At the end of last year I came to a terrifying conclusion; it was time to look for a new job. I was terrified because I had not been through the process of proper job hunting in over 12 years and because, though I had a job, I knew I would not be happy if I stayed in it. I had worked in the same organisation for over a decade and though I had worked several different jobs and faced many challenges, this felt like the biggest (yes, even bigger than when I moved to the US).
The story of my career and this move is too long for this post1, but after transitioning from university to a job, from Motorsport to automotive and now healthcare IT, and from the UK to the US, I have learned a few things along the way and I believe they are universal. Perhaps you feel something is wrong and you can't put your finger on it, or maybe you want to try something new but are frightened of what where that might lead; just knowing others go through similar emotions can be incredibly helpful, so I'm sharing what I've learned so far.
- Look for opportunity
It seems strange and I certainly didn't get this for a long time, but you won't recognise an opportunity unless you are already looking for it. I look back on every major change I made in my life and can see how this was true for each and every one, whether it was going to university, farming Ostrich, or moving to the US.
- Know what you want
In order for you to recognise that opportunity, you have to know what it looks like and more importantly, what it does not. List the things you want in a job and take note of the things you don't want. Don't just think about the technical side of things, be sure to consider the culture you'd like to work in too. This also helps in recognising when it is time for a change.
- Learn the signs that it's time to change
Too often we can ignore the little things that indicate a bigger problem and pass them off as having a bad day or working with annoying people. In reality, these are often signs of a wider dissatisfaction that needs to be addressed. It's easy to ignore the little problems when you're enjoy what you do, but once the enjoyment is gone, those little problems get bigger. Has there been a cultural change within you or the organisation? Are you not getting things from your work that you used to? Take stock of your situation and work out what you do and don't want from your job then see if it matches. If it doesn't, work out what you need to do to fix it. Sometimes all you need to do is make some simple changes to the way you work, sometimes you'll need a whole new workplace, but recognising this before you start burning bridges is really important, for you and your colleagues.
- Don't burn bridges
It is tempting when making a change (or in the throes of realising that you need to) to tell people what you really think of them or their job. Resist this urge. Unless you are truly coming from a well-intentioned place and you are certain that the other party is willing to hear what you have to say, it is best to keep it to yourself. Usually, it is best to keep it to yourself. I was once told to be nice to people you meet on your way up in your career because you never know who you'll need when you find yourself on the way back down. I didn't listen. I have one less bridge.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions
Whether in an interview or just in your every day work, ask questions. If you don't know something and you want to know it, ask someone. I have learned this the hard way. Knowing when it's time to ask instead of continuing to blunder around in the dark is really important. You may feel like you're stupid or weak somehow for asking, but asking is far better than finding yourself in a job you hate or without a job because you spent too long not knowing what you were doing. Sometimes, this can even help avoid the need to change your job in the first place.
- Know your own mind
Learn to recognise when fear is clouding your judgement. When we're afraid to try something, we're great at convincing ourselves that we're right to just not. For example, some people turned down the same opportunity I took when I ended up moving to the US because they "owned houses" or "had a family"2. While compelling, these excuses aren't truly impassable obstacles like those who utter them would have us believe. A person who is content and doesn't want an opportunity is surely more likely to just say, "no", but those who are afraid will find excuses instead. If I had let my fear of the unknown take hold, I could have found a hundred reasons why I just couldn't move to the US (it was only for a month or so originally, anyway), but instead I identified what might make the move difficult and I addressed it.
While I've focused on career change here, many of these things apply to life in general. I hope that you find them useful. Perhaps you have some tips of your own. Please feel free to comment and share them with the rest of us.