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How to Make a Confident Career Change

Start by establishing your values.

In the last year, I’ve had coaching conversations with nearly 100 leaders. Almost half of those leaders had been in their role for less than one year. A common question I hear is, “How do you remain confident when you’re new to your job, you’re still learning and not sure if you fit in?”  I’ve asked myself the same question when I’ve switched jobs.

Making a career change is exciting, but it also flares up what the ego hates most – the discomfort of change. Even though we chose this new career, experiencing the identity shift from expert to novice can feel overwhelming. The transition doesn’t have to wreck your confidence, here are some ways to establish the clear values critical to your job search (promotions, too!), how to tame your ego during the change, and a helpful goal for the first 90 days.

Define Your Values

If you haven’t said yes to the job offer yet, then it’s a perfect time to reflect on your values and finding a company whose values are aligned with yours. Some reflections that I considered to help evaluate values alignment when I was changing jobs were: How do the leaders make decisions? How do people work together? Is there team decision making or do people mostly proceed on their own? What work style and work life values are really important to you? What are your non-negotiables?

While there are many factors to consider in your job search like salary, flexibility and rewarding work, a long-term fit will be difficult if your core values – what you truly desire in day in and day out work – don’t match. When you’re interviewing, ask questions that will reveal examples and situations to help you determine if there is a values match. When there is alignment, the next two processes will be much easier.

Accept the Identity Shift

We often believe that since we chose the job the transition will be easy. In the very beginning, it is typically exciting and energizing. Not long after new leader onboarding, our ego realizes how big of a change just happened. And, our ego hates to be uncomfortable. Before I made a career change to work for a healthcare technology company, I worked for a bank for 12 years. During those 12 years I worked in several business units, giving me the opportunity to meet a variety of people, which built connections I needed to get answers or projects completed.  I felt comfortable because I “just knew” how the business made decisions or who to call.

With this career change, I went from a big company to a small company. From expert to novice. From knowing all the answers to knowing no answers. This new, daily discomfort from having no clue how the organization made decisions or how processes worked was unnerving. Because of this discomfort, my inner critic had lots of questions and accusations like, “If you aren’t the expert, how do you add value? How are you contributing if you can’t use your expertise? You should be further along than you are.” This transition period feels uncomfortable and I wanted it to go away – fast.

Counterintuitively, the way to move through this transition isn’t to rush it, but to address the root issue.  It is not the job change that causes discomfort, but that your ego is wrestling with losing its identity as the expert, the know-it-all, the rider of a comfortable routine. Our stress builds because we resist the discomfort, believing that we should be an expert already. When we can get comfortable with not knowing and recognizing that our identity is undergoing a shift, we can be kinder to ourselves. We relax, and show up less stressed in our new role, too.

Change Your Goal

Building on this, try giving your ego a break by changing your goal, especially during your first 90 days. Every time I’ve made a career change, I had to change my goal from “knowing and doing all the things” to seeking learning and understanding. For high achiever types who measure their worth on output, this feels lazy and even a bit appalling.  But consider this, in those first 90 days, what would be different for you if you challenged yourself to see how much you could learn? Or get to know your team and clients? How decisions are made? In my most recent transitions, my first 90 days was spent searching for understanding within the organization, its values, strategies, and most importantly, my team’s unique strengths.

Once I got comfortable and made learning my goal, producing results flowed more easily because I wasn’t pressuring myself to be the expert. A goal of learning silenced my inner critic, who liked to inform me that I wasn’t contributing fast enough. Another benefit to explore is if you do a good job of learning your role and your team, you might actually produce more than you expect, especially through developing relationships.

A career change can bring a duality of emotions – excitement for the new journey and overwhelm as you move through the process of relearning and adjusting. Embrace the “and” – I can be qualified and a beginner. I can feel confident and uncomfortable. New to our roles, we get so busy that we tend to forget that everything we’ve learned and achieved in previous roles can transfer with us. Consider your three biggest work challenges and successes. What skills did you use to achieve them? How could you transfer those skills to help you create small wins in your new role?

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