How to Navigate a Transition Early in Your Career

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“After years of school and telling people this is what I want to do, how could I possibly change my mind now?”

“I don’t like this career, but if I make a big change, will that make me just another stereotypical millennial who can’t commit?”

“If I don’t follow the career path I planned, what will I do next? I don’t know where to start.”

If you’ve pondered a career change, these thoughts and questions may have entered your head at some point. It can be stressful, especially if you’ve only just started out and you’re already realizing you want to go in a different direction.

But making a change early in your career can be a good thing if you happen to find a new path that’s a better fit. That’s why Pam Baker founded Journeous: to help college students and early professionals design meaningful careers from the start, instead of having to “undo things and go in reverse as they hit mid-career,” she says.

We spoke to Baker about how young adults can successfully navigate career transitions.

Get clear on your values, interests, and strengths

Journeous starts with an assessment that helps their young adult clients identify their values, interests, and strengths.

Baker, who worked in health care for 20 years before founding Journeous in 2018, says she encountered many different personality assessments throughout her career, but they all seemed one-dimensional. For example, one assessment may identify that you have strong math skills and suggest that you consider an accounting career—but if you’re not interested in math, then you’ll be unhappy.

Journeous gives you a VISION portrait identifying your values, interests, and strengths and offers tailored recommendations for how to use that information to design your career. Other ways to clarify your values, interests, and strengths are:

  • Reflecting on your “bright spots”; those moments when you felt you were doing your best work, and trying to tease out what that says about your values, interests, and strengths.
  • Taking assessments like Knowdell Career Values (Online) Card Sort, O*NET Interest Profiler, and StrengthsFinder and then looking for common themes across your results.
  • Embracing the first step of design thinking: understanding your pain point. What’s leading you to want to explore a different career path? Do you dislike your field? Your organization? Your role? Where is the mismatch between what you’re doing now and your values, interests, or strengths?

Start prototyping

In the manufacturing world, prototyping means creating a draft product that allows you to test a concept and tweak it before you get too far into development. Baker recommends applying this approach to your career by seeking out small, low-stakes experiences that can help you figure out if the career move you’re considering is the right one. Prototyping lets you try lots of different things without investing too much time, energy, or money into one path that could turn out to be a poor fit.

In social-impact fields, we’re fortunate to have one type of career prototyping built into the fabric of our sector: volunteering.

Volunteering enables you to get a taste of different organizations or roles; there can even be flexibility to jump around and try new things while volunteering with the same organization. Often times, you don’t need much, if any, experience to become a volunteer, so it’s easier for young adults to get involved.

Think you may want to work on hunger issues? Try volunteering at a food bank or food pantry. Want to explore shifting into a communications role? Try it out first by helping with communications at an organization where you already volunteer. With each volunteer experience, reflect on what you like, what you don’t like, and how that may impact your career path.

Tap every corner of your network

As a young professional, you may think your network isn’t that big. But Baker says otherwise (and we agree!).

She encourages young adults to consider family and close friends a part of their network. Since they know you well, friends and family can help you clarify your values, interests, and strengths. Baker suggests a few questions to ask as you consider a career transition:

  • What careers was I drawn to when I was young?
  • Are there some things you see me do better or more easily than others?
  • In what types of work environments do you think I would be at my best?

Your network also includes past teachers or professors, college alumni, classmates, and coworkers. Baker says that once you’ve figured out the “what’s”—what your values are, what you’re interested in, what career paths you want to explore—the people in your network can help you figure out how to make them happen by answering questions such as:

  • How did you figure out your career path? What advice do you have for someone interested in a similar role?
  • What dynamics of this career field should I be aware of?
  • How can I break into this field?
  • Who would you suggest I talk to for more information?

For more advice on networking conversations, read “4 Ways to Improve Your Networking Conversations.”

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If you’re navigating a career transition now, what questions do you still have? And if you’ve made a successful transition, please share your tips and words of encouragement in the comments!

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As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.
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