Plan carefully for a mid-career transition

By Jeff Hasenfratz, Managing director, Mindsight Talent Management Services

This is the second article in a five-part series about career transitions

Nothing prevents a switch in career direction, but be sure what you want

If you are aged anywhere between your early 30s and late 50s and are thinking of a change of career, it's bound to be a big step!

For some people, though, it's a move that just has to be made. Perhaps the industry or sector they've been in has never been a very good "fit" with their interests and natural talents. They now feel the overwhelming need to find something that will suit them better. Alternatively, they may have been reasonably satisfied with their career to date, but have started to experience the "been there, done that" sensation a bit too often. They know that a change is the only sure way of reviving enthusiasm and interest in their daily work.

In general terms, the secret to a satisfying career is the alignment of your interests, talents, skills, goals, and values with the industries, jobs, and corporate cultures that fit you best.

Especially when considering a career transition, the importance of self-awareness, opportunity awareness and effective marketing tools can never be overstated. And for a mid-career transition (MCT), certain aspects of these qualities and attributes require particular attention.

Let's use the example of an MCT that involves a move to both a different industry and to an unfamiliar role. Moving industry while remaining in essentially the same type of job, or switching to a new role in the same industry, are always significant transitions. However, such moves are not usually fraught with as many challenges as a "double change" in mid-career.

Short-term pain
Therefore, when contemplating an MCT, realise that you may well encounter some short-term difficulties in terms of financial rewards and market credibility. If you are already financially independent, money will not be an issue. If not, though, you will have to plan carefully. Almost everyone undertaking an MCT experiences a decline in income for an unpredictable period of time.

Since you are moving into a new industry and a new role, you can expect to run into a "market credibility" challenge from prospective employers and potential clients. Careful prior planning can mitigate this problem and practical steps can be taken in advance. Maybe you can learn something about the new sector by volunteering or get referrals from contacts already in the industry. Build up your credibility by emphasising relevant experience and transferable skills gained in previous roles - this will undoubtedly help.

In addition, you should be very clear that the role and industry you are targeting really do fit you well. One of the best ways to assess this is to "interview" people already in the area or type of job you want. Ask them what they like and dislike about the role and build up a fuller picture. See if they have heard of anyone like you who has made a successful transition and get them to specify the major challenges a newcomer would experience. With this information, you'll be in a much better position to make a realistic assessment of the prospects and to adjust your thinking and positioning accordingly.

Brief introduction
Once you are sure about the path to take, rewrite your CV so that it legitimately reflects the relevant experience, knowledge, and other skills you offer. Also, practise a short self-introductory speech until you can clearly and convincingly summarise why you are making this change and what makes you qualified for the new role. The better you identify your value for potential employers, the higher the chance of making the career change you want.

Don't assume that a mid-career transition is easy to accomplish. However, if done for the right reasons and with sufficient planning, it will be a tremendous source of satisfaction for you and those who care about you.

Points to note<

  • Self-awareness, opportunity awareness and marketing tools are vital
  • Be prepared for some short-term difficulties
  • Build up your credibility with careful planning
  • Collect information about your target role and industry

    Jeff Hasenfratz ( is managing director of Mindsight Talent Management Services, a consultancy offering retention consulting, executive coaching, and dialogue management services in China. He is a Putonghua speaker and a lawyer by training.

  • Taken from Career Times 21 January 2005
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