That All Important First Career Transition
What is the first career transition like?
I’m a career coach. I work with people to help them find new professional opportunities. Some of those I work with are young 20-somethings just out of graduate school, and others are 50+ looking for an encore career after working in another field. Because my own career has been mostly in the conflict resolution, higher education, and international affairs fields, I tend to focus on helping individuals seeking careers in those areas. It’s fulfilling work, though sometimes I don’t necessary know the impact that I have on those I work with.
Life is all about transition, a word that can be overused. Maybe “change” or “move” might be better to use. But, I like transition because it implies that the person in transition is actively engaged in seeking it. Sometimes “change” is forced upon us or we need to “move” on, sometimes rather quickly. But even in cases where it is unexpected, to make the most of the transition, a person must own the process and seek it not only as an end goal (getting a job), but look at it as an opportunity to learn about oneself. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s famous quote: “as the means, so the end.” How the process of career exploration is conducted (means), can uncover one’s values and aptitudes, and set expectations that will craft the right goal or “end” for a career seeker.
I’ve gone through plenty of transitions. Nearing 60, I have the advantage of hindsight to consider my “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” list. Not to bore you, but I started as a lawyer, which led me to college teaching, which led to work as a mediator, which led me overseas teaching in the Fulbright program, which led to a government “think tank,” which led me to where I am today. The transition trigger tended to be similar in each move: I started to see the limitations of where I was – my skills weren’t being used and I didn’t see a change anytime soon. An uncomfortable work setting or not seeing eye to eye with colleagues or my boss often amplified this. I’ve now been through at least 6-7 transitions. It’s hard to keep track.
I teach graduate students and often advise them on career options, encourage them, and when necessary readjust their expectations. Like a lot of professors, students ask me to be references for them when they apply for work. It’s a difficult place to be sometimes: when it is a student I am excited about the recommendation comes easy. But often the student is not one I want to recommend, and I’ve had to frankly tell students that they will need to seek a recommendation elsewhere. That dilemma is worth an article in itself.
Today, I had a day all coaches and professors wish for: one of my students got the job he dreamt of and one that fits him well. He will be working in a mediation center in a major city in the Midwest. I was glad to be a reference for him. I also feel I made some good job seeking suggestions for him. It’s a great feeling – yes, for him of course, but also for me as a professor and coach. Knowing that well-deserving young professionals obtain good career opportunities is important and brings meaning to those of us working to help them in making their all important first transition.
David J. Smith is a career coach focusing on peacebuilding, social change, conflict resolution, higher education, and international career pathways. He is the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016) and is the president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, Inc. David is an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.