Thursday, January 3, 2013

When is it Time for a Change?

Here we are already in the New Year, 2013. It’s during this time when people reflect on the past year and look to the year ahead. Many people, heavy with guilt from over-indulgence, resolve to start a diet and get back into shape and subsequently health clubs are packed with new members for a few weeks before most settle back into their habits. People resolve to do a lot of things and, among the subjects on their short list, career considerations usually rank near the top. If you are new to my blog, I don’t do fear and self-loathing, nope, not here. I don’t conduct pity parties. If you prefer the paths of least resistance and lowered expectations, settling for whatever crumbs are handed to you, this ain’t the place for you. Call me a nut but I prefer to champion the cause of self-respect and individuality. Frankly, I tire of society’s one-size-fits-all logic and generic solutions for everyone. 

Granted, there are a lot of people out of work, under-employed and many more who are just plain nervous. I have empathy but, at some point, whether it is now or later you’re going to resolve to make changes. If you are employed and have been in place for a while, perhaps you feel your career has stagnated and you’re considering making a change, but when should you make your move or how long is long enough in one place before looking for something new? I am not concerning myself so much with the question of why, that’s up to you as an individual. It could be many things, no upward mobility, no further career development where you are, an uncertain future for your company or your own role in the organization. Maybe it is a simple matter of boredom or the lack of a challenge. But let’s focus on the question of when to make a change?  

At the shorter end of the scale, 2 years. Anything less and you’ll need to be able to adequately explain to any potential hiring official your reason for change. Choosing to make a change should result in career advancement and not a setback. The shorter the time spent with an employer the more you can expect to be scrutinized by an interviewer. Consider your resume as a career map of sorts as you chart your course. If you are young and as yet have had only a couple jobs with short tenure, it’s no big deal and is to be expected. However, if you’ve had 7 different employers in 11 years, for example, unless you are a contractor or a project consultant, you’ll have some explaining to do and being a job hopper is hard to explain away. On the other hand, if you’ve had little choice in your circumstances the truth is easier to explain and justify; during the last decade and especially the last few years it’s been quite a roller coaster ride for most people.  

On the oopposite end of the scale and to those I really want to address, when is the right time, how long is too long in one place? If you’ve been with the same organization for 6, 7 or more years you need to step back and take a look at where you are going. Stay longer if you wish, but there is a general guideline and sweet spot of between 6 and 10 years. It is during this period when making a move is a good idea. Beyond that your career options diminish and you, in the eyes of potential employers, become stale and no longer the sharpest knife in the drawer. I recall there was a study done many years ago - I think it was in the 1970’s - that termed people who had occupied roles for 12 years or more as “gray men”. When people spend too much time in one place, they become not only less desirable to new employers but they also are less adaptable to environmental changes. In general terms, it’s like the saying about being unable to teach old dogs new tricks. Is it true, are there those who would disagree? Certainly. Hindsight is 20/20 and I speak with many who wish they had made a choice to move sooner than they did – or had to. In my vocabulary “Regret” is a dirty word.  

More than ever, perception is reality in our world. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve been stable and solid in their careers, only to be disheartened after they learn their longevity in a role or a position actually turned out to be a disadvantage. Too little time in one place is a disadvantage, but so can being too long in the same place. In the modern workplace, continually developing your career skills is a necessity and so, too, is making calculated and willful change. What one may call security, another may call being stuck in a rut. No matter how comfortable you are today, you’ve got to occasionally look in the mirror and say, “It’s time for a change”. That said, each individual needs to consider what’s best for them and their family. I am not trying to over-simplify important decisions, but seek to prompt you to apply some basic logic to the emotional mix. If you are a good, accomplished and dedicated employee, regardless of unemployment rates or trends, know this; there are companies out there with needs that are hiring every day and they might be looking for someone just like you.  

If you prefer to cling to bad news as a rationale for doing nothing, so be it. But you can also choose optimism, which is how I intend to start off my year, so how about you?  Whatever you choose, may I suggest a constructive New Years resolution; challenge yourself this year, dare to do what might seem a little bit uncomfortable if it can help you to advance yourself or your career. If, indeed, perception is reality then in 2013, make your own luck. Best wishes and may you have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. 

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