Easier Career Transitions 

This post is dedicated to all our military families.

Veterans Day is another opportunity to honor U.S. veterans of all wars.  We should also take time to think about the 250,000 military families that are expected to transition to civilian careers as we draw down our forces from remote wars.  As an entrepreneur, submarine veteran, and former hiring manager at a Fortune 40 company, I have experience making career transitions easier.  While military to civilian transitions are different from civilian to civilian transitions, both transitions can be made much easier with some forethought and planning.


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Virginia Satir’s change model is a useful tool for understanding professional transitions.  Job transitions are the movement from one status quo to another, generally through a period of chaos and learning.  When someone transitions to a new job, all stakeholders of the new status quo should expect a period of chaos and learning until a new routine is developed that advances the organization faster towards its goals.  Understanding job transitions helps us understand career transitions because our careers are, in simple terms, the sum of our jobs.  (Said with apologies the work done by Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale SOM, which will be covered in another post)

Expect Transition

The average person born in the latter years of the baby boom held 11 jobs from ages 18 to 48, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  They had 5 of those jobs before they were 24.  So early in their careers, they would transition once a year.  But later in their career, they transitioned once every five years.  Now think about how long you have been in your current job and where you are in your career.  Isn’t a transition around the corner?  Are you ready for it?

There are two general causes for job transitions, personal and environmental.  You may want to transition for growth (personal) or you may have to transition because your services are no longer needed (environmental).  While you may not know the cause for your upcoming transition, you should expect it.

Create Your Career Plan

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Do you have a career plan?  Is it detailed or is it a general idea?  What is your contingency plan in case things don’t go the way you think?  What would a successful transition look like?  Most of us don’t have very detailed career plans, but they are worth the effort to create.  Doing job search while unemployed without a plan is like going grocery shopping while hungry without a grocery list; they reliably produce suboptimal results.  Agreeing to do a job that is not aligned with your professional goals is like buying groceries that are not aligned with your diet.  However, going grocery shopping with a full stomach and a thoughtfully prepared grocery list almost makes grocery shopping a nonevent.  Having a thoughtful career plan grounded in your professional goals minimizes the duration and intensity of chaos associated with job transition and is more likely to end with fulfilling results.

Share Your Career Plan


Our career is how we sell your time and talents to the global economy so that we can have a particular quality of life.  Most of us want a career that lasts 40 years and ends in achieving our professional goals.  Think of that like a journey; the Whiffenpoofs traveling 3000 miles to entertain the Yale Club of San Francisco is a good example of such a journey.  Our career plan needs to be as detailed as each of their travel plans.  I’m sure that there were a variety of car, flight, hotel combinations that needed to be evaluated for each of the singers to arrive at the Transamerica Pyramid on October 20, 2015.  But I am also sure that they shared information with each other to make sure everyone got to the performance on time.

Routinely share your career plan with people that have similar goals and an interest in your success.  For a variety of reasons, we don’t talk enough about our career goals: trapping ourselves behind notions like:

Never give advice because the wise don’t need it and the fools won’t heed it – Unknown

But information sharing is not the same as giving advice.  Advice bends toward authoritative and directive expectation, while information sharing bends toward being informative with no expectation.  Your information sharing network prevents you from being the only person on the lookout for information that can help you.  Increasing your access to relevant information increases your ability to build a career plan with sufficient detail to reasonably expect success.

Vet Your Career Plan

Trusted members of your network have a role in expanding your perspective and challenging your assumptions so that you can avoid making unnecessary mistakes.  This is where you seek advice, but use cation.  Everyone that wants to provide meaningful advice is not in a position to offer meaningful advice.  Everyone in a position to offer meaningful advice does not want to offer meaningful advice.  Authority and experience matter.  At the same time, remain flexible.  Everything changes; so should your plan.

Jedidah Isler is the first Black female astrophysicist to graduate from Yale and has created a Google Hangout series called Vanguard, where she interviews women of color in STEM once a month.  I listened to the October episode and one of her guests was Nicole E. Cabrera Salazar, an Astronomy PhD candidate at Georgia State University.  Nicole created The Astronomy Peer Advising Leaders program (AstroPAL) which helps incoming grad students get actionable guidance from a team of student volunteers who have passed their 2nd year Qualifier Exam.  She also created #failinginstem, where scientists talk frankly about their failures.

This is a great example of letting your network help you succeed.  Networking is not a “self-indulgent waste of time reserved only for the talentless sycophant;” as I have heard it described while I was in the military.  Networking should be a mutually enjoyable opportunity to crowdsource career relevant knowledge that helps you vet your career plan.  How much better would your career plan be after having been vetted by someone who is further down your career path than you are?

Execute Your Career Plan

A changing world changes the job market, which may change what someone is willing to pay for your time and talents.  Career transitions are tougher when they are unexpected, so expect them.  Ensure that you achieve your career goals by having multiple plans to achieve your career goals.  Simply put, better career transitions come from better career plans.  Create a career plan with sufficient detail, contingency, and vetting.  It simplifies the experience and removes unnecessary chaos.  Plan your career like a veteran planning their trip home after serving the country. This will help you see your career transitions as natural progressions or slight detours on your path to achieving your professional goals.