill and/or passion. For example, you may tutor, write, consult,
  4. create a new product or service, sell items around the house, etc.
  5. Clean out your closets. You may find hidden treasures that may give you new ideas. You can also donate unwanted items to charity and save the receipts for a tax deduction at the end of the year.
  6. Rent, don’t buy. Use the local library instead of going to the bookstore, rent videos instead of buying them.                                                    
  7. Work out shared babysitting arrangements with neighbors and friends. In addition, consider the use of carpools for transporting yourself and your children (especially for weekend soccer games).
  8. Barter services with friends, family and neighbors. If you know how to do electrical work, try bartering with your accountant for services.
  9. Change your habits. Instead of your weekly shopping trip to the mall, go for a walk in the park or read a book, spend time with the family. It will make for an overall healthier and happier lifestyle.

Lastly, surround yourself with supportive people and let them in on your newfound self. Read

enriching motivational books and speak with people that have made similar changes in their lives. Let go of your relationships that drag you down, damage or immobilize you. Work on developing a supportive network of people that appreciate you for whom you are and challenge you to become who you want to be. This is also a great time to join professional organizations and get involved in civic activities. Meet people with similar interests, allow yourself to feel alive and to feel good about your choices.


The third step in achieving a smooth career transition includes maintaining your focus, perseverance and motivation. It is important to understand that this process takes time and fulfillment and awareness doesn’t happen overnight. It is useful to approach this process slowly and take each day as it comes. Keep the project in perspective and allow it to build upon itself, it will happen. I usually recommend my clients to take daily action to fulfill daily goals. It is helpful to establish a plan with simple action steps that will lead you through each step of the process.

This journey should be exciting and informative and shouldn’t be an additional pressure in your life, so take it slow. It’s understandable that during the process you may need to work, so I recommend that before you jump into anything, why not find temporary work until you know what it is that best fits your personality, values, interests, etc. A part time or transitory position can allow you to make money while you continue to stay focused on what you ultimately want and need.

A helpful exercise to envision the future includes: Think ahead five or ten years and visualize your life as if it had already happened.

  • Can you see yourself? You are in your ideal job, what are you doing?
  • How do you feel? What does your physical surrounding look like?
  •  Is it busy or is it relaxed?
  • Are you alone or with other people?
  • If there are people around, what kind of people are they?
  • What type of activities are you involved in?
  • Are you the boss or do you have a boss?
  • Are you supervising anyone? How are you dressed?
  • Are you comfortable?
  • Is it a small or a large company; is it your own company? How did you get to work and how long did it take you?
  • What time will you be home at night? How do you spend your lunch hour and with whom?
  • What are your hours?

Answering some of these questions can be helpful in finding out what it is you want to do. Visualization can be a highly effective technique for helping create that picture of what you want.

Think about the above exercise – what were your reactions? Did you find out some information you didn’t know about yourself? How specific did your visualization get? What did it feel like to create that picture in your head? As mentioned, visualization can be a highly effective technique in gaining clarity and focus towards your goals. Once you have begun to see your future, it is easier to work towards reaching it. Remember back to step one. Think about what you have just learned about yourself and what you want and need from a career and from life. Think about the journey you have just been on and think about where you are going now. Hopefully this process has benefited, enlightened and empowered you. Always listen to yourself and be true to yourself, you know best.  I wish you great success in your career transition and in your life.

Lynn Berger, MA,Ed.M, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, National Certified Counselor and Professional Certified Coach.  In addition to her private practice, Lynn has authored a book titled, “The Savvy Part-Time Professional-How to Land, Create, or Negotiate the Part-Time Job of Your Dreams”.  She has appeared as a guest expert on radio and television shows across the nation and has been featured in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times,,, etc.  More information about Lynn is available on her website

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