Find the courage to ask for support during difficult career transitions by Kimberly A. Farrell

By Kimberly A. Farrell
CEO, Unlimited Performance Training, Inc.

We know you are great at giving support – But can you ask for it?
I recently did executive career coaching for a client whom I will name, ‘Victoria.’ Victoria had recently and unexpectedly received her ‘pink-slip’ from a company she had worked at for the past 10 years. Victoria was dynamic, energetic and always volunteering for every cause. She led the gala for National Charity League event in addition to her day job as director of new product franchise, where she was working to launch a first-in-class drug for hepatitis C. She was tremendously successful in both roles. Throughout the remainder of the year after the drug launch, her marketing team was praised and many of her direct reports were promoted for their amazing successes. Her employees loved working for her. She enjoyed the intrinsic rewards of making a difference in the lives of others.

Then, suddenly when the new year began, her company was acquired in a hostile take-over bid and 1500 ‘pink-slips’ were given out within 24 hours. Victoria was one of the women who was given a few hours notice to pack up her desk. Security guards were all over the building escorting stunned employees out. She was numb, in disbelief. So she grabbed her things and walked out to her car. Now what? She was half embarrassed to call on her mentors or close colleagues and tell them what happened. Wouldn’t they wonder why she wasn’t retained? She was overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin. Why am I so unsure of myself, she thought? I have helped dozens of colleagues in this same situation. Why is it so hard for me to ask for help now that I am the one in need?

Easy to give, not so easy to ask for help
It is common for people with high capacity in both work and personal life to be great at giving to the success and development of others. But those very individuals, when faced with an overwhelming career change like Victoria, often feel lost when thinking about navigating the transition. The key is to step back and regroup when faced with this type of situation. Take your career inventory and plan out your strategies for facing this career challenge. Having a plan is the first step to reducing feelings of helplessness and owning the transition.

Where to begin? Start by updating your perspective on your career
Before navigating access to your network for help, identify first what you want from your network. Who are you professionally now, today? For example, with Victoria a lot has changed in her personal and career values over the past 10 years. For one, she was now the single earner in a four-person household. The kids were in high school – a time where she and her husband were not willing to relocate until they were in college. This narrowed the options for companies she might be able to work for. Look at your options for career moves. Do you want to work for yourself or for a healthcare company? Or, are you ready to move your skills to a different industry? 

Below are some key questions to think through when evaluating who you are professionally, today:

  • What are the new skills I have acquired in the past few years and how will they support my new career objective?
  • What are my career values? Am I willing to relocate? Will I travel? If so, how much? Will I want a domestic or global role? Do I want to stay in marketing or leverage my earlier career rotations leading sales teams and operations?  
  • What are my five and 10-year career goals? When do I want to retire?  
  • How much money do I need to make annually to keep the lifestyle I currently have? Am I willing to take a job for less money? If so, what are my boundaries financially when negotiating salary and compensation?
  • What therapeutic areas do I offer the most current and relevant expertise? 
  • How can my volunteer work be leveraged? How will I utilize the new skills I have developed with my recent volunteer leadership experience?
  • What work have I published? What conferences have I spoken at?
  • Do I have tangible metrics measuring the outcomes of my performance?

Once you establish a new and current perspective on who you are as a professional today, then you can determine what you want to do next and what support you may need from other people in your network.

Begin with the relationships where you have the most relationship equity
Career transitions are very hard. But remember, you have been there for many others throughout the years. First, you need to have a strategy. Begin by asking your self these key questions:

Analyze your network equity

    • Who are the most professionally connected people in my network which I have established the most relationship equity?  
    • Have I given support to them professionally over the years in ways that will make it easy for me to ask them to give me time and help during this transition period?
    • Do they know my work ethic, skills, industry knowledge and the value I bring? 
    • Are they willing to put their name and reputation on the line by fully endorsing me?

Determine the current access you have with your network

    • Do I have current contact information, both personal and professional, for these top network connections?
    • Will they return my calls or emails?
    • Are they willing to schedule time to connect with me live?
    • Am I willing to be honest with them about the help I need?
    • Do I know what they can specifically do to help me?

Now that you know your current professional profile, the next job you are interested in obtaining, and the people that are your strongest career allies, it is time to target your networking list to the companies you want to employ you.

Prioritize contacts with access to people at the companies on your target list

  • Which contacts work for or previously worked for one of the target companies?
  • Who on the list has first-degree relationships with people who currently work for one or more of the companies on the target list?
  • How do you want them to help? Make an introduction? Send your resume to a hiring manager? Source new upcoming job openings? Get you in front of the HR talent sourcing manager to promote you as top talent needed for the firm?
  • What are some interesting and personal conversation starters you can prepare to open the call or letter with these key contacts?
  • How will you track the conversation log of anyone helping you with the career transition?
  • How will you show appreciation to these key supporters throughout this journey for giving you support?

Stay visible: On paper, social media and in-person
When things are difficult, like during a job transition, it is easy to want to stay at home and ‘Binge-Watch’ all 10 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy…but don’t. Time is not your friend right now, but being strategic and productive is. Think about how you might be able to find access to open positions through known and unknown third parties. These are people you don’t know just yet, but someone you know or meet might. In order to do this, you must stay visible. Three key ways to stay visible include on paper, through social media and in-person.

1. On paper: 

  • Volunteer to write articles for professional organizations
  • Send personal notes to colleagues you have lost touch with
  • Tell trusted friends about your transition via email and remember to attach a current resume

2. Social media:

  • Tumblr: Set up a blog on Tumblr and start writing daily entries on key topics in your career that you have expertise to share. Add the Tumblr link below your signature at the end of every email/letter.
  • Twitter: Are you on Twitter? Create your brand with a strong career page where recruiters and employers can find you. Follow companies that you are interested in and get updates on new jobs posted. Follow top company leaders and learn who they are following and posting about. Synchronize your communication.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is great for searching jobs daily by company, job title and zip code and first-degree contacts. Also, joining LinkedIn groups that post new job openings is helpful, especially if you follow companies you hope to work for next. While on LinkedIn, be sure your profile is up to date and reflects positively on you as a professional.
  • Google: Google yourself. Yes, make sure you know what others already know about you. Manage your online reputation by knowing first what is there, and second what is not that should be.

3. In-person

  • HBA San Francisco chapter: Sign up for networking events at the Francisco event site. 
  • Volunteer: Volunteer for a committee with the HBA San Francisco chapter. Get to know new professionals and keep your skills sharp. If you are a marketer, offer to lead or join a committee that does marketing. Show off your talents. Make your mark for a not-for-profit and you will have access to new powerful people who may be the new link…to your next career move.
  • Career centers: Get advice on resume writing and the latest resources available for job searches. Community and alumni college centers offer this support often for free.
  • Alumni Events: Universities love to support the success of their alumni. Join and attend events offered by your college alumni association..

Key career transition site resources:

Kimberly A. Farrell is the CEO of Unlimited Performance Training, Inc. UPT is a corporate training company specializing in training tailored to the needs of pharmaceutical and biotechnology product and sales training, sales management, MSL development, talent management and leadership development. Kimberly is also the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association San Francisco chapter mentor for the board of directors Ms. Farrell can be reached at:,, or