What is a mid-career transition and how do you know when you're in it? Let's say that mid-career refers to a 10- to 15-year period after starting work in the field. Of course, given that we're all living longer—and working longer—a mid-point could occur at 15-20 years out or even later for some professionals. I think each individual is likely to self-define their career plateau at some mid-point stage.

When discussing this topic, I'm fond of using a baseball metaphor to say today's workforce is like a sports team—there is a "free agent" outlook on building a career for many young professionals. Commitment and loyalty seem to extend only until a better offer and salary come along. I'm not judging this practice, only stating a new reality. But, for those reaching mid-career in 2012, it's likely they have spent quite a bit of their career in just a few long-term roles.

The most important first step to take in managing a successful career transition is a self-assessment to determine the key priorities in one's personal and professional life. Your self-assessment should enable you to craft a clear and focused message about your new career direction—a message that needs to be conveyed consistently throughout your job search. Whether at professional meetings, in private conversation and informational interviews, in a cover letter or online, you need to inform people why you're looking, where, and for what type of assignment. It's essential to craft a search process that is purposeful and that builds upon the success and accomplishments of your career to date.

Finally, in the current economic climate, the search process will very likely take longer than expected; I suggest planning, at a minimum, for a six-month transition period. Careful planning, purposeful self-assessment, and research, together with a focused "pitch" outlining your new career direction, will provide a strong foundation for a successful mid-career transition.

What are your tips for making a smooth career transition?

Read the complete article by Martin Tillman for tips on overcoming obstacles to a smooth transition, identifying your key priorities, and creating a focused "pitch" that outlines your new career direction.

Marty TillmanMarty Tillman has been a NAFSA member since 1977 and recent chair of the NAFSA Task Force on Career Development Resources. He has over 30 years of senior management experience in higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations. Tillman is currently the president of Global Career Compass, an international consultancy; formerly, he was associate director of Career Services at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His consulting focuses upon the impact of education abroad on career development. An authority on global workforce issues, he is a frequent NAFSA speaker and regularly writes for the International Educator magazine.