five-tips-for-navigating-career-changeFive Tips for Navigating Career Change

Last year, I decided to finally follow my heart and change careers. Career change was not new to me. In 2002, faced with the choice of accepting a generous severance package from The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), Inc. or working in a different department at the same pay grade, I opted to temporarily bow out of the Washington, DC rat race to focus on family and finish up my graduate degree.

Dual Career Path

During my time away from the rat race, I had the opportunity to do a practicum in international education at George Mason University. Years ago, as an undergraduate student, I had dreamed about becoming an international student adviser. I wanted to help international students just as my international student adviser at Université de Montréal had helped and mentored me. During this practicum, I was advised to gain additional living abroad experience and encouraged to apply for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. This could be the topic of another post, so I won’t go into detail here!

During my practicum, I was advised to gain additional living abroad experience and encouraged to apply for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. More on that in a future post!

Fast forward to my re-entry to the United States after living in Japan for two years. Initially I lived in Sarasota, Florida, where, ironically, I wrote the obituary column for the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Ironically because my dad had died two weeks after I arrived in Japan two years prior–to say this job was therapeutic would be an understatement. I then jumped from publishing back to a more international business position after relocating to Denver, Colorado where I was the Senior Trade Commissioner’s Assistant at the Canadian Consulate.

Several months later, I followed my spouse and relocated back to the East Coast where I shifted back into the publishing world yet again.

First, on Capitol Hill as a QA Editor for the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress), and then, after the tortuous commute wore me down, joined a standards-setting organization closer to home, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), as Senior Editor.

After three years as Senior Editor, I left USP to try my hand at international education (Youth For Understanding), then rejoined USP 6 months later, where I joined the Global Health department. Notice a pattern? Of course, I noted my dual career path on my LinkedIn profile!

Radical Change

Another hop, skip, and a jump, and I landed back at BNA, but under new ownership as BNA was acquired by media and financial giant, Bloomberg. After two years of (B)BNA, I reached out to a career coach, Denise Riebman at Career Happiness Coaching, whose consulting practice and coaching style was a natural fit for what I was seeking at this juncture in life. Denise gave me lots of homework and questions for me to further reflect upon — work I often did during my laborious metro commute from suburban Maryland to Crystal City, Virginia!


“Old Main,” Penn State University, University Park, PA

After numerous informational interviews, which, surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed as I had the opportunity to speak with like-minded, down-to-earth professionals eager to share information and mentor others, I circled back to my mentor of years past. She forwarded a job posting for an international student adviser position at Penn State University in University Park, PA and suggested I consider moving outside of the DC area. I had heard of Penn State, of course, but had never considered applying for jobs outside of the DC metro area. I decided to go for it, figuring I might not even be considered for an interview.

Fast forward to the eve of my birthday where I received the happy news that I was accepted for one of three international student adviser positions. When asked, “When can you start?” I asked if mid-October would work as I needed to give notice to my current employer, find temporary housing, get my home in Maryland ready to sell, and find permanent housing so that my family could relocate!

5 Tips for Navigating Career Change

Almost three months later, I find myself reflecting on what advice would I offer to someone unhappy in their current career, especially at the mid-career level. It was difficult limiting myself to five tips, but here it goes….

  1. Find a supportive career coach. His or her goal should be to guide you in the search for a career where you will be happy, not milk you for hourly fees which can add up long-term. My coach respected that I was on a tight budget.
  2. Set aside a realistic amount of time each week to (re)discovering yourself and exploring potential career paths. Invest time and energy to update your LinkedIn profile and resume and solicit feedback from your support network.
  3. Be open to accepting a lower level and/or lower paying position to break into a new field. Note that this may be difficult if you are an expert or the ‘go to’ person in your current position.
  4. Consider relocating. Recognize that this may be challenging if you have a family, but not impossible.
  5. Re-frame your career search as an adventure. If you view your career search and self-exploration as an arduous task, you are more likely to give up before reaching your ‘destination.’

Last, as my career coach advised me, rather than focusing on the negative during your self-exploration (and what you don’t want to do), focus on what makes you happy!

Although reflecting on your values, identifying what matters most to you at this point in your life, and deciding what trade-offs you are willing to make is serious business, you can still have fun!