The #1 Secret to Making a Successful Career Transition — While Avoiding Outright Rejection

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Shireen Stephenson for Ivy Exec
Shireen Stephenson for Ivy Exec
April 23, 2024 at 6:28PM UTC

Making Peace With a Career Transition

If you read The Scarlet Letter in high school, you know the name Nathaniel Hawthorne. But, did you know that a career transition made Hawthorne’s historic novel possible?
Today, many of us use the words “career transition” and “ job change” interchangeably. But, there’s a subtle difference between the two.
At 37, Hawthorne joined a transcendentalist commune named Brook Farm. His decision surprised those who knew him, as Hawthorne wasn’t an avowed supporter of the movement. Still, he performed menial tasks and socialized with intellectuals like Bronson Alcott (who wrote Little Women) and Ralph Waldo Emerson at the farm. 
Hawthorn purchased two shares for himself and his beloved, Sophia Peabody. According to the farm manifesto, anyone who purchased shares was entitled to free room and board.
But, as time progressed, Hawthorn became deeply unhappy. He wanted to write, not live out the ideals of transcendentalism. Yet, he felt guilty about what many in his time considered a “frivolous” choice of career. After his departure from Brook Farm, he made a confession:
The real Me was never an associate of the community; there has been a spectral Appearance there, sounding the horn at daybreak, milking the cows, hoeing potatoes, raking hay, toiling in the sun, and doing me the honor to assume my name. (Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Biography by Randall Stewart)
We’ll get back to Hawthorne in a minute. 
Let’s fast forward to the 21st century and talk about the actor Chris Pratt. In his early days, Pratt played Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation, endearing himself to us with his lovable antics and quirky brand of humor. Yet, today, Pratt is most well-known for his action roles in movies such as Zero Dark Thirty, The Tomorrow War, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Two men. Two different decisions. 
Chris Pratt made a job change within the same industry, transforming him from a lovable goofball to a chiseled action star. He retains his love for his craft — and his fans love his high-octane on-screen personas.
Meanwhile, Nathaniel Hawthorne made a career transition that matched his internal values, aspirations, and self-identity. Career transitions represent dramatic internal shifts, not just external changes. 
Hawthorne reevaluated his principles and assumptions and concluded that a transcendentalist utopia, with its bustling communal dormitories, could never afford him true contentment. Transition is about detaching from old ideologies and attitudes that hinder self-fulfillment. Hawthorne made peace with his desire to write — without feeling the need to legitimize it with hours of hard physical labor. 
He left Brook Farm in the fall of 1841, published The Scarlet Letter in 1850, and satirized his experience on the farm in The Blithedale Romance in 1852.

The Force is Strong With This One

What drives a career transition? For those in upper-level positions, the triggers vary and may even manifest at an inconvenient time. 
COVID-19 changed millions of lives overnight. On its heels, market volatility and inflationary pressures continue to raise the cost of living. You yourself may be going through a pivotal change, whether it be divorce, health complications, remarriage, the death of a loved one, or even a financial crisis. 
In the professional space, your company may be downsizing (from the top down), or you may be facing a contract termination. Perhaps, an unexpected senior-level departure has exposed internal rivalries that are jeopardizing morale and productivity. You have a strong record of performance and are sure you can fill the leadership gap. But, you find yourself grappling with self-doubt, anxiety, and fears of failure. Culture change is hard, and something tells you that transitioning to a new ecosystem may be the better choice. 
According to D. Michael Lindsey, the author of Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions, how we respond to a crisis is pivotal to converting moments of change into moments of opportunity. To master the science of leadership, one must first master the science of transitions. 
To that end, the core values we prioritize during this time can make — or break — our transition.
Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering. (Yoda)
First things first. If you’re unsure about the path forward, it’s time to get a fresh perspective on where you’re heading.
As the U.S. talent shortage intensifies, two of the top three reasons driving career transitions are low salaries and poor leadership. According to a 2022 FlexJobs survey, 57% of those hoping to land a job in the next three to six months want to work in a new field. 
So, if sleepless nights, TUMS smoothies, and 4 P.M. caffeine binges are what’s helping you hold it together at work, it may be time for a career transition.

The Top 3 Career Transition Mistakes That Lead to Burnout (and One Easy Fix)

The Great Resignation, far from ending, appears to be ramping up. According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey (2022), a staggering 1 in 5 workers says they are very likely to change employers in the coming year. 
From Baby Boomers to Gen Zers, the exodus of employees from every socioeconomic class has confounded industry experts and legislators.
One cohort (usually immune to popular trends) is leading the charge. A whopping 72% of those leaving for greener pastures are senior-level leaders who are dissatisfied with the status quo.
But not so fast. Studies show that a swift but poor transition comes with high repercussions — roughly 50% to 70% of executives fail within 18 months of taking on a new role. The top three career transition mistakes that lead to failure are:
  • Leaving without a career transition plan in place.
  • Chasing more money and more power — over intangibles like personal happiness, work-life balance, and autonomy.
  • Failing to reframe your brand with a more dynamic image and optimized LinkedIn profile.
All three lead to burnout — exactly what you want to avoid in the first place. The solution? Crafting the right career transition plan is your single most powerful tool for success.

