Six Ways To Wreck your Career Move

Now that the recession really does seem to be over, there are more people on the move again. Previous reasons for staying stuck (fear, fear and fear essentially) have evaporated. But I work with many clients who have made moves for the wrong reasons, and often they have made all of these mistakes at once.

1. Running away

Something happens: a boss makes an ill-considered remark, you don’t get the bonus you wanted and some pesky colleague gets more; there is a cut to your budget, a Big Birthday approaches. Result: panic. When your motivation is all about what you want to leave and there is no strong pull to an attractive alternative, beware. The chances are that this will not be the right move. Ideally the push-pull factors should be in balance and you should experience genuine regret at the thought of leaving. Moving to run away more often than not turns out to be a mistake

2. Giving in to the lure of money

A client with a strong commitment to the public sector had been annoyed and disappointed when he had failed to win the top job in his organization. The head-hunter who had worked with him and who had seen his talent at close quarters then cunningly circled, offering him a job as… a head-hunter in the head-hunter’s own firm. The salary was double what he was then earning and attractive prospects were dangled of bonuses and promotions. He took the job. But the salary and the bonuses were dependent on reaching tough targets and these depended on an aggressive style of selling. At the point where he came to me he was in despair, imagining that his public sector career was irretrievable (it wasn’t) and bitterly regretting his hasty decision, which had been made, as he said, in the spirit of ‘flouncing off’.

3. Not doing due diligence

In the pressing wish to make a change, any change, many people fail to research the company or the job. They don’t interrogate the balance sheet, they don’t use their browser to see what disgruntled former employees might have to say about the company; they don’t ask how their performance will be judged. A client in the financial services sector and who had leapt from a job she hated to one that it turned out she hated even more, had never asked what her fancy title actually meant nor what her objectives would be for her first six months. She had failed to take notice of the visceral feelings of dislike she had felt about the potential boss at the selection stage. Result: a spectacularly wrong decision.

4. Being unclear about your motivators

When you are thinking about changing jobs, the most important single question to ask is what truly motivates you. When work has been going really well, what has been happening? What is it about work that is satisfying? A client who had a senior job in a respected boutique ad agency fell out with his boss. Things were said that it was difficult and embarrassing to retract when tempers had cooled. The client was approached by a much bigger rival agency and took the job. This client had never thought through what his core needs and motivators were. When he came to me we quickly uncovered that it was critically important to him to be at the centre of company decision-making, close to the ‘creatives’ and with high levels of autonomy. None of these was a feature of the new job, instantly explaining his misery.

5. Being unrealistic about your skills

There are plenty of research projects showing that human beings tend to believe that we are at the 80th percentile in terms of our performance. Statistically this is unlikely: human performance of any kind will show the normal bell curve with most of us clustering in the middle. The kinds of events that lead to sudden exits are often associated with a less than glowing appraisal. Juliana was one such client. She had stayed in one organization for 12 years and had been carried, as she put it, ‘on the job escalator’ to a senior post. A new boss decided to restructure and as part of the process people had to apply for jobs by going through an assessment centre. Juliana did not do well and was not appointed. A lot of our work together was in taking a cool look at what her skills actually were and then, at what this said about her market value. Juliana concluded that she had most probably been over-promoted. She had not refreshed or extended her skills and her market value was a lot lower than she had believed.

6. Failing to have a Plan B

However happy you are in your current role, you should always have an exit plan. See each job as a discrete project which will have a beginning a middle and an end. And the end may come more suddenly than you think. Keep your networks alive, commit to broadening your scope, for instance through taking on a non-exec director role, appraising your options, discussing it with your family, keeping your CV up to date, staying loosely in touch with head-hunters. A role that seemed like a perfect fit in your thirties may no longer be right in your forties or fifties. Human beings grow and develop – and thank goodness we do.