Seven Steps to Survive and Thrive in a Career Transition

Career Change July 23, 2019 By: Wendy-Jo Toyama, CAE

In times of an unexpected career transition, association leaders must stand ready for change and act fearlessly. Here are seven tips to help move you forward to the next job.

I remember the moment I said, “I am a good employee; they wouldn’t fire me.”

This was in the days that I worked at a newspaper. The business model was changing, and I felt vulnerable. A colleague who was older and wiser admonished me—saying it wasn’t a guarantee. While I moved on from that job on my own terms, her words stayed with me.

In associations, career transition happens for any number of reasons. The industry tightens or membership takes a dip and results in layoffs. Maybe you’re on the senior leadership team, and a new CEO is hired and builds a new team. Or the board that hired you has matriculated and now volunteers want new leadership or a different approach.

These scenarios are not uncommon. As with so many other challenges in life, it is about how you respond to the adversity. Here are seven steps any association executive can take:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. Allow yourself to wallow for a few days, but then pick yourself up and get going. If you are depressed, determine if you need additional help. There are therapists and doctors who can help you deal with the stress and anxiety that accompanies a job loss.

    Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it, and realize that there are likely many other colleagues you know, respect, and admire who have been in your shoes before. Job loss is the dirty secret that no one talks about, in part due to contractual agreements or because it is taboo. An executive coach also told me not to be surprised if former colleagues stop talking to you because they think career loss is contagious. I wasn’t hurt or surprised when that came to pass, and on the flip side, you’ll find out who your true friends are.

  2. Let people know. It could be the least likely person who puts you in touch with a contact who helps you land the next job. The biggest challenge is getting comfortable talking about your transition. Work up a brief way to describe what happened. Don’t place blame or make excuses. Develop a succinct statement of the position that you want.

  3. Invest in yourself. Sometimes people call this time an in-between period. I call it a sabbatical: a rare opportunity in your career where you’ll have time to focus on other pursuits than a job. While not a choice, don’t squander the moment. What ignites your passion, and what doesn’t? Are there new challenges to undertake? What would you change about your work? What skills do you need, and how best to acquire them? You have the time. Dive into that passion or enroll in a new class or credential.

  4. Widen your circle. This is also the time to reach out to your professional network. If you haven’t made time to cultivate a network, it’s never too late to start. It may be counterintuitive, but start with vendors. They know a wide range of people and typically have a pulse on the industry landscape. Also, consider attending job clubs, or perhaps another local community at a library, religious institution, or nonprofit. Employment agencies often have groups for those seeking employment too. You might consider hiring a career coach who can help you home in on a vision. Take full advantage of any outplacement services that are offered.

  5. Be flexible. Your goal is to find a job. Have clarity on your values and which aspects of the job are nonnegotiable. Keep in mind that you may need to be flexible to widen the pool of career opportunities. Finding a new job is a numbers game—if your search is too narrow, it will take longer. If you want to fully understand this principle, it is well-covered by Orville Pierson’s website, the Highly Effective Job Search.

  6. Take pride in yourself. Understand that while losing your job under any circumstances is personal, the decision likely isn’t about you. Reframe this opportunity, and realize you’re not alone—many other good people lose their jobs. You are joining an exclusive group of powerful and resilient leaders and will come out of this experience much stronger.

  7. Pay it forward. Finally, you’ll never forget how difficult it was to lose a job. It is a humbling and hard experience, and you will always remember those who helped you along the way. Remember to thank those who helped you reach a new career, and acknowledge their assistance. And make sure when someone reaches out to you for help, you take time to give back.

Wendy-Jo Toyama, CAE

Wendy-Jo Toyama, MBA, CAE, is executive director of the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.