Navigating The Three Phases of Career Transitions

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Navigating The Three Phases of Career Transitions

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Each year, millions of people make an internal shift, reaching a point where they are ready to explore a new career. This phenomenon has only been expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic - with more than 40% of participants in Microsoft’s Work Trend Index (1), a global survey of over 30,000 people in 31 countries, said they are considering leaving their employer in 2021.

Career transitions can be one of the most exciting challenges in any professional’s life. However, taking the leap can also be incredibly stressful. Whether it’s a career change, a new job, returning to school, or being laid off - such 90-degree turns can be jarring.

Hence, today we’ll explore the ins and outs of career transitions to help you better navigate your new professional venture.

Career Change Vs Career Transition - What’s The Difference?

Career Change Vs Career Transition - What’s The Difference?

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Yes, there is a difference between a career change and a career transition. William Bridges, a consultant and author on individual and corporate change, highlights the distinction between these two profoundly different phenomena.

Career Change

Change is an external shift in your life. This includes a new job, company reorganization or merger, a new home, or a new relationship.

Career Transition

Transition is an internal shift within you. This means you have reached a point where you’re letting go of an old idea, self-image, or aspiration. This article hence focuses on career transitions and how we can better navigate our internal psychological shifts to support our professional wellbeing.

The Three Phases of Career Transitions

The Three Phases of Career Transitions

Source: Pexels

Recent studies (2) on adult career transitions found that the professional shifts are intricately connected with the individual’s psychological adjustment. Understanding the transition process is important to the psychological well-being of individuals going through some kind of life re-adaptation, including those that are career-related.

A transition could be precipitated by an external change. For example, many individuals had to press pause on their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This forced employees to step back from their busy lives and think about pursuing a career that has more meaning or balance for them.

Transitions may also occur because further advancement in your current career isn’t possible. For instance, you realize your skills have reached “the ceiling” and you’re no longer progressing in your current industry.

Regardless, William Bridges emphasizes that all career transitions start with an ending, develop into a neutral phase, and end with a new beginning. And each phase has its respective strategies people can hone into to help them steer their career transitions.

The Ending

Paradoxically, every transition must start with an ending. Even during a career transition, this ending phase provides us with the space for the creative act of constructing a new career.

Navigating the ending

i. Identify your losses: You need to identify what you’re letting go of and learn how to manage the changes. Determine what you will let go, and what you will keep. These may include relationships, systems, routines, or environments.

ii. Accept: You need to accept that something is ending before you can begin to accept a new idea. Without acknowledging your emotions, you'll likely encounter resistance throughout the entire change process.

iii. Don’t rush: People try to avoid this stage or rush it because it can be difficult and painful. However, this is a pre-condition for self-renewal. So, take your time and don’t give up.

The Neutral Zone

The neutral zone is the bridge between the old and the new. People may still be attached to the old, and it probably won't yet be clear what the new is.

Navigating the neutral zone

i. Seek solitude: We need quiet time and space to engage in the creative act of constructing a new life. Career consultants suggest people take time off for a few days or take a personal retreat. The solitude associated with this break helps you reflect and opens you up for transformation.

ii. Assess your strengths: You may use your time in solitude to assess your strengths that may be useful in your next career. Review the work you have enjoyed performing in the past. Ask yourself how your current skills can align with your core values in regards to your next career?

iii. Don’t escape it: Many people find this a terrifying stage as they still have no idea where you are heading. However, this phase is essential to start a new beginning. You need to surrender to this phase of uncertainty. You may think of it as a period of inner readjustment where realignment begins to take shape.

The New Beginning

The last transition stage is a time of acceptance and renewal. People have begun to embrace the challenges of a transition. They're also building the skills they need to work successfully in their new career.

Navigating the new beginning

i. Take action: Begin to earn and absorb all that you can so that you can carry out your new role effectively. Be proactive and begin integrating with your new team and environment.

ii. Enjoy the process: Recognize that this is a marathon and not a sprint. So, enjoy the journey and take time to celebrate each milestone.

iii. Align goals with your long-term purpose: Link your personal goals to the long-term objectives of your new career. This helps you reinforce your purpose for this change while keeping the path clear.


If you’re going through a career transition, it’s easy to feel like a fish out of water. However, career transitions don't necessarily need to be an intimidating “leap”. They can be a series of steps where you deal with both the practical issues and the emotional ones.

And remember, you took the new opportunity because you want to be proactive in your career. So embrace the challenges that come with transitions and know that you’re capable of overcoming this and thriving in your new professional venture.

To conclude, we quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.”

Read other Career Related Resources:

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  1. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index

  2. Making sense of different perspectives on career transitions: A review and agenda for future research

  3. Bridges Transition Model

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