Preparing for the inevitable career change

Monday May 1st 2000 by George Stiles
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Successfully navigate the tricky shoals of a career transition by first defining your goals.

"Ironically, IT produces great team players, but they seem to have a difficult time transitioning from the role of individual contributor to that of manager. They follow orders well, but have not learned how to delegate to others. "

George Stiles

Few professionals today expect to work for the same employer their entire career. Change is the daily reality for all industries and all businesses, and most certainly for the IT world. Increasing global competition, evolving technology, and shortened product life cycles have forced companies to become more nimble and flexible. For this reason, there is a growing realization that multiple careers during a lifetime are not only possible, but probable.

Unfortunately, people are often not prepared for change when it does take place. We are not a society that encourages continuous self-examination, and most people never do any career management until they are forced. Whether you encounter a company downsizing or the appearance of an attractive offer, it is almost always an external event that grabs you and gives you the impetus to take responsibility for yourself and your future. Being prepared for change can make all the difference.

Change is in the air

Preparing for change can be difficult for those who are good at, and enjoy, what they do. IT professionals are often in this category. IT pros can become so wrapped up in their technology that other skills are left wanting, either because they have no interest in developing such expertise or because they mistake learning new technologies for career growth. Ironically, IT produces great team players, but they seem to have a difficult time transitioning from the role of individual contributor to that of manager. They follow orders well, but have not learned how to delegate to others.

One way to prepare for the inevitable changes you will face in your career is to take courses that build non-technical skills and prepare you for a variety of career opportunities. For example, a shortage of good technology savvy managers is one of the biggest problems facing American business today. Those who take the time to learn these in-demand skills, such as team building, communication, negotiation and basic business and management techniques, will be better prepared to deal with change and increase the number of new job opportunities available to them.

Other ways you can begin to prepare for change include:

Demonstrate initiative. Show you are eager to outgrow your job. Identify problem areas and act to correct them.

Seek opportunities for self-improvement. Request special training, or volunteer for new assignments that require using new skills. Switch tasks with a peer. Volunteer for committees that are multi-functional or multi-business in nature.

Exercise leadership. Help co-workers and provide direction when appropriate. Take charge of special projects, particularly those requiring inter-departmental involvement.

Become active in professional organizations. Participate on committees, or seek a position on the board of directors.

Moving on

Increasingly, those making a career change are not merely upgrading to another position in the company, but are heading out the door into an entirely new situation. A growing trend for IT professionals is to move from a large company to a small start-up, either to work for someone else or to launch their own enterprise. People frequently do not understand the consequences and potential pitfalls of such a major change of venue, and that can be a huge mistake.

If you are recruited by another a company, do your homework. Is their product feasible? Who else is on the team? Are those stock options really going to be worth anything a year from now? It is always nice to be wanted, but make sure the opportunity is right for you, and try to decipher your own motivations for going there. My experience has been that people who leave a company are often not running to something; they are running away from something. Will it truly be better at your next company, or will this just be a lateral move?

Becoming flexible and comfortable with change, no matter what type of change, is an important element of career management, but you must be focused, have a plan, and be prepared to react when necessary. Below are some basic suggestions on how to manage your career and handle career transition:

Only you can manage your career. However, you can get help. Recruit a career "Board of Directors." Seek out people you respect to provide you with a different perspective. Find a mentor: a friend, spouse, parent, or professional colleague. Hire an executive coach, or get your company to hire one for you. Even athletes at the top of their game have coaches.

Thoroughly examine your history and identify recurring skills and achievements. Translate this into a facile "two-minute drill" that sells your uniqueness. Practice with your board of directors.

Make sure your skills and competencies are current. This improves your employability, which translates into career security.

Build, nurture, and maintain a network of professional contacts. Become known and visible. The more people who know you and can comment on you professionally, the more opportunities you will hear about.

Update your resume every six months, listing your recent accomplishments.

React to new opportunities. If a recruiter or colleague calls, listen. //

George Stiles is the co-founder and managing director of Executive Options, an executive career counseling and coaching firm located in Wellesley, Mass. He can be reached at George@executiveoptions.com

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