Career Transformation…Preparing For What is Ahead

September, 2017


I recently conducted several workshops on different types of career transformations. The common thread for each session has been three steps in preparing for a significant career change. These steps include assessment, test and learn, and planned happenstance. In this blog I will offer both a preparation roadmap and links to posts that will help you get ready for what is ahead.


Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once said, “Life is lived forward, but understood backwards.” This quote rings true, not only for helping us understand ourselves, but for helping prospective employers know us better through our stories. Take a look at my June, 2012 blog for a way to look back and document your top eight achievements. You will see a model that asks you to recall the challenges, actions, results, skills, interests, values and lessons learned for each of the top accomplishments you choose.

If you complete this exercise you will have a much better sense of your strengths and preferrences, and your CAR stories (Challenges + Actions + Results.) Prospective employers will always want you to account for your work history, preferably structured in this CAR order. This is true even if your past is quite different from what you will be pursuing in the future.

You will need stories that demonstrate your ability as a quick study who can readily gain new skills and knowledge. Our past helps predict our future. Our adaptibility to past challenges is a key predictor of our ability to succeed in new and different future opportunities. If you have rarely had to make significant shifts in the past, start creating your stories now. Start building a body of evidence that will allow you to counter the skeptics.

If you are searching for future career possiblities, and seeking an assessment to learn of new career options based on your interests, consider the Strong Interest Inventory. An accessible and affordable version of this assessment is available online for under $10 (Self-Directed-Search)

This is a very helpful assessment instrument for any career stage, and for any employment level, from mailroom clerk to CEO. I recently discovered that it is also helpful for ex-military professionals who wish to match civilian occupational titles with military occupational specialty titles.

Using an assessment tool such as the Strong will help you understand your vocational preferences as well as your fit with others who share your interests. It can take you to occupations you may never have considered or found on your own.

I suggest both internet research and conversations with your network and others knowledgable about your possible new direction for assessing the market. In the next section, I will discuss the value of shifting connections to people who occupy the work you are considering. You’ll need to branch out. In a career transformation, you must get beyond the cautions and limitations imposed by your familiar network contacts.

Those who know you well and are cautious themselves, might be inclined to steer you back to familiar, safer choices. What you need as you approach a career transformation is to embrace the spirit of adventure and curiosity, fueled by the encouragement to take risks.

Test and Learn

The three part career transformation model outlined by Herminia Ibarra in her excellent book, Working Identity, offers a progression of actions that are meant to take you out of your head and into the world of experiments and new connections. For a detailed exploration of each, read my November, 2013 blog on crafting experiments, and my December, 2013 blog on shifting connections. Better still, read the book.

After enough time experimenting and tapping new connections for guidance on a new career direction, pause and ask yourself if the transformation you are considering still makes sense. If it does, keep moving ahead. If it doesn’t, it might be time to return to the assessment process for a “plan b” option.

I have referred many clients and friends interested in a career transformation to the Working Identity book. They have universally praised its contents and approach, with comments such as, “This book really emboldened me, gave me a solid process to follow, and expanded my belief in what is possible in my future.”

If you want additional inspiration for becoming a “doer”, not just a “dreamer”, open this link to Shonda Rhimes’ 2014 Dartmouth commencement speech. This is unlike any commencement speech I have ever heard. From the onset, she advocates a different approach to entering the working world after graduation.

Like the students she is addressing, too many of us spend our time dreaming vs doing what we need to do to advance to a transformational opportunity. See for yourself, starting at minute six and ending at minute ten. Be a doer, not just a dreamer.

Planned Happenstance

John Krumboltz, Professor Emeritus of Education and Psychology at Stanford University, described planned happenstance when he said, “A satisfying career — and a satisfying life — is found through actively creating your own luck and making the most of new and unforseen experiences.”

A good friend recently sent me another Krumboltz quote. “If you are undecided about your future (as indeed every sensible person should be) don’t call yourself undecided, call yourself open-minded.”

Most opportunities, especially significant career shifts, are discovered and secured with the help of network sponsors and new connections. You might think that you will be the sole engineer of your career transformation, but think again.

What is in the mind of that person sitting across from you while you are meeting over coffee or a meal is very difficult to know in advance. Surprises that emerge from these conversations are frequently the best part of networking meetings. Unexpected recommendations are often the catalysts we need for our career transformations.

Landing a new job with the direct help of a network sponsor is a 65-80% likelihood. That statistic has not changed in the nearly 30 years I have been a career coach. If most opportunities are tied to your network, and if career transformation is what you want, you will need network sponsors more than ever.

Your evangelists, sponsors, advisors and even casual acquaintences are needed to generate fresh ideas and connections. They are also needed to help reassure others that you are serious about your career transformation, and that this new direction is sustainable and not just a passing “whim”.

Stay open-minded to ideas from others, even the ones that seem far fetched and unlikely. Treasure their support, knowing that all the planning you do won’t ever fully prepare you for the surprises along the way. Have faith that your network has good intentions, with positive happenstance a big part of your career transformation.

Think back to how you have found prior jobs. How often has happenstance factored into your past career transitions? I’ll wager that it has happened more often than not. It has for me, and it will again for you.


If the time is right for you to pursue a career transformation, make sure that you include assessment, test and learn, and planned happenstance strategies as you prepare to move forward. Start by knowing yourself better through the assessment methods I have listed in this blog.

Prepare the relevant stories of your past so others can believe in you, and actively support you in your future. Get out and experience on a small scale what you are considering doing so that you know the realities of your possible new career direction. Find new connections to guide you. Choose people who know your new direction first hand. Don’t just network with familar connections who might keep you handcuffed to a safe and familiar path.

And finally, trust that as much planning as you might do, the universe will surprise you with the gift of happenstance. You can not know it all, or control it all, by yourself. New opportunities will come your way if you let others reveal to you where your talents are needed. What does the world need from you next? Is it time to start preparing for your transformational journey?