6 Tips for an Effective Career Transition: Insights From HR Leader Mark Wattley

HR leaders are among a core group of individuals that are champions of change at every organization. They manage policies and processes related to the development and well-being of workers and have their ears to the ground of evolving trends in the workplace and people space. But while HR leaders are busy dedicating all their time to managing the needs and expectations of employees while looking out for the future of talent, many do not have the time to think about the state of their own day-to-day and what comes next. 

At Felix’s Future of Work and Life 2.0 HR Symposium, we challenged HR leaders to pause and think about their own career trajectories and what lies on the horizon. With a lively life panel that included Mark Wattely, the former VP of HR Mergers and Acquisitions at Walgreens Boots Alliance and current Chief People Officer at Cooler Screens Inc., HR leaders across industries gained valuable insight into Mark’s personal career transition from big corporate to smaller startup. 

In this next article in our HR symposium recap series, we’ll look at the key learnings from Mark’s own career transition process and some tips that can help you in your own. Let’s dive in! 

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Tip 1: Stick to the plan

Planning for your big company exit is key, but what’s just as important is that you follow through. Mark describes the time leading up to his departure from Walgreens as anything but straightforward. He explains that when he had decided his time at the company was coming to an end and set a date, he was convinced to stay another 18 months. From there, the end date kept changing. 

The lesson: if you’ve decided you’re ready for a career transition and have set a date for your departure from your current role, avoid wavering. Communicate that the end date is firm; after all, if you’ve set out to begin your transition plan, then what is important is that you continue to carry out the process as it works best for you. 

As Mark learned, businesses lose beloved leaders to retirement and transition, but don’t let that be the reason you stay, the company will continue on in its success whether you are there or not.

Tip 2: Take time and evaluate

Transitioning from one career to another can feel overwhelming. But it’s valuable to know that you don’t necessarily have to make your next career move immediately. As Mark highlights, the time he spent after leaving his role at Walgreens was invaluable to helping him decide what he wanted to do next. It was an opportunity to reflect on who he was at that point in his life and what he truly wanted for himself.

Indeed, taking a break between career moves and finding meaning in that transitional period can lead to important self-discovery, especially if you find much of your identity was tied to your previous role. As Mark explains, for him, his time after Walgreens helped to deprogram him from how he defined himself in his role at such an iconic company. The result was further clarity on who he was and what he wanted to do next.

Tip 3: Know yourself

In order to make the right move for yourself when planning a big career transition, you have to have a solid understanding of who you are as a person and as a professional. As mentioned previously, taking time to reflect is key to gaining insight into what will work for you in the next part of your career journey, and what won’t. 

For example, Mark explains that while he was still deciding what was next on the horizon, he thought it made sense that his history in big corporate would lead him to a similar position. As he discussed one potential role at another large company, he realized that it just wasn’t what he truly wanted, even if it looked like the natural choice based on his professional history. It was after gaining that understanding that he realized a move to a startup was the right decision.

Tip 4: Don’t drift – plan

Part of the problem with HR leaders not taking the time to think about their own career needs is that it’s much easier to let the day-to-day routine take control, letting things play out without your own hand guiding the way. But when it comes to transitioning in your career, simply drifting to the next stage in your professional life may not be the best choice. 

Indeed, deciding what’s next should be a conscious choice made with the knowledge of what you want the next part of your life to look like. Decisions will need to be made, reassessments might be required, and simply drifting to the next part of your professional life without deeper thought could lead you to something that isn’t the right fit.

Instead, Mark notes the importance of consciously building the plan for your transition. Actively building this framework encourages you to think deeply and make meaningful decisions based on what you value and what you see for yourself in this next stage of your life.

Tip 5: Talk to a career coach

Knowing what you want to do as part of your career transition is half the battle, the other half is figuring out how to do it. Luckily, a career coach can help you with both.  

As Mark explains, talking to Felix’s own expert leadership coach Bob Ryan was of immense help in aiding him to plan his next steps during his career transition. 

It’s easy for HR leaders to put their needs last and forget to ask for help, but reaching out to a professional career coach can make all the difference. Having an expert provide personal help to address your unique needs and plan for the next steps makes the career transition process easier and more effective.

Tip 6: Think broadly about your career

Oftentimes, when we think about our career, we think it will unfold in a linear way. You choose your career and you will always work in that capacity in one way or another. But as Mark discusses, that’s not always the case. For him, it took being approached to switch from his position as a lawyer in the legal department at Walgreens to working in HR in a new division to learn that, sometimes, we let our own thinking limit our potential. 

Indeed, coming from a legal background, Mark never anticipated becoming a VP in the HR space, but that is where opportunities led. So his advice is to not be opposed to changing your mindset about where you think you can only go as you transition in your career. There is no one path.

Discover the next step in your career journey with the help of Felix.

The experienced team at Felix takes a holistic approach to providing career transition services and tailors our programs to suit your unique needs. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you take the next step.

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