Changing Jobs Again? Steps to Stop Churning Your Career
“After six months of grueling negotiation and endless weeks of travel, three straight days without sleep and countless rolls of Tums, the deal was finally done. I’d hit the goal, doubled our assets under management, was facing my wife’s wrath because I’d left her hanging yet again at a family event, making excuses for me while I was holed up in my in-laws’ den on my cell phone and laptop, and I realized I couldn’t care less about it – my so-called ‘success’ It’s just another hollow victory.” That’s what Don told me when he asked for help finding a new job. I told him getting a new job wasn’t the answer. I couldn’t help him until he was willing to take off his Beer Goggles and get serious about stopping the churn in his career.
During the decade that I was recruiting in the financial services sector, I watched candidates become clients and then become candidates again as they moved from Analyst to Associate to Vice President to Partner. While it’s not a bad business model for a recruiting firm, it hurt my heart to watch people change jobs again and again, not seeming to find any sense of lasting happiness. I took a leave of absence from that work and did a study to find out what was driving all that movement and how to help stop the churn in their careers. Here are some of my findings and Ways to Stop the Churn.
GET REAL ABOUT WHY YOU ARE UNHAPPY IN YOUR JOB
Why you SAY you are changing jobs is often not the underlying reason you are moving again.
The number one reason people change jobs is a sense of not feeling valued in their work. Sometimes that value is economically driven. “I’m not getting paid what I’m worth!” is what I often heard. What it frequently meant is this “To give up this many hours of my life, I need to see something I value in return.” My questions are – How is it that work feels like “giving up hours of your life” instead of “getting to do something satisfying”? And, is money really what you value most and how you determine your sense of worth?
Not surprisingly, what my study (of several thousand professionals) revealed was that an intrinsic sense of value in one’s work creates a sense of worth.
In a world where the first question we are often asked is “What do you do?” – there is a need to feel that what we “do” as our living should have value. Value often comes from a sense of prestige, respect, money or contribution.
What the study revealed was, hands down, professionals who see a tangible impact from their work on the lives of others were more satisfied with their work, moved less often and felt more “valued.”
Now, here’s the rub. Most of the movement that’s happening in job changes isn’t actually meeting that need. I’m not saying don’t move if you’re unhappy, but …
ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRUE COST OF A JOB CHANGE
The average churn rate in a job in this industry is 4.6 years. Even allowing for the difference in career tracks as we age, the median tenure of professionals ages 55 to 64 (at 10.4 years) was only three times as long as that of professionals ages 25-34 (at 3.0 years). That’s a lot of moves in your career and, if you admit it, they haven’t all worked out like you had hoped.
The impact of a job change creates a ton of ripples. Each of those ripples has a cost – economic ones and intangible interpersonal ones – on the employee who moves, his co-workers, the company he is leaving and the one he is joining, his family (spouse, children, friends). That’s a lot of ripples impacting a lot of people and resources from a single move. Kind of makes you want to make sure it’s a good move, right?
KNOW WHY YOU ARE MOVING AGAIN & EXACTLY WHAT NEEDS TO BE DIFFERENT
So, what’s driving all of this movement? The key reasons people give when changing jobs are:
- People – “I can’t stand the people I work with”
- Process – “The quality, type or variety of the work I’m doing sucks”
- Pay – “I’m underpaid”
- Purpose – “It wasn’t what I thought it would be or it just feels meaningless and hollow”
If people, process, pay and purpose are the top four reasons, how can you make sure that the next move is a lasting one for you? Who is pushing back on your stated reasons to switch jobs so you can get at the real issues and pin down the exact things that need to change?
LAY OUT YOUR MUST HAVE’S AND YOUR DEAL BREAKERS
We tend to overplay our unhappiness when we are leaving and underplay our likelihood of unhappiness where we are moving to. It’s called the grass is greener syndrome.
How many times have you made a move in your career thinking, it’ll be better with THOSE folks? Only to find, after the novelty wears off, that you’re still working with jerks, it’s just that they have different faces and names than the jerks you worked for in the last place!
How can we make sure you don’t trade one set of jerks for another? Every firm will tell you that their culture is great, that they’re family friendly, that they favor a quality work-life balance. What the heck does that even mean – for you?
I was working with a client recently who is considering a move to a new firm. We were talking about the work-life balance question. The company had assured him that they were very balance friendly. I asked what that meant for my client. How many nights a week would he be home for dinner with his family? He wasn’t sure. In fact, he wasn’t sure he even wanted to know and he sure as heck didn’t want to ASK them. Mostly because he was concerned that asking the question would make him look like a slacker. He assumed that in the first few months or even the first year, he’d have to just buckle down and make a name for himself and that then he could sort out those questions of life balance. What? That was a guaranteed way to ensure that the new firm would come to expect that behavior from him and was likely to lead to pent up resentments when he wanted to change his behavior.
What exactly are your unspoken expectations for this move? What are your hidden hopes that will make THIS move the last one (for at least a decade)?
