I sat there with a pit in my stomach. My mind had been made up months before but I knew I needed out. In front of me was the new CEO of our organization, asking, “What do you want? Want Sharon’s job? I don’t know what the hell she does anyway. What about Software Development or Business Services? “ I thought to myself, Sharon is my best workplace confident and how can he be so flippant? I don’t have the skills to lead Software Development and the guy in that role does a great job. What I wanted to say was, “I don’t want to work for you because you are a jerk”, but I simply said I needed to move on to a new challenge and I felt my current project would be a good platform to jump from.
Here are some of the tips I have developed:
Know how to manage winds of change –
I knew months before the conversation with my previous CEO that I was through. I even tried to leave earlier but was talked into staying to wind up a large project that I had been deeply involved with since the beginning. I could see the writing on the wall a year before I left. I had been quietly working with the new management team even prior to the announcement of who would be leading the organization. I was well-liked by the team but my management style was vastly different from the new leadership team. Mergers and acquisitions always mean change and sometimes they worked in my favor and sometimes they didn’t. In this case the new management structure was not going to be one I could operate effectively within so I quietly decided to develop an exit strategy. I took control by developing my own plan.
Develop a network and utilize it before you hit a job crisis –
This scenario has played out several times in my career. The players and companies are always different. I had grown up with two self-employed parents so going to work for a stable company with excellent benefits was my target upon graduating from college. I ended up taking a government position in IT as my first role out of college but within a year or two I realized my opportunities for growth were limited. I was going to have to wait for someone to die or retire to change roles or move up the ladder. I began to look for a new position, finding out for the first time what it meant to develop a network. Unfortunately, I also understood the power of connections when my first meeting ended up being a close personal friend of someone high up in Human Resources. She ratted me out to the Head of HR at my current employer and suggested I stay put and work on my career. It only made me more determined to leave but I learned to be selective about who I spoke with.
Develop a good career reputation –
Eventually I got a call from a former consultant who I worked with at my government role. He was on a new project and wanted to know if I was interested in consulting? It opened doors for me to other organizations and solidified the thought it was critically important to do good work wherever you were and to maintain connections with former co-workers. They would be my ticket to new opportunities and my work ethic and quality of work would be my calling card.
Learn the power of the “ah ha” moment –
Fast forward fifteen years and I sit unexpectedly teary eyed talking with the Director who hired me. We were both teary eyed. He took a chance hiring me for a position I had no experience in and it ended up being a lucrative and fun career change. I had decided to leave, mulling over an offer I had received almost two weeks earlier. I didn’t expect it to be emotional but as he spoke he said, “If there was something I could do or a change I could make, you know I would do it. You haven’t asked me for more money or a new title so I know it’s something else. ” It was heartfelt but I simply needed a change and felt that I had grown as much as I could in my current role. I’ve always known I had a low boredom threshold and the need for challenge and change fuel me.
I have changed jobs, six or seven times since I graduated from college. Every one began and ended with a conversation. I have loved every place I have worked but each job had an “ah ha” moment where I knew it was time to leave. Some job changes occurred due to uncertainty in the culture due to mergers, acquisitions, or outsourcing and others were fueled by the need for change. I have never had a job fall into my lap. I’ve been able to read the signs and know when change was needed.
I have always wished I had a genetic gene for patience, like my cousin Chase. He hates change so much; he has been the one who literally turned out the light at three of his previous companies where he worked. He likes the feeling of being around to end an era, so to speak, but not me. I look for the “ah ha” moments that say it’s time to move on.
Regardless of your personality type, career, job title or experience level, everyone goes through career changes. Some people have painfully been through “corporate downsizing” or a layoff, but you can weather even forced or unforeseen changes. Career change is a skill to be managed. We spend more years working than we do any other activity, so learning to navigate career change is something that everyone can and needs to learn to cultivate. Hopefully, we can learn to weather changes so that we can experience a New- Orleans-Style- Jazz- funeral when it comes time to move on from a role. Instead of mourning the loss of a role, you can celebrate as you exit.
What tips have helped you a manage career change?