What to Expect in a Career Transition

Okay. Let's get something straight. Career transition is NOT fun. It's NOT a spiritual quest.

Every time I read something--anything--that talks about a job search in terms like “journey of self-discovery” or some such drivel, it makes me feel ill. Aside from personal taste, I find this kind of commentary misleading.  

If you’re in transition, you need to realize, up front, that it’s a part of life that compares in many negative ways to dating. You’re being judged, frequently in arbitrary ways, and sometimes the judgment is made after five minutes. There is rejection, bad behavior, immaturity, and random decision-making. 

In dating, it’s tough to deal with. That’s why few will say they enjoy the overall experience. (Unless they see it as a spiritual quest.)  

In career transition, it might even be worse. Add in that your livelihood is on the line, and somehow that provides an extra, toxic edge.

I won’t carry the metaphor further. There are so many other directions in which this can go.  

One of the best-selling books, ever, on the subject of careers, is almost a religious tract. Not only is the book unreadable, I think it’s also destructive in some ways. After so many years of experience in corporations, outplacement firms, private practice, and universities, I have rarely seen anyone actually enjoy a transition.  Sure, the payoff is sometimes terrific and exciting, sometimes anticlimactic, and even sometimes a letdown, but the process itself is, well . . . awful. Thinking it should be something other than that is simply not true for most.  

I heard the author of the above-mentioned book speak at a professional conference several years ago, and he, indeed, ended up talking about religious precepts. I walked out, not only because he was shoving his religion in my face, but also because he was wasting my time--the topic was supposed to be career management. I wasn’t alone in leaving the room.  The conference was not supposed to be about religion. 

My main point here is it’s critical to understand that if you’re going into a transition there will be several aspects which will be discouraging, sometimes painfully so. Someone not returning a call. An organization saying you are the first choice to fill the position, and then never calling, despite your consistent follow-ups. Reading tea leaves is a big part of it, i.e., why didn’t they call? Why didn’t I get a response to that great email? Why am I not getting any traction?

Of course, there are good parts--when you have a terrific, encouraging meeting, maybe several in a row. But, then the great meetings may lead to nothing, not even a good contact. And so the roller coaster continues, until the serial “no’s” turn into “yes.”  

I think understanding, up front, that this experience involves a great deal of rejection, and major ups and downs, will emotionally prepare you to handle it intellectually. This preparation, plus the necessary discipline and consistency you bring to your search, will make you more effective and will result in better and quicker outcomes.