Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Should I stay or should I go?

As a supply chain manager, your day starts early. Once in the office, the calls, e-mails, and meetings come fast and furious. By the time the day is over, it is late and you may be tired. But good work was accomplished. Progress was made. Tomorrow, you will do it again and do it just as well, if not better.

This is all great; we are paid to deliver results. But this kind of focus on the day-to-day can turn into something less desirable: keeping our heads down and not looking at the bigger picture. In other words, doing a good job of managing day-to-day operations should not be your sole focus. You also need to manage your career with an eye toward your future.

The decision to move
Here is one of the most important career management questions we all ask must ask ourselves at some point: When should I move on to a new position? There is no simple answer that applies to everyone, but the following are some considerations and recommendations that can help you decide whether and when to make a move. (For purposes of this discussion, we are talking about changing companies, not about changing jobs within the same company.)

Go if it will help you grow.  Are you still growing professionally? Are you still learning? Are you still challenged? Are you still broadening your span of control? If not, then you should seriously consider changing companies. As the saying goes, if you are not growing, you are shrinking.  In other words, if you are not challenging your skills, your skills are going to atrophy. 

Fill your gaps. Every career move should be made with your ultimate career goal in mind. If you want to start your own firm someday, then you would move your career in one direction. If you want to be a chief supply chain officer, then you would move your career in a different direction. An important question, then, is whether the new job you are considering will move you closer to your goal. Now think about what job skills and knowledge you are missing but will need in order to reach your ultimate goal. Does the job you are considering fill a knowledge or experience gap, and therefore will help you achieve your goal? If the answer to these two questions is yes, then you are right to be looking at a new position.

Protect your legacy. You do not want to leave a job in the middle of a big transition. Neither do you want to leave a mess for someone else to clean up. If the job you were hired to do has been stabilized, and you have groomed someone to be your replacement, then the time may be right for you to explore other opportunities, and to do so without damaging your reputation.

Know what jobs are in the pipeline. Know what positions are available in the marketplace even when you are not looking to make your next move. This knowledge will help you stay current in regard to your value (what other firms are paying for your skills, education, and experience), who is hiring, and which market segments are growing.

How do you find out what jobs are out there? Get involved with industry organizations and professional societies, like the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP). CSCMP and similar organizations have job boards. Check them frequently. If you find a position that is interesting but is not a good fit for you, pass it along to someone in your network who would be a strong candidate. You should also belong to LinkedIn, Plaxo, and other networking sites. They have interest-based groups (including some for supply chain management) that are designed to keep you informed in a wide range of areas. Join them and participate in their online forums. You can also use these and other social media resources to follow companies you are targeting as possible future employers.

Another way to stay current is to create relationships with a couple of good executive recruiters. When they call, listen. Recruiters are looking for two types of people: candidates and sources. Candidates are people who fit the position and are interested in pursuing it. Sources are people who know potential candidates. When you are not a candidate, be a source.   Being a source keeps recruiters sharing information with you, and it lets your network (potential candidates) know that you are thinking of them and admire their skills enough to recommend them to recruiters.

Be open to change. Staying with one firm throughout your entire career is not inherently bad. I have clients who are 20-year veterans at a single company. Their careers, however, involved different positions within the company, including jobs overseas and in manufacturing, sales, and supply chain. Their employers provided them with broad—and marketable—experience.  If, however, you stay in the same company even when your career is stagnant, you may be slowly killing your career. That’s because it suggests to others that you are someone who is complacent or is afraid of change.

While maintaining loyalty to a company is admirable, staying with the same employer for many years does limit your options if your career there does not work out as you expected. If you apply for positions at another company late in your career, then you will have to be able to answer questions like: Why did you stay? Can you work in a different corporate culture? Is your longevity with one company a sign that you are not motivated?

Don’t be a “job hopper.” When you rapidly move through a series of jobs, each of them with a different firm, you can be viewed as a “job hopper.” A job hopper is someone whose résumé typically includes three or more jobs of three years or less, each with different companies. They are not perceived as team players, and they seem to be motivated only by short-term self interest. Most hiring firms, in fact, do not consider this type of candidate because they see someone who will leave just when the company finally starts to get a return on the time and effort it invested in training that person.

Ideally, you should stay at a company for a minimum of three to five years. Within the same company, however, you can move more frequently without being negatively perceived.

Avoiding being a job hopper goes hand-in-hand with the earlier comment about your legacy. Stay until the situation is stabilized. You always want to leave a position on good terms and in good hands.

Don’t be mercenary. If your only benefit from taking a new position would be a better title or more money, be wary. Title and money can be fine reasons for taking a new job, but not if doing so moves you farther away from your ultimate goal. For instance, if you want to be the senior supply chain officer of a Fortune 500 firm, taking a high-level position in a small company will not advance you toward your goal. It could even prevent you from reaching it altogether. Always keep the end game in sight.

The right way to leave
When you accept a new position at another company, there is a particular etiquette you should follow as you prepare to leave your current position. Here are some widely accepted practices that will serve you well:
  1.  Be sure to give adequate notice in a formal resignation letter. Present the resignation letter in person. Depending on the sensitivity of your position, you may be asked to leave immediately. If so, respect the policy and do not take it personally. Regardless, you should offer to help with the transition.
  2. Offer suggestions about who your successor should be. You may be in a better position than your boss to know who would be a good fit.
  3. Voice your appreciation for the opportunities and experiences you have had.
  4. Leave on a positive note. Give only constructive feedback in any exit interview. Keep your comments professional.
  5. Provide your new contact information and make yourself available to answer any unforeseen questions that may come up after you leave.
  6. Stay in touch. Your former co-workers are part of your network. Do not neglect those relationships.
Remember, taking charge of your career is not something to think about once in awhile or leave to chance. Always keep your ultimate goal in mind, and work toward achieving it on a regular basis.

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