MMM for moving on
There comes a point in most careers when it’s time for a change. But the longer you’ve left it, and the less you’ve previously experienced different organisations, sectors or roles, the harder this can be. There’s often a very natural sense of nervousness about how you might fare when stepping deliberately beyond the world you know so well.
Whether we’re forced into such a decision or we opt for to leave, it’s not unusual for there to be a notice period in which we are employed, but looking. I’m often asked to help coach individuals at such a moment and one of the most important things I feel I can do is to help them structure this precious time well. Over a number of such assignments I have come up with a suggestion for dividing their time into three, each one an ‘M’.
People’s initial tendency can be to scour the jobs available, flitting between those too similar to your previous role (boring) and those too different (scary) as a sense of panic gradually takes hold. It’s all too easy to fixate on what you don’t want to do whilst none the wiser what you do. So the first thing is to shift your mindset to one of ‘research and explore’, to reflect on what you enjoy and are good at – in whatever area of your life or from whatever time that comes. You’re most likely to meet with success in what you’re good at, and you’re more likely to be good at what you intrinsically enjoy. What is that?
The likelihood too is that your next role will come, directly or indirectly, through a contact you already have. So, rather than head straight for the headhunters, try checking through your address book. Your connections on LinkedIn can be a good start. Notice in particular the present roles of people you’ve enjoyed working with in the past, and the career trajectories of those who were once doing something similar to you, but have moved to something or somewhere very different. How did they do that, and how are they enjoying it?
While you’re at your computer, it’s also important to start the process of marketing yourself. Lessen the pressure on yourself by recognising this will be an iterative process, a process of refinement as you gradually learn more about exactly what it is you’re looking for and what it is about you appeals to potential employers. That said, when you start generating leads the first thing they’re likely to ask for is a CV of sorts. Having something ready to send is important.
A third of your time should be spent in meeting people, not sitting at your desk fixating on what to do, but getting out there and interacting. Start with some people you already know and with whom you feel comfortable, so you can ease into the process of telling your story – where you’ve been, why you’re leaving and what you’re looking for now. Remember to ask lots of questions, not only about what these individuals are themselves doing, but about what they enjoy in their roles, and why and how they made the moves they did. Remember also to ask at the end of any meeting for at least two other people they recommend you should approach. That way your warm contact list will grow exponentially.
Similarly with headhunters and potential employers, be open to the possibility of meeting up with those where the opportunities are not so obvious, if for no other reason than to give you interview practice. There is a balance here between setting too many hares running (in unproductive directions) and testing waters that might be far more interesting than you expect. Either way, initially at least, see this not so much about selling yourself but about getting out there and exploring possibilities – all the while keeping a comprehensive list of who you saw, when, how the meeting went and any outcome.
I suggest the final third of your time is spent going where your energy takes you. Simple as that. At first I was concerned this might be an invitation to fritter time, but the feedback I’ve had is that this third often yields the most interesting and lasting results. It’s time and permission for you, in Joseph Campbell’s phrase, to ‘follow your bliss’: to reconnect with activities you once enjoyed but have since de-prioritised, or to pursue interests or even inklings to which you’d never normally be able to afford the time. One coachee, for instance, started attending a public series of lectures on current affairs at his local university, something he hadn’t done since he was a student; another to play netball again, another to hire a personal trainer, another to become more involved in their child’s school – they’re now a governor there.
If possible, make these social activities so that you’re also meeting new people. After all, they’re ones with whom you already share a point of connection. There are also increasing numbers of amazing podcasts and online videos to introduce you to topical ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Whatever you choose to do, the ‘magic’ lies in the freshness and energy these activities can release in you, one which may very well help connect you with where your genuine interests lie. Perhaps you could be thinking about a role that in one way or another draws upon this part of you? At the very least you’ll have much more to share at your next interviews.
If I may make a request here… I am always looking for sources of inspiration that I can recommend to coachees for this magic third. If you know of any that are publicly accessible and you’ve found particularly stimulating, please share them in the comments below – as well as the success you’ve found in moving on from what you once were doing to something different and better.
David Presswell, Partner, Aretai LLP
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