6 Keys to Making Successful Career Transitions

career transitions

Before joining the real estate industry, Susanne Rhow (B'88) worked for a variety of luxury brands, conducting business all over the world. Although she enjoyed success in the luxury goods market, she decided that she wanted to switch gears in her career. She is now a licensed real estate salesperson at Engel & Völkers in New York City, with a focus on New York City and international real estate.

Here she shares the key tips that helped her successfully transition across professions and continue to thrive in her career.

1. Find the right fit in your new position.
You may already know that you want to move into something different career-wise, but it is important to make sure that the new position will be a good fit for you. Rhow explains, "Don't just jump at the first opportunity. Take your time and research whether a particular job is really the move you want to make. Getting feedback from others who are already in your new field of choice can also be a big help in making the right decision."

When Rhow first realized she wanted to make a change, she wasn't quite sure what it would be. She considered the skills she already had and where else she might be able to use them and grow. "Real estate was one of several ideas that I had," she said. "It wasn't until I had a meeting with a client who works in real estate, and who gave me some great positive feedback about what I had to offer, that I was sure what I wanted was achievable," she said.

Susanne Rhow
Susanne Rhow (B'88), licensed real estate salesperson at Engel & Völkers in New York City.

2. Use the skills and experience you've already acquired.
When making a career transition, leveraging everything you've done to that point can be an important step in carrying you through to your next move. Take an objective look at your skillset, especially those skills that are unique, and find a way to use those skills in your new role.

For Rhow, promoting luxury goods and selling luxury real estate turned out to be quite similar. As a vice president at Sotheby's, she gained experience working with high net-worth clients and private wealth managers. As a result, she was already familiar with the client base that would become her niche market while selling estate condition properties. Where previously Rhow pitched to sell the art and furniture contained in each home, she now pitches to sell the homes themselves.

In a 2015 interview with Forbes on how she made the transition from luxury goods to real estate, she explained how her international experienced helped her. "I've had the opportunity to live and work in New York, Seoul, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Stockholm, as well as many cities here in the U.S.," she said. "Being a 'global citizen' is an asset, as I'm now part of the global luxury real estate firm Engel & Völkers. They have over 7,000 brokers in 540 offices in 38 countries around the world."

Her knowledge of the customers and their needs also allowed her to create innovative marketing tools that really set her apart from the competition, giving her an advantage.

3. Have a detailed plan.
Don't just jump blindly into your new venture. After doing the initial research about a position or project, many leap headfirst into it, thinking only of the potential outcome and without carefully considering what each step or hurdle might be along the way.

"It's important to go through that step," says Rhow, "Do your research, talk to others who are experienced, figure out next steps, and create a timeline. As you get older, you must consider that you have different responsibilities now in a career transition than you may have had when you first began your career." This may mean waiting a bit before starting, or moving at a slower pace than you may be used to, but having a plan will save you time and money in the long run by cutting out wasted efforts from ill-advised next steps.

4. Use your network not just for assistance, but to be of assistance too.
Being established in your career means you likely know how to work your network and make use of your contacts for referrals. However, when making a career transition, it can also be helpful to look at your network as a group of people to whom you can offer your services.

From her previous position, Rhow already had a very strong network of leading trusts and estates attorneys. She asked herself one question, "How can I be of service to the network that I already have?" thus giving herself a jumping-off point to begin her strategy. Instead of contacting them to ask for assistance or promotion, she made it known that she was offering a service that these contacts would likely be in need of at some point. "Instead of just asking for a favor, I created a level playing field of us helping one another," said Rhow.

5. Understand that things might be different at first.
"Mentally coach yourself beforehand that you probably will not be able to dive into your new field at the same level of success you experienced before," advises Rhow, "but be patient and give yourself time to grow and succeed in your new role."

It's okay to be uncomfortable at first. As long as you know yourself and what you're comfortable with, you will be able to make the transition. "You have to make sure that you can adapt and be flexible and that may involve change," she says.

Being honest with yourself is also very important during a transition. Rhow says, "It comes down to being very realistic about your situation. It is humbling but important to be open to learning from those around you that are already in the place you want to be."

Another big difference you might experience is negativity from peers or those around you. "It is so important to tune out the negative voices, or naysayers. Often, when people are that way, it's a reflection of their own doubts and fears, and not about you." The preparation and planning you do to establish yourself can give you a firm foundation in which to be confident and help shrug off those who are unsupportive.

6. Get out there—in person.
Simply being savvy with marketing isn't always enough. It can be hard to put yourself out there, but the difference is worth it.

"My sales and marketing background taught me about marketing plans and traditional outreach," says Rhow, "but at the end of the day, people want to do business with people they know and trust, and the best way to establish that is by meeting them."

Reaching out to those whom you've never met about a business proposition or request can be awkward, sometimes annoying, and often unproductive. "Many people rely on email and social media to develop and maintain contacts, but the most meaningful relationships are established in person," says Rhow. "Introductions from those who've actually met you can open the right doors." Being able to say you met a person at an event or through a colleague can provide the recognition you need to make your audience receptive. Talking to potential clients in person is also the best way to learn the needs of your target market.

"This career is an ideal fit for my personality and skill set and each day is different—it never gets boring!" says Rhow.