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5 Ways to Navigate an Unexpected Career Shift

People with steadily progressing careers are lucky because they don’t need to deal with the daunting consequence of a career shift.

Anyone who has experienced a sharp 90-degree turn from where they were headed can attest to how destabilizing a career change can be. With an unexpected career shift, the ground is swept from underneath your feet, and it shakes the reality you know.

Whether it was your choice, the fact remains that a career change can be disorienting and overwhelming. However, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to get through.

With these five proven ways, you can navigate an unexpected career transition unscathed.

1.   Set aside time to worry

Although worrying seems counterproductive to what you’re trying to achieve, it’s actually better for you to set aside time for it. Worrying is something that can’t be helped, especially for people who often get stressed out easily and worry all day and night.

Since trying to stop it is futile, allow yourself some 15 minutes or so in a day to give in to worry. This can help you control the habit and make you more productive in facing the forthcoming change.

Once the time is up, you can remind yourself that you’ve had enough worrying for one day — literally.

2.   Get closure

A transition requires closure, which is why you have to get one before you move on in a career shift. If you don’t tie up loose ends, you’ll find it hard to move on.

To get closure, you must first accept the fact that this chapter of your career is coming to an end. Know that there’s nothing to go back to, and there’s no need to.

And you have to make sure it is so: you don’t owe your old employer anything, and any ongoing projects are no longer yours to worry about. Only after you do this can you move forward.

3.   Conduct a self-assessment

Before jumping into a job search, you must first take the time to assess yourself. A 9-to-5 grind often leaves you unable to get things into perspective, so when you’re out of that cycle, you have to plot your course carefully. And to do that, you must first know where you stand.

Remember that the more you know about yourself—especially what you can do and why you want to do it—the more value you’ll get from the career change.

To find out, consider asking yourself these questions:

What skills do I have that I love?

While you may not like most of your duties in your old job, there should be at least one or two tasks that have helped get you through every workday. The skills you use for doing the things you love should be part of your focus on finding your next job, as it is likely the thing that will make you happy in the next chapter of your career.

What skills do I need to use that I dislike?

Besides the things you like, it is also a good idea to determine what you dislike in your old job. Be honest with yourself, as your answer can affect how well you’ll be enjoying your next job.

What is the most important thing for me at work?

Next, you’ll want to assess your priorities in your career. Whether you want to make a difference in your country or wish to catalyze change in someone’s life, pinpointing what you value most can help you have something to get excited about at work (besides getting your paycheck, of course).

What am I interested in now, and what do I want to learn?

There are also certain hobbies that you may want to be able to do at work. Since these activities are directly tied to your passion, considering them on your next job hunt will make it easier to land a job that doesn’t feel like work and one that you’ll love to do for a long time.

What was I doing when I was at the happiest point of my career?

Like passion, fulfillment is also important in a career. To know this, you must try to recall the happy moments you had at work. These instances that give you a sense of fulfillment can also guide your choice in your next career.

4.   Do some research and use your network

Now that you know yourself better, it is time for you to expand your knowledge about the industry. And what better way to do this than with research?

When gathering information, look at job descriptions and requirements in the industry that you’re interested in. This can be the same sector where you used to work or a different one, just remember not to be discouraged if you don’t have the skills required for certain jobs yet. Remember that this is just for research.

Apart from job posts, social media can also be an excellent source of information.

Twitter can be useful for knowing industry trends, but you can also search for people on LinkedIn who once held or are holding positions you’re looking into. Send them a message and ask about their career paths, particularly the steps they took. Although some will ignore you, others will provide helpful knowledge.

The real value of your connections on LinkedIn does not lie in just getting connected, but rather in an exchange of knowledge. If you have friends and connections working in the same industry you want to enter, ask for help.

5.   Get ready for change

Not all changes can be predicted. If you’re lucky, you’ll be given a heads-up of the upcoming transition you need to take that could at least give you some time to prepare for the shift. So, if you have the luxury of knowing what will happen soon, take steps to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Below are some things you can do:


Once you’ve decided on a career and evaluated your current skills, you may realize that you need to gain more knowledge and skills to fare well in the new job you’re aiming for. This is where upskilling can come in handy.

You can go back to school or enroll in online classes. You can also try partaking in a career development program. Keep your research in mind and let it guide your decisions in what courses to take and skills to hone.

Update your paperwork

Besides upping your credentials, you also need to update your application arsenal for when it’s time to go job hunting again.

Update and polish your resume. Ask professionals in your network in the same industry to know if they would be willing to vouch for your skills and act as references.

You may also need to update and improve your portfolio. When doing so, gather the best samples you have from your past work.

Make a painless career shift

Changing courses suddenly can be daunting and overwhelming, but it is definitely not an impossible situation. A painless career shift depends on how prepared you are and how well you’ve set yourself up for the future.


Leila Rezaiguia is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Kompass Consultancy, an innovative global talent management consultancy headquartered in Dubai and with offices in Abu Dhabi and Sydney, that specialises in enabling individuals, organisations and educational institutions to achieve performance excellence and career success. Leila is a multi-lingual (English, Arabic and French) PCC Coach, Mentor Coach, Trainer, Facilitator and Business Mentor who is passionate about coaching, women in leadership, talent management and organisational development.

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