Karen Cardozo, PhD

Career Design: Applying the Framework

By Michele Rapp

Now that we have discussed the 5-part career design framework, let’s look briefly at these aspects through the lens of early, mid, and late career transitions.

Early career

Most recent alumni pivot into a new job within 1-3 years of landing in their first destination. Your decisions through the next 7 years or so revolve around how good the fit is in your current role/organization and whether further growth can be found therein, or whether a job or sector change is warranted. Cultivate mentors at work to help you assess the potential for internal advancement and don’t hesitate to navigate your external professional networks to consider growth opportunities elsewhere. As you engage the process, reflect on your “I and Why” and consider how your story may have changed with more work experience.

If you are in a serious relationship or starting a family, consider the adjustments you may want or need in your emerging work/life configuration.  You can also ask:

  • What new experiences do I want to have?
  • What skills do I need to boost and/or strengths do I want to tap further?
  • What difference do I want to make in the world?

For help thinking about these questions, alumni who are within 7 years of graduation are welcome to access Career Design services; those further out can reach out to Northeastern’s alumni career strategist, Michele Rapp.


Generally speaking, this is the time to consider advancement in a deliberate way, both for professional development and for financial reasons, as you strive toward a secure retirement. What can you do to take on new challenges and be compensated accordingly for your greater expertise? You need to both evaluate the growth potential in your current situation and explore alternatives for the most robust comparison.

At the same time, this can be a period where those (historically, women) who took their foot off the professional gas pedal or took an off-ramp to raise their families often feel anxiety about making their way back into the workforce or ramping up at work. Here is where a network of both peers and senior mentors can be helpful, and where your capacity to tell your story becomes especially important.

You need to confidently translate your many marketable skills from years of running a household (e.g. incredible budgetary, project and time management capacities, proven civic engagement and fundraising, etc.—all from being CEO of your family and an active member of your community!) Be honest, clear, and own your new ambitions. On the flip side, this may be a period where those who have long been the primary breadwinners may begin to feel burnout and/or feel financially secure enough to consider a change—whether to pursue new interests or to improve their quality of life.

In any case, no sudden moves are required. Allow yourself time to identify where you need to bring new elements into your career and/or life design. “Designing Your Work Life” may be particularly useful to you along with its frequent reminders not to go it alone. Having conversations with trusted folks in your networks can really help, as can testing out new experiences to see if you’re on the right track.

November 3, 2020


While many of us fantasize about finally getting to retirement, those on the cusp of that decision know it’s not so easy to just up and leave the activities and identity that may have structured most of your life. It is worth being proactive about your transition before it’s on the horizon, considering both what you want to complete professionally as well as what you want to do next. For example, it is becoming common for those who retire to enjoy a “second career.” In essence, they don’t really stop working, they just give themselves permission to work how, where, and when they want!

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s, “The Third Chapter,” is an inspiring resource in this regard. This is often a period where “side hustles” or robust modes of service may take center stage. But if you are not one of those who has other pots on the back burner, now is the time to develop some enticing projects (or travel plans) to serve as your “transitional objects” toward retirement. Having something to look forward to can make all the difference between a happy retiree and one who is bored, restless or out of sorts. Of course, there are plenty of folks who are perfectly happy to retire and know just how they want to spend their well-deserved respite. That is the ultimate reward of many years of hard work, and I wish you the full joy of it!

In closing, Northeastern’s career design framework is relevant to any stage of your journey. That’s because it boils down to the same set of questions: Who am I really, what matters most to me now, and what do I want to do next? Here, William Bridges’ classic book, “Transitions,” remains an essential resource in thinking more deeply about career and life changes at any age or stage, with useful implications for organizational change management as well. Ultimately, in an uncertain world, you don’t have to predict the future or try to game the system because “the system” is constantly reconfiguring itself! Just get good at figuring out your next step through the process of career design and positive outcomes will follow.

Karen Cardozo, PhD, is the assistant vice president of Employer Engagement and Career Design at Northeastern.