5 Smart Strategies When It's Time for a Career Change

Whether it’s a necessity (your position is being eliminated) or a choice (you’re bored), switching job paths is a serious stressor. Career-development expert and author Jenny Blake offers five smart strategies to set yourself up for success.


Learn From the Last Gig, But Don’t Obsess About What Went Wrong.

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“People tend to blame themselves if an employment situation doesn’t work out,” says Blake, “but the reality is, the work world has evolved, and more-frequent job change is the new normal.” So don’t become stressed-out over the idea that this shift will be a blotch on your résumé. Focus on the strengths and skills you’re walking away with; examine exactly what you liked and didn’t like about the role. Jot down some constructive notes. Then move on.


Interview Yourself About Where and How You Do Your Best Work.

If you feel silly playing career coach/shrink on your own, sit with a friend who’s willing to participate (then switch roles and help her find her mojo). Ask yourself or each other macro and micro questions: What tasks make time fly? What attributes set you apart? How do you prefer to spend your free time? Which types of office environments do you thrive in, and which stress you out? Dip back into the past: What childhood activities did you gravitate toward? Zoom forward: What would you love your work life to look like a year from now? Although there are no guarantees that you’ll find a job that checks all the boxes, solidifying your preferences will help you evaluate different options as they arise.


Divide the Search Phase of Your Plan Into Three Components: People, Skills, and Opportunities.

When you focus on these elements separately, it gives shape to your action plan. Start with a big brainstorming session where you amass ideas in all three categories. Then, every time you sit down to work on your career, tackle one from each column. For people, say, set up coffee with peers you can learn from and keep an eye out for ways to connect with folks whose work you admire. Skills: Could you take an online course or volunteer somewhere that allows you to flex (or build) new professional muscles? Opportunities: This is the standard stuff—looking at job listings, sending in résumés, and reaching out to HR people and recruiters.


Stretch Your Brain With New Possibilities.

Blake recommends the books StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath, and StandOut, by Marcus Buckingham, to help assess how your background might have applications that have never occurred to you. Then “incrementally experiment and pilot,” seeking out specific low-risk opportunities for experimentation. Maybe there’s an exciting new team your company is creating—can you offer your services? If you’re hoping to start your own business, consider whether there’s a way to launch a small (perhaps low-risk) slice of it to test the waters—a blog, say, if you’re hoping to write a book, or an Etsy shop if your idea is in retail. Blake offers a reminder: “It’s a pivot, not a leap.”


Remember That Your Career is Always in Play.

So once you successfully pivot, don’t turn off this new way of thinking. Most of us assume that to commit wholly to a new gig, we must block out the job market and hunker down for the long haul. But keeping an eye out for opportunities and viewing each step as a small part of a larger plan isn’t treason—it’s just smart. (And you know what? Your boss is probably doing the same.) Notes Blake: “You could face the same questions again in a year, through no fault of your own, so we should be continually examining what’s working best in our careers and exploring how we can do more of it. If change is the only constant, then let’s get better at it.”

For more from this expert, go to jennyblake.me.