Want to Make a Career Transition? Start Planning a Few Steps Ahead!

As I have begun working on launching a social enterprise “Chef Koochooloo” in the Tech Ed/Food Innovation Space, (Yes, I know it is  VERY FAR stretch from Enterprise Software) I began consulting with other female entrepreneurs to see how the transition was for them. The conversations were so helpful that I decided to design the mini workshop:  “Managing Career Transitions” and invite one of my all time favorite managers from Yahoo! (and former entrepreneur) , Sarah Acton to come and provide mentorship to SAP’s Business Women Network.

Sarah is a highly creative and strategic senior marketing executive with over 17 years of experience at companies such as LinkedIn, Yahoo!, Coca-Cola, and The Home Depot, as well as a successful launch for a store. She is also someone who has successfully navigated transitions in her own career and always had a smile in her face, no matter how tough the day was. I was impressed by Sarah’s ability to keep a balanced life and manage two active boys.

Sarah’ support was incredible when I went through the first round of ‘ectopic pregnancies’.  I still remember the day she personally drove me to the hospital, and given her positive outlook on life, I could not be in better company as I held to the door handle with pain and hoped for the best . When I lost the baby, her flexibility in allowing me to work from home during recovery phase was touching.

Sarah’s talk was engaging and inspiring.  One of the young aspiring Marketers in the audience, Teresa Huang wrote a blog post about the event and we thought it would be good to share her post below with those who could not attend.


Here are the key takeaways from Sarah’s engaging talk:

Start thinking a few steps ahead.

Think about the “after” while you’re still in your current position. Where do you want your path to go, and how will you get there? Identifying your goals and assessing your current skill set will help you formulate an action plan. Acknowledge that there are areas where you may need help and begin networking strategically.

Know your story.

You’ve planned ahead, done your research, and now you’ve landed a job interview. Great! Be prepared to explain why you’ve decided to make this transition and what specific skills you can offer to the new position. Showing resiliency, creativity, and an ability to overcome challenges can also help to tell your story. Minimizing your perceived risk to the hiring manager is essential and can take you further in the interviewing process.

Keep in touch with your network on a regular basis.

Even when you’re not looking to make a career change, stay in touch with your professional and personal network. If contacts in your network reach out to you for advice, offer your help without expecting anything in return. You never know when you may need help in the future! If you do end up asking your network for help, be clear about your goals. Your contacts will best be able to help you when you’re specific about where you’re headed.

We also discussed some interesting questions, which I’ve highlighted below.

What are your thoughts on the role of higher education in career transitions? Is an MBA still necessary to obtain a role in upper management or becoming a successful entrepreneur? 

There isn’t one magic answer to this question. The value of an MBA (or other degree) depends on an individual’s target position. Do some research and look at individuals in your network that hold the job that you want, and see if they have MBAs. Talk to those contacts about their experiences, and this will help you decide if an MBA will be valuable in your own career path.

How do I make a career shift within my current company?

If it makes sense within your company’s culture, talk to your current manager about moving to a different job function and how s/he can help you reach that goal. The company has already invested in you, so it’s in their best interest to continue to retain you, even if it’s in a different department. If you’re not comfortable bringing up a career shift to your manager, find a colleague or a friend who has successfully made an internal job shift, and learn how they were able to achieve that.

Lastly, I will leave you with a few of Sarah’s tips to strengthen your LinkedIn profile when transitioning into a new field, or launching a company in a different space:

  • Be creative with your headline. The headline defaults to your current or most recent job title. This is your opportunity to tell others the bigger vision you have for yourself, so get creative! For example, “Passionate leader with proven track record of innovation.”
  • Customize your LinkedIn Profile URL. Go to Edit Profile > “Edit” (next to your current LinkedIn URL) > Customize your public profile URL.
  • Be actively engaged. Join a few groups and network with like-minded professionals. Follow influencers that you respect. Your profile shouldn’t be merely a description of your current and past jobs. Potential employers and networking contacts who view your profile will want to know who you are, not just what you do.

Thanks again to Sarah for an engaging and lively discussion!

What are your best tips for navigating career transitions successfully? If you are an entrepreneur as well, share with us if you would do anything different!