Dave was somewhat of a legend at his firm. Having joined the company directly after college, he’d worked his way up the ladder and earned a nice income, which was putting his two sons through university while paying for a wedding for his daughter. Dave thoroughly enjoyed his role, and had no plans to make a career move…until his firm was acquired and his role was eliminated. After over 22 years of working for a single company, Dave was uncertain how his skills would translate to a new market. It was a terrifying realisation.
Staying with one company for any length of time is the exception versus the norm in 2020 , so if you’ve been with your current organisation for a decade or more, Dave’s story may resonate with you. While an extended tenure with one organisation used to be an admirable quality to potential employers that demonstrated commitment and consistent performance, with the rapid changes in technology and globalisation, a lengthy stay has become a potential red flag.
The current assumption is that the longer professionals remain with one company, the harder it becomes to be agile in new environments. This has some merit since it’s likely that over time, you get accustomed to certain structures, processes, cultural norms and approaches that lead to success within your company. But just because you’ve developed effective habits and practices in one environment doesn’t mean you’re unable to function effectively elsewhere. But you’ll likely be expected to prove your adaptability during the hiring process, so it’s best to be prepared.
Here’s how to transition effectively if you’ve been with one firm for an extended time:
- Believe in your abilities. Whether you’ve been forced to make a change or want to make a change, you need to begin with taking an honest look within yourself. If you’re not confident in your ability to succeed in new environments, others won’t be either. Fear is natural when treading into unexplored territory, so embrace the discomfort and move forward with curiosity and a growth mindset. Avoid comparing yourself to others, which usually ends in despair, and rather take an honest assessment of your knowledge, skills and accomplishments. Then, strive to improve your employability, rather than conquering the world, which will leave you feeling overwhelmed and defeated.
- Increase your vocabulary. One place where transitioning employees get stuck is within company lingo and acronyms. It’s likely you’ve been using company-specific terminology and abbreviations for so long, that you don’t realise how these words are restricting your ability to see and communicate your greater value. Review your CV, performance reviews and other accomplishments, and rewrite them using generic language. It can be helpful to check out the online job boards or LinkedIn profiles of people in similar professions to understand the current market lingo. This step alone will enable you to see your value in the marketplace is greater than you anticipated.
- Stretch your comfort zone. In the same way you build core strength through exercises that focus on the abdominals, you can increase your comfort with new things by taking small risks and trying novel activities. If you tend to be a creature of comfort, get involved with something completely new like an improvement class, community singing group, programming bootcamp or intramural volley ball team. The more you challenge yourself to learn or do something that is outside of your comfort zone, the easier it’ll be to approach these challenges in the future.
- Close your gaps. If you’re worried you’ve allowed your skills to become stale, the good news is that according to the book YouMap, Korn Ferry has suggested that 85% of skills are transferable, so research the market to understand your strengths and gaps. For areas where you’re lacking, look to industry associations, conferences, online courses, and professional publications. In today’s workplace, the most in-demand skills include critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, leadership and influencing, which are all considered transferable. So if you have a track record of demonstrating these qualities, highlight them through key accomplishments on your CV and in the interview. Technology is also crucial to just about every field, so brush up on the latest advances and ensure your social media reflects your savvy.
- Demonstrate your agility. Even if you’ve been with one company for several years, you may have demonstrated more agility than you think. If you’ve taken on new roles, global assignments, outside projects, or big promotions, you’ve likely had to adapt to new processes, team members, responsibilities and challenges. Perhaps your organisation has experienced a merger, transformation, massive expansion, or other major event that has disrupted the culture, structure or leadership team? These experiences often require adaptability to survive and thrive, so review your history with the company and share how you’ve evolved.
- Re-connect. If you’ve neglected your external network, it’s never too late to reach out. Dormant contacts – those individuals you once had a strong relationship with, but have lost touch, are a great place to start. LinkedIn is a useful tool for finding these connections, as well as second-level contacts – those people who are connections of your first-level contacts. While you will want to put in some focused effort, you likely have a more extensive network than you realise. Start with the people you know – your friends, neighbours, former colleagues, family and acquaintances because everyone has something valuable to offer.
- Go rogue. Before diving back into a similar position, evaluate if you still enjoy your work. At the rate of marketplace change, it’s likely there are different roles, industries and even functions that didn’t exist during your last job search, so take time to explore your options. In addition to the types of roles, the structure of jobs has also changed and now there are portfolio careers, the gig economy, hybrid roles, remote opportunities and portable careers to choose from or create.
Humans by nature are designed to adapt. Sometimes we get in our own way because it’s easier to get stuck in our habits, rather than change, which takes focus, commitment and intention. But often, the biggest obstacle is our fear, and once we acknowledge that, we can devise a plan to move forward.