Career transitions can are full of uncertainty.
- You hit roadblocks; you work around them.
- You don’t hear from anyone for months then you get 5 interviews in one week.
- You plug along adding value, getting very little feedback, and then seemingly out-of-the-blue you learn about a new internal opportunity.
Anyone who has successfully made a BA career change will tell you that when that opportunity came, it felt quite serendipitous. As much as we love to plan, we cannot plan a career transition in a perfectly linear step-by-step way. They are simply too unpredictable because you are at the mercy of many factors you can’t directly control.
I’ve watched a lot of people navigate this career change. Here are the signs I look for to know they are moving, not stuck.
#1 – You are Meeting Concrete Goals
When we put together professional development plans, a common tendency is to capture a set of activities we can do, but not make them very concrete. Here are some examples:
- Make LinkedIn connections.
- Go to networking meetings.
- Learn new skills.
- Add 3 new LinkedIn connections each week.
- Go to 1 networking meeting each week and talk to 3 new people.
- Learn how to document a business process and create a sample process model.
#2 – You are Applying Your Training
I always get nervous when someone emails me and starts by listing the various training courses they’ve participated in. Participating in training is not itself progress. (Yes, this is coming from someone who provides business analysis training for a living!) Leveraging what you learn to take on new responsibilities or identify transferable skills is progress. Training can help you do that.
Someone with traction in their career is engaging in purposeful learning. They have specific expectations as to what they will achieve through training and are taking action based on those expectations. They also happen to be my favorite type of customer because I get to see them do amazing things and feel a small part of their success.
But I digress. Let’s move on to sign #3 that you are making progress and not spinning, even if you are not seeing big success signs all around you.
#3 – You are Getting Calls
If you are searching for a job, you are getting calls about potential jobs and landing some job interviews. They might not all be a perfect fit. But, if you compare the calls you are getting this month to those from last month, they are, relatively speaking, a closer fit to what you are looking for.
#4 – You are Hearing “No”
This one might be counter-intuitive, so let me explain.
- “No” is different than the dead silence of no response.
- “No” typically comes with information as to why your qualifications are not a good fit for a particular opportunity.
- “No” is not a rejection of you. It’s a “not now” or “not in this situation” or “not a good fit.”
Dead silence does not help you at all, which is what often happens if your career transition activities are limited to submitting 10 job applications a day via a job board or participating in self-learning without sharing the results of your work. If you are only getting dead silence from your activities, you might be busy, but you are not making progress.
If you are hearing “no,” you are putting yourself in a position to learn, and thereby making some progress. Which leads me to my next point.
#5 – You Are Learning From the Marketplace
In my philosophy training, I learned about a concept called “arm chair experiments.” The idea was you sit in a big comfy arm chair, consider a set of hypotheses, and then think through the implications of those hypotheses. You emerge a more enlightened soul, but you haven’t necessarily proved anything.
In the context of a career transition, you can get stuck in arm chair experiments too. Or, you can do things that give you real information, such as talk to recruiters, apply to jobs and follow-up on your applications, and discuss career options with your manager.
It’s easy to sit back and make a set of assumptions about how your experience will be valued. And it’s easy to do so and be wrong.
Those who are putting out a consistent stream of feelers have real information to work with and are moving forward. Those who are conducting arm chair experiments are stuck trusting their own (often mistaken) assumptions.
#6 – You Are Validating Your Learning
Sometimes I’ll hear someone say that one recruiter told them X was a bad idea. And they stopped doing X. Oftentimes X is something very worthwhile, like soliciting LinkedIn recommendations, applying to jobs just a slice beyond their qualifications, or reaching out directly to hiring managers.
Yes, feedback from the job market is important, but it’s also important to validate one person’s opinion against those of others and to understand why this particular person is giving you this particular piece of advice. Questioning well-intentioned advice gives you a broader perspective and helps you avoid being busy without making progress.
#7 – You are Revising Your Approach
A career transition is a learning process. Every time you submit a resume, interview for a job, or talk to another business analyst you can learn something about your local BA job market and the value of your experience.
This means that your plan will change. You might start pursuing opportunities internally and switch your focus to transitional roles at new organizations. Or vice versa. You might switch from applying to 10 random jobs per day to submitting custom, well-researched applications to 5 on-target jobs per week.
As long as you are setting concrete goals, learning from the marketplace, and validating your learning, you will revise your approach as many times as you need to until you achieve your career goal.
Career transitions are not a linear process. Revisions are a sign of progress.
The Most Important Thing
The most important thing not to do is to substitute effort for progress. The most important thing to do is look for any external sign of success and celebrate it.
In fact, if you’d like a little dose of celebration and an idea of what success look like, I suggest checking out this post next: