As an ambitious professional, you may feel the only way to get ahead is by making big, bold moves. After all, you’re not getting any younger, so you may want to achieve “success” as quickly as possible. However, making major changes can be daunting and overwhelming. On top of that, the fear of failure and the unknown can leave you feeling stuck and paralyzed.
Small changes can eventually add up to the significant transformations you want for your career. Rather than focusing solely on landing your dream role right away, consider breaking down your career ambitions into manageable, incremental steps. Taking a patient and strategic approach can allow you to slowly reshape your career path over the long term.
Your job consists of five fundamental elements: your work location, area of expertise, company, department, and role. Although it may be tempting to change all these components in one fell swoop, and while nothing’s impossible, executing such a bold move can be challenging.
Any job change involves switching costs. You need to rebuild your reputation, learn the ropes of your new role, and understand the politics of your new organization. Adapting to multiple changes like a new team, culture, role, and organization all at once is tough. Throw in working in a new geography, and you have a recipe for feeling completely overwhelmed.
By maintaining some anchors, you can make the process of adapting to a new professional role more palatable. Narrow your focus and take things one step at a time by keeping something constant in your career. Perhaps you can shift roles within the same organization, or change organizations within the same region, or move locations while hanging onto your core job responsibilities.
For example, if you want to switch sectors, you could start by taking on a job in the sector you're interested in, even if it's not your dream job. Take this opportunity to learn the ropes, make connections, and gain relevant experience in that sector. You can then use that experience to apply for better jobs in that sector until you eventually land your dream job.
If you want to switch organizations, you might start by making a lateral move into a parallel role rather than insisting on a promotion and stretching yourself too thin. Hit the ground running by leveraging your existing functional knowledge and skills. In that role, you can then build relationships with people and a track record of success to then ascend within the organization.
If you want to switch functions or roles, try volunteering for tasks or projects that are outside your current job description. Gain experience and develop skills in the areas you're interested in. Then, use those experiences and skills to apply for jobs that are a better fit for you.
Your resume is often the first impression that recruiters have of you, and lacking the necessary skills or experience for the job you're applying for can make it difficult to stand out from other applicants. While changing one element of your job at a time requires more patience, this approach keeps you moving toward your destination instead of hitting insurmountable walls.
If you're looking to make a career change, but don’t feel you quite have the qualifications yet, a "bridge job" might be the way to go. A bridge job is a transitional role that allows you to gain experience in your desired field while still earning an income. A bridge job can provide a smoother transition while helping you develop the skills you need for your new career path. These roles can be a practical and effective way to build your confidence, craft a narrative that appeals to hiring managers, and ultimately reach your long-term career goals.
As far back as I can remember, I’d always enjoyed cooking, eating, and trying new foods. So when I embarked on a career in marketing, I recall wanting to work for a food brand early on. However, getting there ended up involving multiple steps that spanned several years.
I started my career studying the medical sciences, and one of my first business-oriented roles was working in health policy consulting, which had nothing to do with marketing. However, I got involved with a corporate branding project at work, later completed an MBA focused on marketing, and eventually landed at a packaged goods company marketing trash bags and drain opener.
During those years, I remember feeling frustrated and uninspired marketing products that didn’t really excite me personally. I never imagined I would ever say I market trash bags for a living! Although I couldn’t see it at the time, those “bridge roles” were not only helpful but necessary so I could learn the nuts and bolts of marketing in the household goods sector that I eventually used once I landed a role in brand management for a food brand.
Unlocking your career potential can be compared to cracking a combination padlock. While randomly changing all the dials at once might seem like the easiest solution, having a plan in place and systematically moving the numbers one at a time can yield better results. Instead of making a sudden, drastic career change, consider taking small, strategic steps to build a stronger and more sustainable foundation for your subsequent moves.
Success is not achieved overnight. Rather, it results from a series of mindful shifts that gradually move you toward your goals. Whether it's changing your location, sector, organization, function, or role, making manageable tweaks can add up to meaningful changes in the long run.
Reaching your dream career requires time and patience, but with enough persistence, you'll eventually make progress. Before you know it, you'll have the professional career you've always dreamed of, proud of the progress you've made and the small steps that got you there.