Beware the career lifeboat

Beware the career lifeboat

I recently got myself a new job. You might have seen it in Campaign. My mum certainly did (I sent her two copies). I haven’t actually finished at my current job just yet but pretty soon I’m going to leaving mcgarrybowen London after three of the hardest yet easily most enjoyable years of my career. I’m about to become CSO of O&M in London and I’m really looking forward to it.

Leaving your job and taking another one does give you some pause for thought on the whole recruitment thing - especially if, like me, you weren’t actually looking for a job in the first place. What getting a new job has reminded me of is that although most of us aren’t actively looking for a job, we are all (if we’re honest with ourselves) open (vulnerable?) to an approach from someone who might be offering the right one.  

What is really weird when you change jobs is everyone comes up to you and asks you the same question: “why are you leaving?” But virtually no one asks the more interesting question which is: “why are you joining?” And in my experience the latter is always ten times more important than the former. People always assume when they ask the “why are you leaving” question that something must be wrong with where you are rather than considering that something might be ten times more right with where you are going next.

My observation is that nearly all the things that end up on a “why are you leaving” list for someone turn out to be short term. The best piece of advice I was ever given in work (and life, for that matter) was to never make decisions with potentially long-term consequences based on short-term circumstances. Clients come and go, bosses change, anger subsides – and sometimes that thing that seems like the biggest thing in the world this month might mean jack shit next month. I once knew someone who resigned over the type of chair they were given, seriously.

As someone who has recently gone through the recruitment process I wanted to offer my one piece of advice on moving jobs. It applies as much to people at the start of their career as those of us further down the tracks.

If you’re thinking of leaving your job, take a piece of paper. List all of the reasons that you would leave your current job – I call this your “Jump List”. Now list all of the reasons why you would want to take the job that is potentially on offer – this is your “Join List”.

Make sure that the second list is at least twice as long as the first one or stay where you are for now. In fact, it’s best if the first list is empty. In my case the second list was about four times as long as the first. It was a good sign and it made my mind up for me.

But there is a simple reason this Jump/Join thing should be a critical part of your personal search process. If you only have a “Jump List” you are not looking for a job at all, you are actually just looking for a lifeboat. And if there’s one thing that’s true about lifeboats it is that you don’t really care what they look like just as long as the bloody thing floats for long enough to get you away from your current, acute situation. It’s not a good mindset for making smart decisions.

I’ve never been in the lifeboat position in my career thankfully. Perhaps because I’ve always followed that piece of sage advice I mentioned earlier. I know from personal experience that you’ll always leave a place with a happier heart if you have fond memories of where you have left as well as happy anticipation for where you are going.

See you on the other side.

Read more from Kevin Chesters here and follow him @hairychesters.