Thursday 25 May 2017 12:26 pmCFA Institute Talk

How frequently should you change roles while building a career?

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Julia VanDeren, manager, career services at CFA Institute, serves as the subject matter expert in career management skills, curating and developing career resources for members and program candidates.

With expectations for average working years extending from 30 to 50 and beyond, we have to be comfortable with sweeping career changes. This is not just due to evolving external factors, but also because our interests, values, and search for meaning will evolve over the span of our working lives.

These were among the key takeaways career expert Tracey Wilen emphasised during a Career Conversations interview following her presentation at the 2016 CFA Institute Annual Conference. Wilen also shared actionable insights for managing careers in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment.

Mobile Careers

There’s a popular conception that millennials have demonstrated that regular job transitions will become the norm. Though this may have less to do with millennial behaviour than the sheer numbers amplifying the impression, the trend is worth considering.

For her part, Wilen recommends the following rule of thumb for career transitions: Spend about four years in a role, make a significant, positive — and preferably highly visible — contribution, then make a move. Older professionals must be particularly certain of the significance and visibility of their accomplishments, so for them, four years may be optimistic. Wilen explains that exceptional performance in a role and a record of positive contributions helps ensure our career mobility and the ease with which we can move among jobs and employers.

Construct a Career Narrative

For careers that transition among functions and industries and between individual contributor and people manager roles, we need to construct a narrative that explains our trajectory. Employers recognise the benefits that employees with a diverse wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience bring, but they are wary of candidates who seem to flit about and demonstrate a lack of focus.

We can build our narratives by conducting a continuous gap analysis. We need to evaluate, refine, and maintain a clear sense of our career and life goals, and develop an inventory of our skills and strengths. Then we must determine what further experience and expertise we need to realise our aspirations. As long as we can visualise and articulate this trajectory, using it to guide our career decision making, we can reassure employers who may have concerns about job hopping.

Employers want to retain top talent, so a career transition may not require switching firms, Wilen says. We should consider whether lateral or vertical moves, international rotations, or cross-functional projects within our current organisation can achieve our immediate goals.

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To follow coverage of the 2017 CFA Institute Annual Conference, visit