During career transitions, it’s important to set ourselves up for success to build our credibility and choose the right projects that will have the most impact. According to Watkins (2013), nearly 90% of 1,300 senior HR leaders agreed in a survey that “transitions into new roles are the most challenging times,” and that leaders will have about 13.5 career transitions. While career transitions give us the opportunity to grow professionally, it’s imperative that we do the right things early on to thrive in the face of change.
These transitions might be familiar to you:
- Working with new team members
- Getting promoted to a senior-level or manager position
- Changing teams or companies
- Moving industries (e.g., e-commerce to NGO)
Here are five steps to set you up for success during career transitions.
Step 1: Understand your community by asking questions before giving advice
Each team has different ways of interacting with each other. Compare your company’s meetings to Pied Piper’s meetings in the Silicon Valley TV show and you’ll begin to see differences.
As you take the time to understand your company, ask yourself the following questions:
- What’re the power dynamics between people at the company?
- How do people communicate and make decisions?
- How diverse and inclusive is the workplace?
One common pitfall is making changes before taking the time to understand why things are done. If you jump into conversations with recommendations during your first couple of weeks, your voice likely won’t be heard, and even worse, you might start to lose credibility on your team. If you have an idea, try asking a question instead of saying it as a recommendation.
Step 2: Build relationships with stakeholders
When joining a new team, it’s tempting to dive straight into work before taking the time to meet with people. When I start a new role, I take the first month to meet with as many people as possible to start building relationships. I set up meetings with my immediate team members, administratives partners, and leadership. A senior designer at Google gave me the advice: “Meet with people and listen in unofficial capacity… lunch, coffee, desk visit… anything away from a conference room. You get to know the team dynamics better that way.” As you go through this process yourself, pay attention to who could be your mentors and advocates.
Step 3: Learn about the business
To establish credibility as a UX professional, it’s critical to learn about the business and industry you’re working in. This not only helps you make better decisions and recommendations, it also helps establish your credibility as a decision-maker and thoughtful leader.
As a UX researcher, I’ve found the business stuff missing from my onboarding documents. For example, when I joined the Google Play Movies & TV team, the onboarding document had links to past research, but it was missing links to analytics dashboards, top competitors, and industry news groups. One of the most powerful ways to learn about the industry you’re working in is to join Slack channels or email groups where your company shares news.
Step 4: Choose the right projects
Now that you’ve gone through the first three steps of understanding your community, building relationships, and learning about the business, you’re in a good place to identify impactful projects. When choosing projects to work on, make sure they align with the company and team priorities. It’s also a good idea to recognize what stage of development your team is in. When I joined Google Play Music right before a launch, they needed actionable results on a short timeline. When I joined other teams at different stages of product development, I was expected to take more time doing thorough research.
It’s easy to say yes and overpromise when you make a career transition. Try to avoid overpromising and focus on quality over quantity. By focusing on quality, you can show the impact of your work more quickly.
Step 5: Receive early feedback
Getting feedback can feel scary and uncomfortable, but it’s critical for setting yourself up for success. By the end of your first three months on the team, you should review initial goals with your manager and team members to check-in on your progress and make course corrections. I’ve found a good way to ask for feedback is with a question like this: “How can I have more impact?” By asking for feedback with this type of question, you’ll get answers that are less personal and contain actionable steps for improvement.
By applying these five steps, you’re on your way to succeeding during your next career transition, whether it’s getting promoted, changing companies, or working with new team members. You’ll set yourself up for success by building your credibility quickly and working on the most impactful projects. Happy transitioning!
Watkins, M. (2013). The First 90 days: Proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter. Harvard Business Review Press.