3 ways to get your career back on track after a crisis

If you’ve experienced a tough spot in your career, the first step to recovery is to get out of crisis mode.

What’s crisis mode? It’s when your body and brain react as if you are in a life-threatening situation. You often rush headfirst into action.

That’s great if you’re an EMT. It’s not so great if you’re trying to get your career back on track. That’s when you want to take strategic action toward your career and life goals.

A few years ago, I was in the midst of a career crisis. I was frustrated because I had been stuck in the same role for way too long, and I didn’t see a way out. I was also stressed out because the hours were ridiculous, I didn’t have much time for a life, and I didn’t feel like I was making a difference.

I decided to take action. But at first, I didn’t take the time to get out of crisis mode. Instead, I started doing anything I could think of to find a new job. I posted on LinkedIn. I rewrote my resume. I worked my network. I applied for anything and everything that seemed like it would get me out of my situation.

I created a lot of frantic activity, but it didn’t get me where that I wanted to go. I had quite a bit to clean up after I came to my senses — I looked like a flake who didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up.

When you have an injury, there’s a handy acronym for the things you need to do to take care of yourself: RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). I’ve repurposed it to help you get some emergency first aid for a career crisis.

  • R: Relax and rejuvenate;
  • I: be inquisitive and intentional;
  • C: be compassionate with yourself;
  • E: set an expectation that you will solve your crisis (just not right now).

I took a couple of days off and went to Lake Tahoe, which provided first aid for the soul for me. Then, I did these three things to get back on track.

1. Craft a strategy

I knew that didn’t want to do what I had been doing for the past few years: leading organization and IT initiatives. Project work is often full of stress and deadlines and requires a lot of overtime.

I also knew that I needed to make some big lifestyle changes, but my career didn’t have to suffer. In fact, I realized I could actually be more focused.

So I came up with a plan and identified the most effective actions to find a different job. These were focused actions, not scattershot. I didn’t just go apply for jobs. I did research on companies and roles. I told select people in my network that I wanted to make a strategic move, and I only followed up on things that fit into my strategy. I took a couple of online courses to open up my thinking.

If you’re stuck in your career, take the time to plot out steps to make a change instead of rushing headlong into action.

2. Find the perfect match

A job search is a lot like dating. I was looking for a two-way match, not just someone who would hire me. I had to want them, too!

I came up with my own list of interview and research questions. High on the list for me was culture, making a difference, and being challenged.

Surprisingly, money and title were lower on the list than I would have guessed.

Some questions on my list were: What are the core values and performance metrics? How is success rewarded? What happens when someone goes against the values? What’s the turnover rate, and how much is unintended? What are some examples of growth within the organization? Not everyone wants the same things out of a career. Ask yourself what is most important to you.

3. Discover transferable skills

These first two steps made me realize that I wanted to go into coaching. But how could I make the switch?

I looked more broadly into my life and experiences to find skills that would translate into this new profession. I realized I already had business and project management skills that I could apply as a personal coach.

Take stock of what abilities you already possess and how you can use them in pursuing your goals. You can look for skills from all areas of your life — including volunteering, previous jobs, and hobbies — and find ways to make them fit with your strategy.

These three things helped me to get out of crisis and into my dream job.

Maggie Huffman is the author of Oh Snap! My Career is in Crisis: Craft a Strategy to Get Your Career Back.