This is the second part of a three-part blog article series about a systematic and structured approach to career change. This part is about the HOW to implement the action steps outlined in the first article. Here is the overview of the series:

  1. the 5-Phase-Model that will provide orientation for the process of career transformation
  2. the Test-and-Learn approach that I recommend you apply to this entire journey (I actually believe it’s a great approach to all of life)
  3. underlying principles that will make this whole journey a lot more enjoyable than most people experience it.

I have developed, designed and improved this content over the course of six years of working with hundreds of young researchers, mostly at the doctoral and postdoctoral level, in group trainings and individual coachings. I have also used these approaches with coaching clients working in very different public and private sector jobs with varying degrees of formal authority. So, I know that they work – provided that you apply them.

Figuring all this out by yourself can be overwhelming. If you want to know how coaching can support you in making this journey more enjoyable and effective, let’s talk.



This is a model of change that is both effective and rewarding because it focuses on incremental change and on imperfect little steps of action which will give you quick and dirty results. These results will then be the basis for defining your next steps of action. The 5-Phase-Model is the WHAT and the Test-and-Learn cycle is the HOW. 

Herminia Ibarra calls this approach the Test-and-Learn-Cycle in her book Working Identity.

The test-and-learn model for making change is based on theories suggesting that learning is circular, iterative: We take actions, one step at a time, and respond to the consequences of those actions such that an intelligible pattern eventually starts to form. The self-knowledge needed is neither an “inner truth” nor an “input” that might light the way at the beginning of the process; rather, it is tangible information about ourselves relative to specific possibilities – information that accumulates and evolves throughout the entire learning process. 

What does this mean? More than anything else, this is a relief! There is no need for you to have it all figured out already. In fact, it may not even be possible to know who you are now and who you will be in the future. Knowing implies experience. Experience means action instead of thinking and planning. Two of the most useful questions you can ask yourself throughout your professional transformation are these:

Among the many possible selves that I might become, which is the most intriguing to me now? Which is easiest to test?

If you apply these two questions to every phase of the 5-Phase-Model, you make sure that, at each step you connect your current self-knowledge (what you find intriguing now) with low-stakes action (easy testing). 

You can also think about this approach in Design Thinking terms mixed with parts work based on the Inner Family Systems developed by Dick Schwartz.

Your present self is what you now know about your desires, needs, strengths, interests and so on. You can think about this self as a part of you who could be described as “customer”. Then there’s the part in you that is the “innovator” or the “designer”. The innovator’s job is to invent “products and services” (i.e. jobs) that, from what you know right now, are likely to fulfil these desires and needs. 

Your future selves are, in the language of Design Thinking, prototypes. And prototypes, we all know, must be tested. What exactly is it that you test? You test all your hypotheses that you have about these prototypes. These can include both positive and negative hypotheses. A very obvious hypothesis would be: “I would enjoy most or all of the activities in this job.” A slightly less obvious one may be: “I do not possess the necessary qualifications or experience for this job.” 

Detect as many relevant hypotheses as possible. This can be tricky because they often come in the form of beliefs that we are unaware of. This means that we believe they are true. You can easily see what the impact on your actions can be if you don’t test the truth of your beliefs. See the second example above. If you believe that it’s true that you don’t have the necessary qualifications and experience for a certain intriguing job field, you stop investigating any further, when this very investigation could lead you to the unexpected realisation that there are, in fact, realistic ways for you to break into this new job. 

After each cycle you will have gained invaluable insights into the accuracy of any future self’s ability to meet your internal “customer’s” needs and desires. Then you evaluate, adjust your future selves and your hypotheses, and carry out your next cycle. 

Go back to the 5-Phase-Model if you lack ideas for what actions can help you test your hypotheses.

Figuring all this out by yourself can be overwhelming. If you want to know how coaching can support you in making this journey more enjoyable and effective, let’s talk.

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