Have you been thinking about making a career move for a while, and yet it feels as if you haven’t moved very far with it at all?
As this is something I hear quite often, I spent some time pulling this apart to understand what’s really going on. And most importantly, to see if there’s a way to break the cycle.
What I’ve discovered from research and observation—and confirmed by my experiences—is that there are three stages that we go through when making any career move, no matter how simple or complicated it may be.
And in each of these stages, we encounter questions and decision points.
Depending on how we respond to those questions and decision points, we either move forward to the next stage, or we get stuck right where we are as if we stepped on sinking sand.
In this article, I’m going to describe these three stages. As you read through, try and place yourself in one of these stages so you can figure out the areas on which to focus your attention.
You may also find yourself with the proverbial one foot in and one foot out. Meaning, you can see yourself spread out in a couple or maybe even, all three stages. Though this is possible, the more likely scenario is that you are predominantly at one stage more than the others. If you’re feeling your legs are split across, try to locate where the rest of your body is 😃
Stage 1: Pushed
This is where all career moves start. Something happens, and you’re pushed to consider a change in your direction.
The impetus may be something outside your control or something you have influence over. It can be something that’s being done to you or something you are initiating yourself.
Typical examples of catalysts outside of your control: a company reorganization, change in management, industry disruption, new co-workers, new company strategy, lay-offs, etc.
In each of these examples, you may not have been considering a career move before the event happening. Or perhaps, there was already a seed of thought there before, and these situations simply made it more urgent.
In this stage, you have lots of questions and doubts. And although you may not be saying it explicitly, you’re aware that you have to make a decision as to your next step at some point.
Some of the questions you may be wrestling with include: Do you make a move? Do you stay on? How big of a change can or should you make? Can you ignore what’s happening and remain “above it”? Should you wait and see?
This is also the stage where the risk of getting stuck is at the highest. I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that they had been considering making a move for a while, but had not “seriously” done anything about it… until they were forced to act once and for all.
Of course, being forced into making a career move is less desirable than initiating it yourself. The latter puts you in control of timing and resources, and you’ll have more options for strategy.
If you’re in this stage right now, the key decision point in front of you is a choice between “staying put” or “moving on”, where moving on could mean any number of change (from job change to a career change).
Remember that if you don’t make an active decision, you may find that the decision is made for you down the road.
Stage 2: Initiating
You enter the second stage when you have reached a decision to pursue a certain direction. If the decision was imposed on you, you might be entering this phase dragging your heels, kicking and screaming.
Either way, Stage 2 is about exploring your possibilities, choosing a strategy, and coming up with a plan. In this stage, you flesh out your career plans and begin taking steps to test the waters.
Things stop being hypothetical. You begin to consider real opportunities. You start taking actions toward your new career direction. You put yourself out there and allow others into your decision.
Examples of activities that occur in Stage 2 include:
- Seeking advice from mentors and advisors
- Consulting with a headhunter or recruiter
- Getting trained for required new skills
- Defining your career goals or career path
- Volunteering to explore new opportunities and to get traction in a new area of work
- Reaching out to others who are doing the kind of work you want to do
- Joining groups and networks where you can form connections in the new field
These initial activities will result in two possible outcomes: (1) a commitment to proceed further with your new direction, or (2) a need to revisit—and potentially revise—your original decision.
Stage 3: Engaging
This phase is about making your new career direction a reality. It’s about creating the future you envisioned in the previous stages.
Depending on the career change, this phase may be short and sweet (think of someone deciding to change jobs, same field of work, same industry).
Or it may take a longer span of time, where you are continuously engaged and moving toward your goals (think of someone starting a small business on the side, or someone going back to school to get a new degree).
Eventually, it stops being new; it just is. And voila, you have a new reality.
Can you still go back once you reach this stage? Of course. I know of people who arrived at this phase in their career move and changed their minds.
A friend of mine thought she didn’t want to be an accountant anymore, so she switched to the sales. After a year in sales, she realized she was not well suited for it after all and went back to the accounting world.
The more work you put into Stages 1 and 2, the less chance of reversing decisions in Stage 3.
Someone once painted this picture for me. Imagine yourself crossing a bridge, one end of the bridge is your here and the other end is your desired there. At any point along that bridge, you can conceivably change your mind and turn around. But there will come a point in that crossing where going back is more painful than simply pushing through. Only you know when you’ve reached that point.
Whenever I’m planning to take a trip, I like seeing a map of the entire route. Yes, the GPS in the car helps me with the turn-by-turn directions, but seeing the entire map ahead of time gives me a better sense of the trip that I’m about to make.
These three stages give you a bird’s eye view of the entire career move landscape. While the phases are fluid and interconnected, each is defined by a set of questions, action steps, and decision points.
To continue moving forward—and not fall trap to analysis paralysis—focus your attention on taking the action you need to be able to make the decisions in each stage.
You’ll get “The 4 Pivot Essentials” PDF plus a primer on what it takes to make a career move in this new economy.