TAKE OFF YOUR BEER GOGGLES & ASK THE HARD QUESTIONS
In what aspect of a transaction would you say “I’m not going to ask that tough question and just hope for the best. I don’t want the other side to think I’m not committed. I’m sure it’ll all work out!” You’d set out your “must have’s” and “deal breakers” and figure out whether the other side can give them to you or not. In your deals (if you’re an honorable deal-maker) you don’t play weasel games of “I’ll see what I can get away with later after they’re comfortable with me.”
But, when you do it in your career, you’re likely to hit the one year mark feeling like since you’re giving up this much of your life, then you ought to get some other form of compensation for it. That’s when your unhappiness starts to look like – “I need more money, these guys are underpaying me for this work!” And you start thinking about making another jump for money. But, is it really about money? Or is it that what you’re missing is your Quality of Life and, if you’re going to have to give it up, you feel like you need to make more money to put up with that. Unspoken expectations lead to festering resentments and more churn in your career and in your life.
Just as it did for a 41 year old investment banker I’ll call Julie. Her goal had always been to have kids by the time she was in her 40’s. But she continued to choose roles with firms whose expectations were not aligned with hers. She was looking at her seventh move when I asked her “How many more moves will you make before you ask for what you want and face the reality of whether you can get it there or not instead of blindly hoping it will somehow materialize and then moving again because you are disappointed or angry?”
What if you said, “it’s important to me that I am home for dinner with my children and able to take a walk with my wife at least 3 nights a week.” Or “I reserve evenings and weekends as uninterrupted time for my family. But, I am committed to being fully focused for the ten hours each workday that I am here in the office.” What IS your desired work-life balance? How willing are you to say it? To make it be a non-negotiable, one you are clear about the terms of. How many days a month ARE you willing to travel?
If an employer said “Don’t worry, we’re very compensation friendly” you’d want to know what the heck that meant, wouldn’t you?
CRAFT YOUR RESUME AND YOUR SEARCH WITH PROCESS IN MIND
When preparing your resume, it’s easy to focus on highlighting the things you’ve done in your last job. It’s a great way to make sure you do more of that in your next job. But what if, instead, you listed all of the things you have done in all of the jobs you’ve done and ranked them.
- These I do well and want to do more of
- These I do well and don’t want to do more of
- These I do but would like to develop and do more of
- These I do poorly and don’t want to do more of
Then don’t put on your resume or promote in your search those skills that you don’t want to do more of!
Here’s an example from my own life. I practiced law for a dozen years. I’m a strong litigator, but it also intensifies my conflict skills. Frankly, I don’t want to strengthen those muscles anymore. Could I absolutely be the one who handles litigation for my firm or a client? Yes. But, I’d rather put a stick in my eye. And, it’s better for the people in my personal life when I don’t litigate.
So, would it make sense for me to highlight that skillset of mine? No. It means a prospective employer is likely to want to capitalize on that skill of mine, to my own detriment and the loss of significant quality in my life. So, I don’t share it and, if asked, I say that while I do have that skillset, I am not interested in using it further. Period. I don’t waffle on it, I don’t do “a little.” Because it’s not a skill that enhances my happiness and I know that since I’m good at it, more of it is likely to come my way. But, I don’t want it. Will it mean that an employer might pass me by? Yes, but taking a role that involves work I detest (or other deal breakers) only sets me up for further churn.
Contrast that with a skillset that I have which I love to use. I’m an excellent “rainmaker”. It pleases me greatly to develop business relationships and nurture them into long lasting rich connections. For me, that is the common denominator among the three companies I have led. What is yours?
USE THE BIGGER LENS OF PERSPECTIVE & APPLY IT AGAINST YOUR PLAN
When evaluating a new opportunity … you need context and perspective. What is your perspective? How does this opportunity fit into your greater life plan, your legacy and what it will look like 5 years, 10 years, 20 years from now?
What? You don’t have a 5, 10 and 20 year plan? C’mon, isn’t that just the basic framework your investors want from you for your business? Or what you demand from your portfolio companies. I know it’s easy to say you’ll get to it “someday”. Without it, you’re adrift.
One client said to me recently, “I don’t have a good track record of predicting major life transitions. I just kind of look to my next promotion and take it from there.” That’s great when you’re a kid, but it explains a lot of the churn he’s endured in his career and in his life. So, you might get the next position, and maybe even a promotion – but is this a place and people that you want to spend your next decade with? Are you creating “stepping stones”? And, will these stones take you to the place you most want to step, and why? Who is helping you to create that plan and to recalibrate it with regular review?
As Don said to me, “When I was graduating, if someone had told me I’d have this business, this wife, these kids, I’d have said ‘Hell Yeah!’ But, I’m here now and think ‘What will I be looking back on at 65?’ I say family is my #1 goal but I know it doesn’t look like that from their shoes. I need to have a 10 and 20 year plan & the ability to stay on track. I get distracted. I mean, I get an idea and run with it hard, but the question is how does it fit in with my bigger life? I don’t want to look back on my life and think ‘I could have done a lot more with my gifts but I didn’t plan and now I’m really far off course’.” That’s the work he and I are doing together now.
Do you have someone in your corner who is pushing you to make a strategic plan for your life? Someone who brings a different lens to focus on all the questions that you need to ask to get clear about whether this is the right move for you and how it fits in with your plan? Or are you churning through your career just hoping to get lucky like the drunk guy at the bar wearing beer goggles?