It’s an ugly metaphor but I’ll go for it anyway. You don’t want your career to end up like the War in Iraq – a no-win situation – with no end in sight.
You see, the days when dad had one job and retired on a pension are over. Corporate allegiance to employees is scarce. These days you’re likely to change careers three to five times. And don’t forget, you might change jobs up to six times within a career.
Job-hopping is not recommended. However, getting stuck in career quicksand will only leave you with a lower paycheck and gold watch (after 30 years) for all of your troubles.
Regardless of where you work, things can head south quickly. Whether the company is undergoing a massive reorganization or your boss just retired and some hotshot took his place, you can’t put a price on being prepared to jump when the time is right.
Here’s six items that will help you map out a Career Exit Strategy:
– Update your resume regularly. I would suggest every three months. Make sure you change the dates and use the present tense for your current job. Add any major projects. Since there are so many job sites that can store your resume, it’s important to make the rounds and update ALL of them.
– Have regular communication with your contacts. First let me give you my definition of a contact: anyone you have ever met, at any job, ever. I can’t even count the number of shy interns, flaky temps and complete morons that have flourished. You never know where anyone will end up, so it’s important to be nice to everyone. Now let me give you the definition of what’s NOT a contact: writing someone after 16 months of silence and asking them to join your LinkedIn circle. Social networking sites are great, but let’s be honest, it’s a numbers game, and that’s the only reason most of us receive friend requests. Use these tools wisely (as a supplementary tool to communicate). Don’t come around when you have some juicy gossip or need a job. If you communicate more frequently your actions won’t appear as transparent.
– Apply for jobs when things are going well. Let me use a simple analogy. When you were 17 and had a hot girlfriend, remember how many other girls wanted you? It’s the same with jobs. Fate is funny and you can bet your bottom dollar that the good offers will come when you’re as happy as a shiny penny. If you’re desperate, you’ll end up like you were at 17 – alone. Just like SHE could smell "loser" – so can an employer. This is also useful because you will keep your interview skills sharp. It is an art form, and if you use it – you won’t lose it.
– Keep your employer guessing. Yes, you should show that you are a team player and in for the long haul. But you should not allow them to think that you are complacent with few other options. This will only lead to fewer promotions, smaller pay increases and getting treated poorly. You might recall that I keep my cube empty. Probably not the best option – just me going to extremes. My advice is to show allegiance but do not, under any circumstances, allow a company to view you as a lifer. This is no different then letting your girlfriend or boyfriend know that you are wanted by others.
– Attend professional conferences. The number of trade shows, expos and social networking events are greater than ever. The beauty is, the people at these convention centers are often looking to hire talented folks or are just like you – laying the groundwork for an escape route. You’ll make contacts fast. If you can’t find a hook to get work to pay then you should shell out the coin and attend on your own.
– Load up on ammo. We’ve already covered keeping your resume fresh. Along the same lines you want to stockpile references and documents that will make you look like Da Bomb! Like a successful diet, you will want to make this a "lifestyle change." Build it into your regular routine and it will become second nature. When you complete a successful project, make a note of it. Accomplish something impressive? Slide it into a folder. Also, get a reference letter at your annual review. It’s tricky to ask the big bosses when you’ve already given your two weeks notice. You need to hit ’em up before they get all bitter and resentful on you.
In closing, be a Boy Scout: ALWAYS BE PREPARED. I’d love to hear your ideas and tips on how to have a job/career exit strategy. Please leave a comment below and if you dig the blog, tell a co-worker and subscribe!