Career Transitions – understanding the concept

Seeing a career path as a linear professional experience has long been a myth. Our careers are often a journey of detours, backtracking, skipping and searching. Career paths are not influenced solely by our own choices; they are determined by a range of external circumstances. A career transition is understood as a process of investigating, discovering, and transitioning into a new occupation or a different career path. To master a career transition requires to be prepared to such a situation. The COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of automation and robotics, and the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence have had and continue to have a substantial impact on the labour market. On one side, many job positions are becoming obsolete, while on the other hand, emerging professions are experiencing a growing demand. Change is inevitable, so career transitions are.

Career transitions versus career shifts and career changes

When looking closer at career transitions, you can come across several terms such as transition, shift or change. To understand them properly can help you to better navigate your career path:

  • a/ Career transition: a career transition is commonly employed in a broader context that encompasses any significant alteration in one’s career path. It often encompasses the term “career shift”. Transitions are understood as internal shifts in our aspirations and motivations which is in contrast to the term “career change” which is viewed as an external transformation in our life.
  • b/ Career shift: a career shift refers frequently to transitioning from one specialised area or role to another. When embarking on a career shift, there is often an opportunity to apply existing skills and knowledge within the same broader field.
  • c/ Career change: a career change refers mostly to changes caused by external factor such as those resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, where individuals had to switch sectors or even entire industries. A career change typically demands acquiring new skills, qualifications, experience, or networks.

Types of career transitions

Career transitions can be categorised from different angles. We can mostly come across following typology:

  • a/ Vertical transitions: a vertical transition refers to moving within the organisational or industry hierarchy. They are frequently linked to expectations of a higher salary and often entail an increase in responsibilities and a larger team of subordinates.
  • b/ Horizontal transitions: a horizontal transition takes place within the same sector or profession and may encompass taking on different roles with similar duties or switching employers.
  • c/ Lateral transitions: a lateral transition entail transitioning into a new position unrelated to one’s prior occupation, typically within a similar salary range as the current role. These lateral shifts frequently occur within the same company and serve purposes such as acquiring new skills, pursuing a promotion, or increasing visibility.
  • d/ Entrepreneurial transitions: an entrepreneurial transition occur when individuals opt to initiate their own business or become self-employed.

What is your own experience with career transitions? Have you ever experienced any of the mentioned types of career transitions? How does your career path look like? It can be interesting to explore your own experience and define the skills that could help you to master a career transition. Good luck with that!


SULLIVAN SHERRY E., AL ARRIS AKRAM. Making sense of different perspectives on career transitions: A review and agenda for future research. Human Resource Management Review, VOlume 31, Issue 1, 2021. Available at:

CHUDZIKOWSKI KATARINA. Career transitions and career success in the new career era. Katharina Chudzikowski. Journal of Vocational Behaviour. Volume 81, Issue 2, 2021. Available at:

TAN JANESSA. Navigating the three phases of career transitions. 2021. Available at:

Photo by Mathias Jensen on Unsplash

Author: Team AVITEUM, Prague / Czech Republic

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