If you do a web search for “career change advice,” you’ll come across literally millions of pages telling you how to update your LinkedIn page, dress for an interview, tell a compelling story about your work history, or network effectively.
But what they don’t offer is a clear plan for handling the energetic challenges of the process. How do you keep putting yourself out there confidently, day after day, while you’re waiting for a response? How do you avoid getting discouraged or settling for an offer that’s way below your expectations instead of holding out for the job of your dreams?
As a career coach with a background in the neurosciences of better habit modification and decision making, I help clients build up the mental skills that help them not only survive the process of making a career change, but also turn it into a chance to thrive.
Here are a few brain-based tips for how to re-frame your whole process of taking the next steps down your career path:
Re-frame: How can this process become exactly what you’ve been wanting to do for years?
Decades of research have shown us that people are happiest in jobs that allow them to:
- pursue meaningful goals
- offer feedback on their progress, and
- provide some flexibility in how to go after them.
So, the first thing I ask my clients is: Why wait for your next job to get all of that? Why not explore how to make your job search/career transition process flexible, personally meaningful, and full of progress and valuable feedback?
Think of your search process as a chance to be the boss of your time and attention. What do you want to use it to learn or get better at that really matters to you? How could you organize your time, efforts, and attention so that your days feel really rewarding? Spending all day scanning job listings won’t do that, but shadowing friends working in other industries that interest you will. Reworking your resume for the 100th time won’t, but working your way up to your 100th pushup, or yoga class, or page of that novel sitting in the closet will.
If my decades of working with clients has taught me anything, it’s that making progress in one area can give you the excitement and courage you need to make progress in many others.
So re-frame your search period and use it to become the boss of your own development as a person.
Reduce and Boost: How can you lower your anxiety so that you increase your creativity?
More research shows us two things that are crucial to know for a transition. First, stress can make it impossible to think or act effectively. Daniel Goleman, the Harvard emotional intelligence researcher, found that the alarm system of the brain can literally shut down your prefrontal cortex, the part you need to organize your search, determine which offers are right for you, and strategize the best ways to do that. He calls this process the amygdala hijack.
To avoid this happening during your search, ask yourself how you could make this period less stressful. Some of my clients decide to:
- take a part-time job or dip into savings to reduce their financial anxiety and give them the time and space they need to find a better job
- start doing more exercise, which not only reduces stress, but also helps you sleep and think better
- start spending more time with the people they care about.
All of these are great ways to take back control of your best thinking tools.
Second, since research by Teresa Amabile and others has shown that creativity is boosted by a positive mindset - especially one focused on small and daily “wins” - how can you feel successful more often? Creating a list of doable daily tasks and checking them off can work, as can having regular check-ins with positive people to tell them about the steps and skills you’re getting better at. People are often happier pursuing goals than achieving them, so why not set yourself some goals that really motivate you?
One of my clients used her transition period to write new scenes for a screenplay, another to get back in shape, and another to develop new coding skills that led to an exciting new career in online advertising. Where do you most want to make progress?
Remember and re-purpose: How can your past breakthroughs fuel your next one?
It’s amazing to me how poor my clients’ memory becomes when they start searching for a job. "It’s too late for a big change," some tell me. "I don’t know if I can do it.”
“Really?” I ask them. “So you’ve never done anything really challenging before? You’ve never surprised yourself or others by doing something new and difficult?" "No, of course I have, many times, but this is different,” they tell me. But I know that’s just their anxiety talking. Once we go into the memory banks, they find example after example of moments when they thrived in tough conditions, when adversity seemed to push them to do much better than usual, not worse.
“Why can’t this be another of those times?” I ask them. “What skills did you call on to make that breakthrough and how can we adapt them for your next one?”
So ask yourself, what have your greatest victories and breakthroughs been? What skills did you tap and elevate to make them? And how can you call on them now to meet this challenge so that this is one of the best times of your life?
The more of these questions you take the time to answer and the more of these steps you choose to take, the more energy and creativity you’ll have to draw from during your career change. An added bonus is that your resulting lack of stress, your excitement, and energy will make people much more interested in helping you. So start building up those reserves - they are the key to making your next move your best move.
Pratt Bennet is a Communication & Career Coach who uses cutting-edge research in the "neuroscience of change" to help clients break out of the static patterns that have been holding them back and start creating new habits to live more meaningful careers & lives. A highly-regarded coach and innovative educator, Pratt has a long history of helping clients achieve transformational results of lasting value. He has given hundreds of talks and also coached clients on how to craft messages that inspire others to action, including 3 TED talks. He can help you design and deliver the kind of talk that can dramatically improve others' perception of your value and potential.