The #1 Secret to Making a Successful Career Transition (and Avoiding Outright Rejection)

Traditionally, C-suite level positions are filled by professionals in their 50s and above. However, with companies rushing to hire millennial-age workers to meet the demands of emerging markets, age discrimination has reared its ugly head. 
Fully 78% of older workers contend that negative age stereotypes are hurting them professionally. In his book No Limit Over 50: What To Do When You’ve Been Let Go, Replaced, Displaced, Or Just Want Something Different From Life, Bob Poole shares that client engagement and consulting inquiries dried up when he reached 60. He began to feel irrelevant and invisible.
Things didn’t change until he “rewired” his perspectives about his own usefulness. 
So, whether you’re over 50 or feel stuck in limbo, you can make a career transition without being seen as a hiring risk. The secret is building relationships with the right senior executives.

The surprising thing an executive learned from career burnout.

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized career coach and personal branding expert. He’s also the son of Indian immigrants who taught him the value of hard work and persistence. 
Articulate, creative, and quick-witted, Majumdar telegraphs confidence from the moment you meet him. Still, he recalls a moment in time when he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. 
Faced with failure and rejections, he began to doubt his own relevance. To regain his momentum, he did some soul searching and arrived at a surprising conclusion regarding career burnout: that there’s a big difference between living through the struggle of career transition and living in it. 
The path forward is simple: your unique career experiences are what distinguish you from another candidate. To get employers to see you as a high-level leader, leverage your unique story and background to drive a purpose-driven conversation about your ability to deliver success for the organization.
“Nothing freaks you out as much, because you have been there, you have done that,” notes Alikhani. “I have seen failure. I have seen success. The glory and the misery, they pass. And you come out of it on the other side as long as you persevere.” (Nasim Alikhani in How This Former Stay-at-Home Mom Built One of New York’s Hottest Restaurants At 59)

From crisis to victory: making the leap from consulting to C-level executive.

You graduated magna cum laude from a top university and went on to earn a postgraduate degree (or two) from a globally-recognized institution. To give back to society, you volunteered your leadership skills at a charitable organization. Then, you spent some time in management consulting. 
Now, you’re ready to be the top dog.
Your decision isn’t surprising. Some of the most famous CEOs came from the world of consulting. Indra Nooyi made a name for herself at Boston Consulting Group before she spearheaded the successful Performance With Purpose initiative at PepsiCo. 
Meanwhile, Dave Gilboa spent time as a finance consultant at Bain before he co-founded Warby Parker with several of his Wharton peers. Today, the eyewear company is famous for its Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, which donates a pair of eyeglasses for every pair sold around the world. 
It’s no secret that when businesses need advice, they often turn to consultant-turned-CEOs. If you’re contemplating a transition from the world of consulting to the C-suite, here are some things to consider:
  • Research your new role and industry. Take a breath. Before acting, step back, and observe your circumstances impartially. Your ability to adapt and mobilize change in response to rapidly changing market conditions will ensure the success of the organization you lead.
  • Check your ego. You’ve been highly successful as a business consultant. But, from now on, it’s the relationships you make with co-workers and subordinates that will ultimately determine your success. The most highly connected CEOs report a 5% higher average Glassdoor rating and a 3% higher Glassdoor rating for their companies.
  • Avoid the tendency to say, “When I worked at…” in response to every situation. This goes with checking your ego at the door. Many newly-minted CEOs fail to realize they may be the ones contributing to organizational dysfunction. Robert Sutton, the author of The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt, once counseled a CEO who worried that he wasn’t brash or mean enough to succeed (ala Steve Jobs). In a revealing conversation with one of Pixar’s founders Ed Catmull, Sutton confirmed that Jobs didn’t really “succeed” until after he was kicked out of Apple. To reinvent himself, Jobs developed compassion, empathy, and patience, all skills which drove his eventual success at Pixar.
  • As a consultant, you may have had access to top-level executives. In your new role, this access may diminish. You’ll want to develop a network of trusted advisors within your new industry. An advisor can provide objective analytical support that’s indispensable when you need to take an organization in a new direction.
  • You’ll also need to revise your language. When speaking to top executives, you may use industry jargon like CAGR, NPV, MECE, AOB, or SME. But, when dealing with subordinates, you’ll need to use the language they’re most comfortable with. This is more important than ever: the toxic workplace culture that makes workers feel disrespected is the No.1 reason driving the Great Resignation. And, CEOs are taking note: according to the 2022 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey, CEOs believe that the labor shortage will be the top influence disrupting their business strategies in the next 12 months.
  • If executive coaching is available, take advantage of it. You’ll need to develop critical soft skills, such as a collaborative mindset, to create an inclusive workplace.
  • Hold on to your objective viewpoint as long as you can. The longer you’re in any job, the less likely you’ll spot core problems.
  • Be an agent for change, but make sure you take the time to explain the reasons for it. Actively cultivate buy-in from employees. According to a Gartner poll of more than 400 senior business leaders, workforce issues such as talent retention and DEI will be top priorities for CEOs as they guide their organizations through a volatile economic climate.
  • Ask lots of questions! This will help demonstrate your collaborative skills. Value input from your colleagues. 
  • Communicatefrequently and connect action to your company’s core mission. Learn what it means to be a Storyteller-in-Chief and how you can leverage stories to create a more authentic brand.
  • Leverage an informational interview to guide your career transition. If you’re thinking of lending your leadership skills to a startup, for instance, it may be worth asking these seven questions before making the jump.

How to Reframe Your Resume to Get the Results You Want

When it comes to reinventing your image, honesty is key. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself and tout your accomplishments. Reframing your resume with an eye to highlighting the value you’ll bring to an organization is key to getting interviews and getting the job.
Not sure how to reframe your resume to unlock more opportunities? Set yourself up with a career coach who can provide objective feedback and guidance. Before that first meeting, do your homework and learn what it takes to prepare for a resume critique.
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This article originally appeared on Ivy Exec

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for making a successful career transition? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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