In my practice working with executives at all levels and millennials starting their careers I’ve noticed that everyone, regardless of experience, finds the middle of their search stressful and difficult.
Over time I’ve learned to warn clients about this. Once the exhilarating beginning of the career development or change process is over and we’ve identified an end goal, and the branding and marketing and outreach plan is ready to go, it’s time to wait to hear back from the market.
And that’s hard.
Experiment Your Way Into a New Role
Herminia Ibarra’s seminal research on this topic is the basis of her wonderful book Working Identity. According to Ibarra, your identity, whether you’re a college student majoring in English or a senior operations executive working for a media company, needs to be left behind before you can assume the identity of your new career. That transitional period can make you feel unmoored, stressed and maybe even ashamed, especially if you’ve been in the job market for a while.
So what’s the best way to manage yourself through this in-between period?
You should act your way into a new role to try it on and see whether it fits, says Ibarra. But this requires baby steps, experimenting little by little and “accepting the crooked path”, without applying yourself firmly to one big change. That means experimenting with projects that give you a taste of different roles, and let the connection between those experiments unfold.
Of course most people don’t have the luxury of leaving a job between career paths, but the good news is that there are many ways to experiment while still in a job you don’t love.
Try a Side Hustle
One strategy is to create a side hustle.
Creating a new source of income while you’re still in your job, or using a side hustle idea as a springboard to a new career, can solve many issues at once when you’re in a transitional period. Not only can it provide you some income while you’re testing out an idea that could be your next career, it’s a great answer to the question employers will ask in interviews if you’re not currently working: What have you been doing with your time?
Join a Board of Directors
To network and get more involved in your next career, join a non-profit Board of Directors in the field, leveraging your existing skill set as you learn more and meet people who can help in your search. A client of mine was transitioning from retail planning to prospect research, and joined a fashion-related non-profit to help in their fundraising efforts, thereby sharing her knowledge of the field while gaining experience in donor prospecting.
Don’t Forget the Industry Trade Association
At any stage of your career you should consider joining the trade association for your industry of focus. If you’re starting out, most associations have tiered pricing and encourage new grads and career changers to become members. Associations host conferences and panel discussions so you can meet other professionals and hear about issues of the day. The more you immerse yourself in your new world, the more you’ll feel like you fit. And these connections can easily lead to a job.
The transitional period of a job search or career change is easier when you anticipate it and use strategies to mitigate against feeling frustrated and adrift. Do you have stories or strategies to help other readers? If so I’d love to hear them.