Internal Career Transitions – Our Top Tips For Success by Anna White, h2h Associate


The world of work is changing – more traditional career roles are being replaced as technology advances and virtual teams and remote working practices have opened up opportunities on a global scale.  The advent of the 100+ year life means that some of us will have a work career spanning over 60 years and as such a lifetime of just one profession can seem like an eternity. It’s no surprise then that 1 in 5 of us are thinking about re-training in a completely new career (The Independent, 2018) or that the trend amongst employees aged 18 – 34 is to stay in their current role for an average of just 3.3 years (Britain Thinks + Investec Click & Invest 2017).

I recently had the great pleasure of being invited to speak about career management at a female leaders’ conference for a global pharmaceutical company. At the start of my session, I asked the audience to put their hands up if they loved their current role, about 20% raised their hand.  Next, I asked who was passionate about their organisation and its reason for being, the vast majority of my audience quickly raised their hands.  The consensus was that they were inspired by working for an organisation that developed and manufactured medicines with the potential to save lives. We spent the rest of our time together considering how they could gain greater fulfillment in their current role and how to manage their career proactively within the organisation to which they felt so fully committed.

Driving home, I reflected on how many of us may be in the same boat as many of those delegates, feeling committed to an organisation, but wanting to contribute more and gain greater personal fulfillment.  There is wide range of information available on how to manage career transitions between organisations, but how do we make those transitions internally if we do not necessarily wish to change organisations?

Based on my own experience and observations, here are my six top recommendations for making a successful internal career transition.

  1. Apply your holiday-booking skills

Although many of us enjoy that last-minute holiday deal, we rarely leave our next holiday completely to chance.  We take time to think about and discuss where we would like to go, how long we would like to go for, who we’d like to go with and how much we are prepared to pay.  In my experience, most people do not apply such rigour and discipline to planning their career.  Ideally, we should all make time to plan our ideal path, to think about where we would like to be in five years’ time and how we will get there.  Discussing our aspirations with a respected mentor can work well as can working with a good career coach who can help us identify what we would really like to achieve and how we are going to do it.

  1. Be realistic yet ambitious

Be honest with yourself when comparing your skills and experience to potential role requirements.  It’s important to be seen as a credible internal candidate for the roles in which you express interest. It will serve you well to build and maintain your reputation as someone who has sufficient self-awareness to understand both your strengths and your areas for development.  Equally, don’t be put off if you perceive that you are not 100% ‘ready now’ for the potential new role – use your internal connections and seek the views of others regarding your readiness and suitability for potential roles.

  1. Avoid smart person’s disease

When planning a career transition, it is always important to consider and map out your interests as well as your strengths.  If you look to develop your career in line with both, you have a greater chance of feeling fulfilled.  However, with internal career development there is an increased danger of suffering from ‘smart person’s disease’. Leaders in your organisation will have an informed view of your strengths and may offer you a role because they know you will be good at it.  This is positive if you are also interested in it, however the outcome may be less positive if you are good at it but not interested in it. Accepting a career move under these circumstances leaves you at risk of ‘smart person’s disease’: you are good at it, but you don’t enjoy it, which in the longer term may lead to stress and/or resentment.

  1. It’s what you know…

It’s tempting when we are extremely busy, as most of us are, to neglect keeping ourselves comprehensively informed on the wider developments and trends not only in our organisation but also in the wider industry or sector.  What is in the news regarding your organisation’s competitors? What is happening in the political world and what is the potential impact? What are the financial analysts within your industry saying and what does that mean for the business?  Taking time to consider questions of this nature and the impact of the answers on your organisation equips you to transition to and thrive in more strategic roles.  In addition, the capability to understand and interpret your organisation’s accounts and how they affect company strategy is crucial if your ambition is to take on a senior role.

  1. …And who you know

Networking is crucial for successful career transitions both externally and internally.  Once you have decided upon your ideal internal career pathway, it’s worth taking time to consider who should be in your network to help you to make this happen.  First of all, who are the top five contacts for you to actively manage and would one of them make a good mentor for you?  Next, which ten people should you keep in regular touch with? Finally, who is it worth checking in with from time to time?

  1. The only way isn’t up

As a graduate, I imagined that I would climb steadily up the organisational ladder to the very senior roles and that each career move that I made would be a step upwards.  With the benefit of experience and maturity, I see now that, in order to prepare for senior roles, sideways career moves are extremely valuable and often necessary to build sufficient breadth of experience.  It can also be extremely energising and fulfilling to face new challenges and opportunities without taking on greater organisational accountability.  In planning your internal career transitions, take time to consider the sideways moves that would be both motivating for you and help to build the right skills and experience for you to step into a more senior role.

How h2h can help

Within h2h  we have significant experience of helping people with both internal and external career transitions.  Through the coaching and support packages that we offer, we can help you to consider and define your career aspirations, to access new and exciting opportunities and to apply confidently for your next role.  We have many years of experience of offering this support both to people who have chosen to pursue their next career step and to people who find themselves seeking their next role due to organisational restructuring. We work with our clients with empathy, helping them to thrive and grow.

If this has piqued your interest contact us at for more information.