Take Charge of Your Career
Advocate for yourself!
I recently made the difficult decision to find a new job. The place I was at has a great culture, a great mission, great location, and fantastic people. In just under three years my career progressed from being a development manager of one team, to two teams, and then getting promoted to senior development manager. However, over the last six months I realized that if I really wanted to push my skills and career to the next level I would need to get out of my comfort zone and build entirely new relationships. I wanted to prove that I could replicate my successes anywhere.
I was ready for the next challenge and adventure, so I went looking for it. I took charge of my career and you can too!
Ask for what you want before you decide to leave
Before you decide to leave your company, you should evaluate if the career path you want is available to you where you are. To do this you should advocate for yourself by openly discussing your goals with your direct leader and her leader. A great leader will help their reports grow, even if that means they grow out of the team.
When discussing career goals consider doing the following:
- Clearly state your goals, and the promotion you are looking for.
- Explain why you should be considered and give examples.
- Listen to what your leader has to say.
- Ask what is holding you back from the promotion.
- Build a development plan with your leader for how to achieve your goals.
Many times doing all of the above will result in you moving closer to your goals. There are many factors that go into who gets a promotion and when. Even though you are ready, the company might not be. However, be sure that the next job really is a step up, and not just the title you covet. Look for changes in responsibly and the authority to make meaningful decisions.
I did all of the above, but realized that the promotion to director wasn't going to happen on the timeline I wanted. I was ready for the next step, so I went out to get it.
Know Your Skills, Know What You Want
Before you start looking for a new job you should think about your skill set. What are you really good at? What type of companies could really benefit from your skills? What skills do you want to hone? What do you want to learn? What kind of companies can you grow and learn in?
I asked myself all those questions and after some deep thought and discussions with my husband and trusted friends I was able to answer them.
Once you have answers, you are ready to go out and find your new role. To make the job search easier you need to be able to clearly articulate what you are looking for and why.
I was looking for a startup that was beginning to grow. I call these companies growups (not growops). A growup would benefit from my skills in team building, change management, technical expertise, and people leadership. I was also looking for a place that would help me grow my skill set, give me exposure to Venture Capitalists, board meetings, customer interactions, and a larger variety of responsibilities than I currently had.
Once I knew what I was looking for I had to build up the courage to put it out there. I had to be fearless. I had to leave the comfort of the job I had, at a good company, with people I respected, and make a huge leap of confidence.
Use Your Network
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of all jobs are found through networking. This is why it is so important to always be building and maintaining your network.
I have spent many years building my network. In the past it has helped me find great people to hire, build relationships with people who share common interests, and people who have connected me to speaking engagements, women in tech events, and girls in stem workshops to name a few. Now I needed to use my network to find the role I wanted.
I reached out to a few of people I trusted and told them what I was looking for. I asked if they knew of any of these kind of opportunities. My network connected me with three companies that were beginning to move from startup to growup. All three were looking for the type of role I wanted.
Interviewing while working is hard. Interviewing in a community where everyone knows everyone else is downright scary! You don't want it to get back to your current job that you are interviewing until you have a signed offer in your hand.
To mitigate this I asked to interview over lunch, or at the end of the day. This way it didn't impact my ability to get my current job done and helped keep suspicions down.
At one place I interviewed there were a lot of people I knew. I asked to interview in locations outside the company. They were very accommodating with this and happy to meet me at nearby coffee shops instead.
Don't be afraid to ask for early morning, lunch, or later in the day interview slots. People with jobs are more desirable to hire and companies will often accommodate your requests. If you know people at the new company, then ask for alternate locations if you don't want them to know you are interviewing.
In general be upfront and honest with a potential employer. They will respect you more for it. If they can't be accommodating of you, then you might want to think twice about working for them.
You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you
Remember you are interviewing your potential employer as well. It is important to know if they are the kind of company you want to work for. Ask about their work environment, success criteria, flexibility, what they like or hate at the company, and what they would like to see change. This is your career. You need to know that they are a good fit for you as much as they are making sure you are a good fit for them!
One last question
My favourite last question to a potential employer is.
What are your current reservations about hiring me?
The first time I asked this I was scared. But I had a good idea of what they would say. So when they answered, I could speak to their reservations and let them know why I didn’t think it was a problem. This way you can assuage their reservations before you leave.
This does not always mean asking for more money. It is certainly one of the top items to negotiate, but there are other things to think about as well. It just depends on what is important to you. Consider negotiating for vacation time, stock options, start date, type of computer or laptop you will use, and benefits.
Your compensation package is in your control. Don’t settle. There is always room to negotiate something.
Don't Burn Bridges
When you resign your current job, do it with respect. Work hard for the duration of your notice. Stay positive with the people around you and try and leave your role with everything you do handed off and in a good state. Do not speak badly of anyone.
You never know who your future boss will be. I have seen on more than one occasion people who have ended up working for someone that used to report to them. It is important to always treat people with respect and empathy.
The last few days
For the people you respect and value at the place you are leaving, you should write LinkedIn recommendations. This will show them how much you value and respect them. It may even trigger some of them to write one for you.
The Goodbye Email
On your last day you should send out a goodbye email. Only send this out to people you directly worked with and care that you are leaving. Do not send it out to a wide distribution list. Include your personal contact information and LinkedIn profile in the message. Be genuine. Only talk about positive things about what you learned and the good time you had working there. If you can't do that honestly, then don't write the message at all.
Get ready for the new adventure
If you can take some vacation before your new adventure then do it. Take time to relish in the fact that there are no demands on you and recharge your spirit. Starting a new job is stressful, exciting, and exhausting. You will appreciate the time you took to prepare yourself.
When you start your next job dive in with all your focus and energy. Try to learn as much about the job, people, and company as fast as you can. First impressions do last, so make it good!
It is time to take charge of your career. No one is going to do this for you and the best way for you to do it is to advocate for yourself. Start by taking a look at your skill set, what you love, and what you want to do. Then start working with your current organization to get there. If that doesn’t work out then leverage your network to find the new role you want.
I did this and am very excited to be starting my new adventure as the director of research and development at Arctic Wolf Networks.
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