Career Transitions: The Six Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Every day when Peggy R. came to her desk in a state government office, she felt like she was trapped. She’d worked in the same planning office for ten years and knew she wantedFinancial Worries? Lose those worries by adding a second paycheck! something more, but she didn’t know how to get it.

Career transitions are an important part of getting ahead in any profession including the planning field. But how you make those transitions can make the difference between success and failure, between doing them with relative ease and doing them under great stress, and between getting what you want and ending up with something less than that. Knowing how to transition in your profession is critical to your career success and happiness and avoiding mistakes can make the career transition easier and less painful.

People often make six mistakes when they conduct career changes. The first mistake is they make the transition without first knowing what they really want to transition toward. Like Peggy R., a lot of people find themselves in jobs they no longer enjoy or even hate. They’re willing to do anything to get out and away from them. This is understandable. It happens frequently in the workplace.

I believe that each of us is designed, even hard-wired, to enjoy certain types of work – even thrive off it. The key is knowing how to find out what you’re meant to do. Unless you have to leave your job immediately, it pays to take a little time to examine what it is you don’t like about your current job and to find out what you do like. Knowing the type of work that interests you is a better indicator of future success than simply knowing what you can’t stand about your current job. Jumping from the hot pan into the fire may not be what you want to do.

One tool to help people get started is a career assessment. It’s a survey or an inventory of our likes and dislikes in relation to work preferences. It’s the starting point for making a career transition.

A second mistake people often make is to take the first job offered to them after an interview without knowing what the job will entail.

Peggy R. decided to leave her job suddenly. She went to be the planning director in a small community about half an hour’s drive from her home. Peggy didn’t take the time to research the new position because she was so anxious to leave her state job. The community had gone through a series of planning directors because the city council was in political turmoil.

Too many people see the job search process as a tedious, even a painful process. Instead, it should be viewed as an adventure.

For people in desperate need of money, taking the first or any job offer may make sense. But for many people, it’s a mistake not to use the interview process to find out if the job is compatible with what they want. They could discover that their boss doesn’t match their working style, the company or agency culture is oppressive to them, the work is unfulfilling, or the workload is too heavy. As an interviewee, you need to do research and evaluate the new workplace as much as those who are evaluating you.

A third mistake people often make is they don’t try to make a career change. I hear people say, “If only I could have the courage to find a new job. I hate my job, but I’m too afraid to make a mistake. If I move on to something terrible, I’d lose the job I do have.”

Robert T. has worked for the same agency for 30 years. Nearing retirement, he doesn’t want to rock the boat. He doesn’t like his job and he’s grumpy. He makes people miserable.

The first step in overcoming this fear is to acknowledge that it’s fear of the unknown. These fears can be addressed and managed in ways that help us take risks we need to take to bring positive change in our lives and into our careers. Life is about taking risks – reasonable risks – risks that don’t have to leave you without a job or without a means of support.

The fourth mistake people make is taking huge and dangerous career risks.

Susan K. quit her job as a city planner working with developers on permits because she was promised a better one with a state environmental agency that she really wanted to work with. Susan jumped too quickly into the job change. The state agency kept delaying. She was unemployed for three months.

It would be better for Susan to have known the details of her new job, including when it started, and ideally have this in writing.

The fifth mistake people make in career transitions is they assume that their hard work and diligence will speak for itself and their bosses will see how worthy they are for a promotion.

Chris R. wanted a promotion. She worked long hours preparing excellent publications for the planning department. Unfortunately, her promotion never came. Her boss expected his employees to do good work. He didn’t think there was anything special about her work performance. Managers need to be shown why their employees should get promoted and the only ones who can do that are the employees themselves.

Planners need to think about how to show their managers how valuable they are to them and the agency or firm they work for. Wise professionals need to devote time to their own public relations program. Many techniques are available to do this.

The sixth mistake people make when they attempt career changes is they assume that unless they have work experience in the field they want to transition to, they will have to go back to school and get retrained. This may be true in some cases, but in many career transitions may not require formal retraining.

David C. is a baby boomer and wanted to do something different and get something more out of his work life. He was becoming bored with the routine planning work that he’d been doing for years. David used his skills as an urban planner and organizer and transitioned into becoming a manager of a transportation planning organization. In his new job, he’s been able to use his skills successfully to open up a completely different career.

People often underestimate the many skills they have acquired over the years and how transferable these skills can be in making significant career changes. An assessment of what they already know and how to use it could go a long way to help people transition into more rewarding work.

Keeping these six things in mind as you make a career transition will help you make the change without costly mistakes. Many techniques are available to assist you. Books and CDs are available. You could also try to find a career coach to assist you. Career coaches can listen to your concerns and help you figure out how to move forward.

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