One of the most frequent questions I hear relates to how to properly make a career transition. No one likes a person who answers a question with a question, but in this case, I have to ask: Why are you thinking about changing not just your job, but your industry?
The more frequently this question is answered, the more I’ve come to see that for a large number of prospective career changers, their desire to change careers stems from the realization they weren’t happy in their career in the first place.
Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to “lean in,” and I agree with her, in the right context. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to lean into a job you took out of necessity, and it’s become readily apparent that many women have been staying put in their careers out of fear.
Fear that if they make a job change now, when they need maternity leave later (and they inevitably will), they won’t have enough longevity, seniority or clout to request the flexibility they’ll need to continue to be effective or heard in their job.
Fear that if they speak up and ask for more — a promotion, a raise, to lead a project — they may suddenly find themselves relegated to the projects everyone knows are slated to be cut, they may get labeled as “difficult” — or, worse, find themselves unemployed.
Fear of making waves.
Fear they don’t deserve more than they have… The list goes on and on.
What does all this fear boil down to? A lack of visibility.
Visibility provides access, and access provides options — but therein lies the problem. Many women are fearful of attempting to gain access within their organization in case they fail and lose everything.
Fear has a paralyzing effect on our careers, and it causes us to stay stuck or to give up completely.
So I’d like to give you the courage to fight for access.
I’m surrounded by women who teach other women how to fight. Fighting consists of negotiating, asking, demanding, standing up, raising our hands, taking a seat at the table, accepting risk and any combination of the above. It’s scary and outside of our comfort zone, but it’s a step we have to take.
Courage in the face of uncertainty is easier when you surround yourself with others who will support you. Find a mentor (or two), identify your sponsor (he or she is out there), join an organization of like-minded individuals who can build you up when you feel yourself faltering and create your personal board of directors.
Being visible within your organization requires commitment. For this to work, you have to commit to the career you have (for now) and be certain that you want advancement where you currently work. Getting a job is hard work, and advancement in your career is no different. If your executive team doesn’t know who you are, there are a couple of ways to change this.
Volunteering internally will allow you access to more senior members of the organization who also spend time within the groups you’re now assisting. When that group needs to increase their budget, be the person who meets with senior management to request the funds. When the group needs a speaker, be the one who does the ask. Internal volunteer projects provide access.
You can also take on a new project. It’s time to step up your game. The next time a project needs a leader, raise your hand. You may not be chosen, but your willingness to take on the project will be noticed. If you are chosen, you now have the opportunity to show your leadership abilities.
Understand that there will not be a linear progression to your career. The career ladder is really more like a jungle gym — there are many ways to get to the top, and most paths are not straight up. Sometimes you have to move sideways in order to move forward. Knowing this makes it easier for you to accept the projects that may not have the outward visibility you seek but earn karma points in spades.
At the end of the day, if you’ve made the decision to leave your organization because it really isn’t the right career for you, stay tuned for my next post, which will outline the steps of how to make an effective career transition.