Careers, Jobs, Work Strategies, Working Parents, Working Professionals

“Forced”​ Career Transitions

Have you or someone you know heard or said these words recently?

“My final day will be Friday, I resign.”

“You’re fired!”

“You’ve been laid off because we are decreasing our staff.”

My basement flooded right after I had major shoulder surgery. We had to replace everything, and I was told think about the situation as, “forced redecorating”. Instead of crying, my friend’s comment made me laugh. I didn’t want to redecorate my basement. Most people don’t want to job hunt either. Sometimes we get pushed into certain decisions.

To be honest, it’s much easier to find your next opportunity when you are currently employed, but that’s not how it always happens. Life can be messy. Recently I have seen more people unhappy in their roles. Against my advice, they choose to resign and focus their entire energy on finding a new position. I’ve also heard several heartbreaking stories about talented professionals being fired, yes, I said talented. Additionally, in the ever-changing landscape of organizations, there are a lot of mergers and changes that fuel lay-offs. Whole departments can be wiped out in a single swoop. The work place is constantly changing. A person I interviewed once told me, “If companies don’t evolve, they become extinct”. I think this goes for professionals as well.

You may think that resigning, being fired, or getting laid off, is career ending. I would counter that often it can be a gift. Yes, we all have to pay our rent, and eat, but here are some ways to counter this life hurdle and focus on the upside. First, you need to prepare a statement that describes your present employment status. Next, you need to consider some practical aspects of keeping yourself solvent. Finally, you need to identify an opportunity that is a better fit for your talents and can benefit from your skills.

What to say when….you’re in career transition

This can be the most excruciatingly painful part of the whole process. Some people feel like they are failures. Other people are morbidly embarrassed. Shake it off. Unless you made no effort, lied about your skills, or had a major problem, it’s more likely that you were in the wrong position with a culturally mismatched organization. Both you and the company will be better off with a different solution. Come up with a simple few lines that explain the situation (not putting blame on the company) but sharing responsibility for where you are now.

Here are some real stories (names have been changed to protect the innocent) and what I would say in the situation. Find one that you identify with and then skip to the next section for further suggestions.

Scene 1

A health policy lawyer was referred to me by a friend.  Jake had been working very hard as the policy person for an association. Despite enjoying the subject matter, the situation with his manager was not supportive but combative. After multiple years of letting the manager take credit for his work, he was fired. It devastated him.

Status Statement

Recently, I left my position after several years with a health policy association. The lead policy maker wanted to take the group in a different direction. I’m seeking a place where I can contribute my expertise.

Scene 2

A young professional worked several years for a large corporation. Thomas received stellar reviews and was learning new skills plus taking on more responsibility. In the midst of planning several big projects, he was suddenly fired, and told he violated a company policy. It was confusing to go from being a great employee one day to being fired the next day.

Status Statement

After several years with a wonderful firm, we parted ways. It was a surprise, but now I have an opportunity to delve more deeply into the IT programming that really intrigues me.

Scene 3

A hard working young scientist takes a position with a start up research project. Dan’s role is to share his knowledge and create their research strategy. Unlike the former organizations where the field collection workers made their own schedules to get the work done, this corporate culture required structured hours and set approaches. Pressure builds and everyone is unhappy. Despite doing some good work, Dan’s fired after several months.

Status Statement

I joined a great organization but we were a mismatch on the best methods to achieve the objectives. I’d like to contribute ideas in a more scientifically rigorous environment.

Scene 4

A healthy financial services organization had a department dedicated to financial administration. During a recent reorganization, a young millennial is put in charge of the seasoned team.  Soon several of her friends complained about the changes, and were offered buyout packages to leave. Sheila tried to fly under the radar after dedicating herself these past 12 years. Unfortunately, Sheila no longer wanted to be there. She resigned, after asking for a severance package.

Status Statement

My department went through a reorganization and changed their staffing needs. I accepted a severance package and am excited to identify a new challenge.

Scene 5

A large market research firm wanted to build a new practice and grab a part of the market doing audio ratings. Tom had strong analytic skills, knew market research, plus specialized in media. He was recruited to build a group. Unfortunately the economy took a downshift and the company no longer wanted to invest in a nascent market. Tom and the people he hired were laid off.

Status Statement

I was hired to build a new capability for XYZ company in the media world. Unfortunately the venture funding for the department was cut. Presently, I’m considering new options.

Scene 6

After taking a break to raise a family, Susanne returned to the consulting world. She was tasked with the strategic role of building a practice. For two years she successfully added talented staff and helped grow the bottom line of the organization. Personally though, she was unhappy, missed being hands on, and found she preferred the task to the business strategy & office politics. She decided to consider other options and resigned.

Status Statement

I effectively built out the consulting capabilities of my firm and hired talent with a succession plan. My role was heavily focused on operations and I missed the hands on analytic work.  I’ve discovered this is what I love to do and plan on moving in this direction.

Practical Aspects

Regardless if you resigned, were fired, or laid off, you now find yourself in a situation without an income and bills to pay. This is easier if you are dual career household, but if not, you need Plan B while you seek your next career move. This is where those old skills of waiting tables, tending bar, babysitting, substitute teaching, coaching sports, retail, can fill in. Higher paying gigs are consulting back to the industry you came from. Consulting lets you network, take on small projects, and check out different organizational styles, all at the same time. Temping can also let you see inside a company and explore the culture fit without committing to full time.

You can be more particular about your next role now that you know corporate culture matters. Remember, what you do during this transition time is important too. Make your activity count. It needs to be related to something you are really passionate about, and add value to your portfolio of skills going forward. It may be appealing to travel, take a break, or a vacation, but after a few days of R&R, I would encourage you to set a firm schedule, map your plan of action and focus. It’s hard to relax on that vacation when you don’t have a job. Best suggestion I can make, is find a new role, and then let them know you can’t start for two weeks because you have a pre-planned holiday. Then you can truly relax and celebrate.

Down the Road

We can’t keep any of these scenarios from ever happening again, but we can learn from them. Spend some time to be introspective, think about the role, the industry, the type of organization that suits you best. Look at where you came from first to help you learn about where you want to be. Think about what you liked and what you didn’t like about your role and the organization.

As an executive recruiter, these are some characteristics I explore when I consider introducing a candidate to a potential employer. You can make your list of important interests, skills, and desires (both professionally and personally) and compare them to each option. Even with this rational approach, in the end though, you will have to learn to trust your gut again.