Avoid Career-Damaging Job Transitions – Part 1: Seeing with 20-20 Vision

A High-Risk Career Move

Colin was 2nd in command on the high-powered marketing team of a hot, market-disrupting high-tech software company that was about to eclipse the $1B revenue mark. He had started as a Director and over the course of 4 years, established a solid track record and gained the trust of the CEO. His personal “stock” was at a career high, but he wanted more. He wanted to be the CMO, but knew that would not happen in the near term so he decided to pack up his talents and take them elsewhere.

He joined an up-and-coming startup and got the CMO title and “executive staff” prestige he was looking for. However, within 5 months, he unceremoniously left the company after never really getting traction or having an impact at the new company.

How can a smart, experienced, successful executive put his career at risk by making such a bad decision? Interestingly enough, this is an all-too-common occurrence in Silicon Valley.

In Search of “Fame and Glory”

Let’s take a close look at some of the factors that cloud the vision of high-tech rock stars. Being heavily recruited can certainly boost your ego and fuel emotional-based decision making. Here are the “blind spots” to look out for so you are sure you make the best and most informed decision for your career based on a thorough assessment.

  • The “Big Pay Day”– It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype about your own success and role you played in your current company’s success – anxious to “monetize” your growing skill-set and contribution quickly. More money, more options, more responsibility and a bigger title at a new employer are hard to turn away from.
  • Just give me the ball! – The thrill of making game-changing decisions that dramatically impact the business gets your endorphins surging. However, the intense desire to finally be the “big cheese” and to “do it your way” can be a seed of impatience and even impulsiveness.
  •  The grass is greener on the other side – Working at your current company for any period of time provides you with first-hand knowledge of all the warts and wrinkles. There are likely varying degrees of frustration on things you feel should be done faster or in a different way.  As frustrations reach intolerable levels, you’re ready to make a move – perhaps prematurely.
  • Follow the Leader – Having a great manager is one of the most important factors in your success and job satisfaction. So it’s natural to want to follow that manager to her next role. The danger here is that you are easily swayed to join the company based on your manager’s reasons, not yours.

Look Before You Leap

In the fast paced high-tech industry, you are usually reacting to new opportunities that come onto your radar. This reactive, reflexive approach makes you a slave to the process that is being dictated by recruiters or the companies that are courting you.  Here are some keys to help you take a proactive approach to your career management.

  • Money Doesn’t Buy Success – Financial success is a big motivator in high-tech. But don’t just compare your last paystub with what’s in your new offer letter. Think about your finances over a 3-4 year horizon. Guaranteed cash comp, incentive comp, and options create complex earning potential scenarios. What’s your compensation growth potential in each role? What about things like employee stock purchase plan? Matching 401(k) programs? What are the growth prospects for each company and how will that affect each company’s valuation? However, while figuring out which role and company puts you in the best position to make more money is an important task,  it doesn’t really matter if you don’t survive through your vesting schedule i.e. like Colin.
  • Don’t believe your own press  – It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and ego gratification of being pursued by a new potential employer, but their enthusiasm to recruit you doesn’t mean that it’s the right move. Get objective counsel. Use a trusted resource who doesn’t have any strong connections to your current or prospective employer. Everyone could benefit from getting a unique perspective to evaluate high-tech companies in the Valley and relate that to your goals and skill-set. Let them ask you tough questions to help clarify your thinking and get you away from the emotion and excitement frenzy.
  • Patience is a virtue – Recruiters and potential employers will push you hard to make a decision quickly, maybe even with an “exploding” (expiring) offer letter. Those timelines are usually artificial so you should negotiate the decision timeframe that works for you and set expectations up front when you know the offer is coming. Switching companies is a huge decision and you should take the appropriate time you need to consider your options. You will have a different perspective when you have enough time to think it through “away from work.” You should assess whether a few changes in your current workplace would make you want to stay. In other words, if you could outlive the situation that is frustrating you (e.g. a bad manager, difficult co-workers, less than exciting work, etc.), being patient would pay off.
  • Know what you “don’t know” – You know all of the unattractive things about your current workplace. Challenging personalities, bad decisions that have been made, frustrating processes and norms. You don’t know any of those things about the prospective employer, but you should know that they exist. Their special warts and wrinkles will inevitably surface as soon as your “honeymoon period” in the new role is over. Even if you’re the one calling the shots, “wiping the slate clean” in a new company doesn’t guarantee that everything will go your way, so be careful that you remain objective about the new opportunity in front of you. Moreover, investigate. Reach out to your LinkedIn network to see who’s worked there, can give you direct feedback, political insights, and if you are replacing someone, why did that person fail?

Throughout the interview process, both sides are “showing their best.” In fact, you’re likely “playing the part” so well that you’ve convinced yourself that it’s the perfect match. Force yourself to challenge everything at face value and to probe deeper to see if it still holds true. Unbalanced optimism tilts the scale toward unrealistic expectations that could lead to an abrupt, premature exit similar to Colin’s.  There is no perfect job so having more of a “critical eye” will give you the 20-20 vision to clearly assess the pros and cons of each scenario.

In next week’s blog post we will explore the potholes and stumbling blocks associated with on-boarding into a new company and role and how to avoid them so that you get traction quickly. Download ourHigh-Tech Job Search Advantage Program brochure to see more client service benefits.

What other insights can you share on career-damaging job transitions? All comments are welcomed.

Written by

The ExecCatalyst blog covers topics related to leadership, career advancement, hiring, finding the right job, company cultures and office politics, and general management. The authors have extensive experience in high-tech in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and have gained experience at small, fast-moving startups as well as large, global technology firms.

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