How to Chart a Successful Career Change

Chart a successful career change

Career shifts can sometimes be tricky. Some individuals proactively and carefully navigate a smooth career shift after thoroughly assessing their current situation and realizing they desire something different. For most of my clients, though, the decision to make a change comes after a long period of feeling uncomfortable, anxious, and sometimes even burned out and depressed. These two scenarios make for two completely different career change journeys. Thankfully, I have learned that it is possible to help clients in the latter group. I’d like to share my tips for guiding them as they chart a successful career change.

To use a metaphor, the first group of workers can be seen as sailors navigating on calm water, under a clear sky. They have a profound knowledge of their strengths, values, and needs. Their deeply rooted sense of self, combined with adequate resources (money, time, energy, support systems), act as shining stars, guiding them through a smooth, obstacle-free ride. The second set of individuals, however, must reach the “satisfaction and well-being shore” in foggy and overcast conditions. Their emotional state provokes turbulent thoughts which renders introspection and decision-making difficult. These people represent a large percentage of my clients. They are wise enough to realize they cannot embark on the transition journey on their own without the risk of getting lost. They need the help of a career professional to become equipped with the tools and knowledge needed to undertake a successful transition.

It is important to underline that every person’s situation is unique and each career transition comprises a particular set of issues to address. Nevertheless, I find that when the current is strong (their thoughts are turbulent) and the vessel feels unstable (they express feelings of self-doubt), relying on the image of a compass can help clients gain a clearer vision of the career shift process.

N – Name Your MissionChart a Course for Career Transition

Before exploring other occupations or job offers, ask your clients to clarify what they want to achieve through their professional involvement. How do they want to contribute? Some will identify these professional needs and aspirations as their “mission.” The word “mission” might sound impressive, but it helps to know that it doesn’t necessarily have to be grandiose or prestigious. It can usually be uncovered by identifying the main skills of the individual and the ideal outcome of their contribution (what would make them most proud, at the end of the work day).

For example, a client may answer:

I want to use my diplomatic and relational skills to help people overcome their obstacles.


I want to use my analytical thinking and innovative skills to explore solutions to protect the environment.

E – Explore a Variety of Vehicles

We often have to remind ourselves that work is just one of the vehicles that can help us reach fulfillment. Therefore, we should try to help our clients make a list of the different ways in which they would feel proud and fulfilled by achieving their previously stated mission. The list can include occupations, volunteer or charity work, leisure activities, etc.

For example, a client may say:

I could use my diplomatic and relational skills to help people overcome their obstacles by pursuing an occupation such as a guidance counsellor, couples’ therapist, industrial relations consultant, psychologist, or social worker, etc.


I could use a different vehicle to fulfill my mission, such as being a volunteer tutor for students with learning difficulties.

S – Scrutinize the Spheres of Your Life

As previously stated, our adult life doesn’t revolve only around work. Other life spheres (such as family, friendships, hobbies, sports, etc.)  contribute to our sense of fulfillment and belonging. A career transition could be an opportune time for our clients to evaluate just how much time and energy they want to invest, at this specific stage, in their career and other important areas of life.

For more insights on this topic, I encourage you to read this excellent article on learning to live a blended life: Instead of Work-Life Balance, Learn to Live a Blended Life.

Giving thoughtful reflection to the spheres of life that are most important to them can help our clients determine what working conditions and type of employment suits them best (full-time, part-time, contract, face-to-face, remote work, etc.).

W – Wander Out of Your Comfort Zone

Once our clients know what contribution they want to bring to the world of work and they’ve identified specific vehicles that can help them achieve their mission without losing sight of other important life spheres, it is now time to encourage them to wander out of their comfort zones. Offer all the support you can by helping clients update their résumés, apply to jobs that fit their criteria, and practice and enhance their interview skills.

Remember that CPC offers numerous training opportunities to help us be the best at what we do — career transition coaching, employment interview coaching, résumé writing, and more.

Our clients’ need for security can often leave them stuck for a while in the “wild, wild west.” However, by supporting them in careful reflection of the previous steps (N, E, and S), their career transition journey will gain clarity. We can help tame the waves of insecurity and give them the fuel they need to brave the open sea and eventually reach that long-awaited shore of satisfaction and well-being!

Catherine Carbonneau-Bergeron is a guidance counsellor with more than a decade of experience in career guidance. Passionate and curious, she is a devoted clinician, yet still immensely attracted to the research field and eager to share the very latest findings regarding education, career, workplace integration, and well-being.

Photo by Massimiliano Leban on 123RF

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Your analogies spell out the different paths people find themselves on years into their careers Catherine. Your 5 steps chart out a helpful course of action that I can use. Merci beaucoup! Barb

Thank you for those kind words Barb. I often find that using metaphors engage clients in a more profound way than by just assessing their situation in a logical thinking process or conversation. I am glad that you found this one useful. Merci à toi! 🙂 Catherine