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Considering a new job with patience and timing

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dwpA job “above” you opens up, a friend from a startup comes calling, perhaps the perfect lateral move just appears, or maybe you think it is just time for a change. What’s the right plan or play?  This is a really common question, but sometimes even the best intentioned career minded people can fall into some patterns that might not be the best for long term career satisfaction and success.

This post is a checklist of questions to ask yourself and to be prepared to answer when you enter the process of seeking a new role. If you are volunteering yourself for consideration, it is a wise investment in time to thoughtfully prepare your case as to why you would be a good fit.  As a first tip, those doing the hiring do not often want to receive a really long email saying all the reasons why you are the perfect fit while reiterating what you can read on your LI profile.  A technique that can work is a simply email asking to discuss the “open position” or “I hear your starting something” (and if necessary to meet for the first time).

In a big company it is just as likely, your manager asks you to take on a new role.  You don’t necessarily want to say yes right away, but take the time to “formally” organize your thoughts about the move. That’s right, even if you are asked to do a job you should go through a process like this.  While it is great for a manager to show faith in you, no matter how good a manager is only you know the answer to these questions and your own career goals.  No matter how high integrity or honest a manager might be, managers are not perfect and have their own challenges that arise when filling positions.  So don’t assume that being asked to do a job is an automatic yes.

Do you have the right domain skills?  One of the most obvious first questions is if you have the domain skills required to do the job. If this is an engineering leadership job, have you demonstrated the expected skills successfully for a long enough time?  If you are changing to a new domain, what is it that makes you think you are ready or able to pick up the necessary skills?  It is not uncommon to approach a potential role because of the domain.  In that case, are you sure about the match between you and the domain?

Do you have the right management skills?  One of the biggest career transitions is first to a manager, then to a manager of managers.  Being a manager is just as much a skill as domain skills like coding, testing, design.  Just like those skills, not everyone has those skills and everyone has their limitations.  Management skills required might be the size of the team or might be managing a certain job function, or it might even be a change in geography and managing remotely or moving.

Are you a good match for your future manager? Chances are very good that a hiring manager is spending considerable energy considering if you are a good match for him/her or his/her set of direct reports.  If the role involves management, both of you are probably spending a good amount of energy considering if you are a match for the existing team of people.  Are you spending enough time considering how good a match you think the manager is for you? Do you really know the manager?  Have you asked others who have worked for this manager about style and approach (just has he/she is probably asking about you)? If you’re approaching the potential role because of the manager, can you articulate the reasoning as a positive for the new manager rather than a negative for your current manager?

Do you understand what leaps you are making?  Any change in roles involves leaps—whether the move is to a new company, or within a company a lateral move or a promotion.  The leaps are the parts of the job that are the big changes from your current role.  Of course leaps are usually the reason you are thinking of a job change.  There’s a tendency to focus on the largest of leaps, but in thinking through a fit you want to characterize the full set of leaps you’re making.  The appropriateness of the new role can be thought of as the accumulation of all the leaps or sometimes it is just that you’re making too big a leap.  For example, if are suggesting a change in job scope and a change to management at the same time, this might not give you enough of a “strength anchor” to count on.  You might have only a short time of experience as a manager and the leap to managing managers might be coming too soon.  You might be amazing at one job function and ready to manage that, but the job might involve managing your job function for the first time and also managing a second or third job function.

Are you pacing yourself? Early in a career is very exciting.  Everything is new and you’re anxious to see things play out.  These emotions can push you to want more and sooner from your job.  This can mean turning the marathon that is a career into a sprint.  It can mean applying for jobs that you’re not yet ready for too often and/or too soon.  You might consider learning about typical “velocities” and typical tenure in your existing role before considering trying to move “fast”.

Do you have a succession plan that will work?  Work needs to continue and whether you’re a manager or not, knowing how your work will get done is key to making a job change.  Managers are notoriously anxious or defensive about moves when there is a lot of work to be done.  It is always always important to be prepared to talk about how a transition would take place.  Failing to do so credibly can really dampen support for a job change.  Does your succession plan really work or require you to be in two places at once or require a deus ex machina to assist with the transition?

Did you remind yourself this isn’t the last job opening, ever? It is not uncommon to feel like you’re Waiting for Godot and then one day a job opens, a headhunter calls, or a friend shares the latest funding news.  You jump on the chance.  You don’t do the due diligence suggested above because the job opened and you want it.  A really good reminder is that it is with certainty that there will be other job openings down the road.

Did you seek the job or did it just pop up?  One of the crazy ways to change jobs is to not be looking for a job and then one just shows up. Serendipity can be an amazing good fortune.  It can also confuse you—it can make you think a job is perfect for you when it isn’t or it can make you look for a job when the timing isn’t right.  Just as a job that becomes open is not the last one ever, if you’re doing a good job but the timing isn’t right, other opportunities will come along.

Keep in mind that any job transition is a two-way decision.  You are deciding if a job is right for you as much as a manager is deciding if you are right for the job.  There’s much more of a balance there than folks often permit.  You have the opportunity to clearly make a case as much as you have the opportunity to step back and decide the timing isn’t right.

Finally, always keep in mind that there is an affliction known as the “job bug” and when you’re bit you can really put yourself in a tough spot.  Once you start looking for new roles your brain starts to shift away from current work—whether you set out to look for a role or you started to consider a role that just appeared.  Your manager and your team also know that you’re on the move or “in play”.  If you do the right prep and thoughtful consideration, definitely apply for the right job at the right time.  If you don’t get it, you have to cure yourself of the job bug and focus on the work at hand.

The very best preparation for a new job is doing well at your current job.

Patience in job transitions is a remarkable tool for growth. Careers are much longer than you think, especially when you’re first getting started.  The value of doing a job super well in the here and now can be extremely high.  It is usually a wise choice to be methodical in your career progression.

–Steven Sinofsky

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Written by Steven Sinofsky

August 7, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in posts

16 Responses

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  13. These are very good questions. I was surprised by the “succession plan” question; I never really considered this situation and it makes all the sense in the world. Of course you can get resistance from your current manager. So help her solve the problem of losing you. Win-win is always your ace in the hole.

    May I add two other questions? “What are all of your criteria for your ideal next job/project/gig?” and “How closely does this opportunity match those criteria?” These are useful questions if, as you pointed out, we may be leaping to leave something we don’t like instead of leaping to something we like. Of course, the “what are all the criteria?” question will take some introspection. I recommend writing them down and reviewing them with a trusted friend.

    Michael Ehling

    August 9, 2013 at 11:31 am

  14. Very good article Steve. I wanted to get your perspective about spending minimum time in a existing role! We have seen this ecosystem changing rapidly in last few years.. in fact things are moving so fast that it has become difficult to keep a tab on what’s happening around us. In such scenarios, time to finish/execute responsibilities are also reducing. People use to take years in building software or getting a large deal closed, and now it has changed to few months.. Do you think it still makes sense to spend at least X years in organization irrespective of the assignment/responsibility duration?

    Appreciate your feedback. Thank you.

    Dushyantsinh Jadeja

    August 7, 2013 at 11:54 pm

  15. Timing of this post could not come at a better time, thanks Steve!


    August 7, 2013 at 7:13 pm

  16. Fantastic post, Steve. And very timely, too. I just accepted a new position in a completely different group doing a completely different job focused on a completely different domain. When I got the offer, I was on vacation, so I took the time to very critically think about whether I really wanted to make this jump. Reading your post reminded me of the stuff I thought about, reaffirmed my decision, and inspired me to make sure I continue to do great work in my current role before I start my new one.

    Thanks very much.

    Robert Standefer

    August 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

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