Friday, November 09, 2007

Recovering from Career Disaster

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This is the fourth and final post in my series titled Early Career Decisions. Today's post is on the topic of recovering from early career disasters. I have picked four of the most common career disasters and even though I could dedicate an entire post to each one of them, I will give a few quick tips on how to deal with each scenario.

Disaster #1: Selecting the Wrong Company

You did everything in your power to select the right employer for you, but soon after you start working you realize that you have made a terrible error. What should you do? Is it OK to quit immediately? Should you hang around for a year before you leave?

If you find yourself in the wrong company, the first thing you should do is wait. Give it a couple of months. Maybe you will find that what first struck you as horrible is not really so. Making an impulsive career decision is not a good strategy. However, if after a few months you find that the company truly is not the place for you, move along.

Toughing it out for a year is really not necessary. Future employers will understand if you tell them honestly that the company was not a good fit for you, and even though you tried your best, you could not fix the situation. Contrary to what many say, leaving the company after a few months will not reflect poorly on you, provided you do it once. If you bounce around several companies within a short time period, then you have a problem on your hands.

Advice: make sure it really is as bad as you think, but if it is, leave.

Disaster #2: Selecting the Wrong Profession

It is possible that you will find you strongly dislike the industry you are in. Perhaps it is too volatile or too stogy for you. Perhaps you don't deal well with the stringent regulations of the financial industry, or don't enjoy the pressure to bill more hours as a legal professional. Perhaps your industry requires too much travel for your taste, or requires you to work hours that are simply not acceptable. How do you switch to a new industry?

I started my career as a lawyer. After a couple of years on the job, I realized that I simply did not like working in a law firm. I had two options: I could leave my law firm and work as an in-house lawyer for a large company or in the public sector, or I could leave the world of law and try to switch industries completely. I opted for the latter and accomplished a smooth transition by getting an MBA. I haven't looked back.

In many cases you will find that you have similar options. You can choose to remain in your industry but change the circumstances which you dislike. This is a relatively simple transition, however it carries the risk that the change you are making will not be enough to make you happy. Alternatively, you can try to leave your profession and industry and aim for greener pastures. This course of action carries the risk that your new industry or profession will not be any more pleasing for you. It is also a relatively difficult transition to make and often involves re-training and considerable expenditure of time and money.

Advice: understand the consequences, but don't be afraid to make a difficult decision. Few things are worse than working for decades in an industry or profession that you cannot stand.

Disaster #3: Working for a Horrible Boss

Boy, that can seem like quite a disaster. It really sucks to get up in the morning, go to work and know that your horrible boss will be making your life difficult the whole time. A crappy boss can really take the fun out of work. However, as strange as it may seem, working for a horrible boss is not such a disaster. Most people have had at least one terrible boss by the time they hit their mid-career stride.

A horrible boss can teach you many things, the most important of which is what you need to do to avoid being a bad boss. Learn from your bad experience. Watch your boss carefully and try to understand what it is that you don't like about their actions. Is your boss even aware of everything he is doing wrong? Treat the situation as a learning experience.

The good news is that since slavery was abolished, you have a choice of bosses. You could quit and look for a new job, but in many cases if the company you are working for is a good one, you may not need to do so. Many good companies will re-assign star performers to different groups in order to retain them. Your bad boss may be moved to a different part of the organization, he may leave the company altogether. There is even the possibility that he or she will (God forbid) get promoted out of your life.

Advice: unless your boss compares unfavorably with Attila the Hun, hang in there. The situation is temporary. Treat it as a learning experience. Consider seeking a transfer within the organization. If you've had enough, there's always a greener pasture out there.

Disaster #4: Getting Laid Off

Few things in your career will feel worse than getting laid off. If you get laid off you may feel inadequate or helpless. You may feel that you did something wrong. You will no doubt feel stress.

Reality is that in today's highly dynamic economy, getting laid off is a real possibility for most non-government employees. While you cannot defend yourself against the possibility of getting laid off, you can do certain things to prepare. You should start preparing for disaster well before any clouds appear on the horizon, and one of the first steps to take is to build an emergency fund, to make sure that you are financially stable even if you lose your job.

If you are proactive about building your resume, as I have suggested in an earlier post in this series, you will have put yourself in a great place to quickly bounce back from the unemployment line. If you have been maintaining relationships with many of your former colleagues over the years, as I have suggested in yet another post in this series, you will have a robust network to draw upon and your time out of commission will be greatly reduced.

Advice: losing your job sucks, but it's hardly the end of the world. To minimize the damage from losing your job, make sure that you have an emergency fund. Build and maintain a professional network.

Other posts in this series include:

Employer Selection: a Strategic Career Decision
Your Colleagues - Your Assets
Active Resume Building
Recovering from Early Career Disaster


plonkee said...

I've done number 3. It's my undiminished hope that I only ever have to suffer one bad boss in my lifetime. It really was awful, fortunately he left within a year but if he hadn't I would I think.

Little Miss Moneybags said...

#1. I almost did this in my most recent job hunt. I was so afraid I wouldn't get offered another job in the industry, but I turned it down and felt horrible for three days, until I was offered my current job. I just had my one year review this week; had I taken the other job I would have lasted about two months--MAYBE.
#2. This is why I waited to work for a few years before deciding to go to grad school. I changed careers/industries when I was 25. It was a little traumatic but at least I didn't have years of schooling and student loans to regret.
#3. Ugh. I'm realizing now that my last manager was not as great as I thought she was at the time (or she's made consistently bad decisions since I've left), but I've been lucky to get on well with both my bosses at both my jobs.
#4. Worse is getting fired. When you're laid off, there's little you could have done to prevent it.