To move or not to move? Plotting career progression in a buoyant IT jobs market


To move or not to move? Plotting career progression in a buoyant IT jobs market

If anything in life is certain, it is that change will affect your career. Change in your worklife could be driven by either a merger, downsizing or shift in company strategy. A new boss or new responsibility may make your role redundant or take away aspects that made it attractive in the first place.

More commonly, however, there is no compelling reason to make a move. Instead, there is a feeling of uncertainty about whether where you are is the right place to be, right now, in order to take your career in the right direction.

There are ways that you can better plan your career, whether you find yourself forced to make a move, or simply want to take greater control of your future.

If you think it might be the right time to make a move but feel reluctant to rock the boat, you are not alone. The IT downturn of 2000-2003 is still fresh in most people's minds and many are still cautious about making career moves. When times are tough it is not unusual to be risk averse, and the reputation that you have built up in your current role may be a powerful source of security. If the downturn led to stagnation in your career progression, you may feel the need to get further experience under your belt before moving on.

However, the market is buoyant again, and there are many good opportunities out there for talented and experienced people. Ironically, a strong market can be a difficult environment to move in. You may be starting to receive the rewards for the loyalty you demonstrated in the leaner times. Companies with strong HR business partners have started to put in place attractive retention strategies - "golden handcuffs" - creating incentives for loyalty, such as retention bonuses and share options.

What is required is careful consideration of all your options, starting with where you are now. There are three steps: perspective, direction and decision.

To keep your current role in perspective, make a list of the pros and cons - and make sure you are brutally honest. Do this at different times so your perception is not skewed by the experiences of any particular day or week. Obviously, if you find that the negatives regularly outweigh the positives, the time has come to get moving.

To decide if your current role is taking you in the right direction, put down on paper where you want to be, and compare this to what you are doing now. If the current role is not providing you with the experiences and the exposure to take you in this direction, then it is probably the wrong role. When it comes to career stagnation, perception is usually reality.

The final step is to speak to your manager about career development plans and identify what you want to achieve. If your current company is not willing to put firm plans in place to help you develop, then you should not offer them reciprocal commitment. If you cannot fulfil your potential where you are, then it is time to look at other options.

At the same time as weighing up your current role, the best way to determine whether or not it's time to move is to get out there and examine the other options.

Even if you are happy in your current role, you should aim to have at least one or two interviews every 12 months. This will keep you engaged in the world outside your current employer and enable you to compare other opportunities with your current role. Even if this only serves to convince you that you are currently working in the best place, then it has been a useful exercise. It will also help to keep your interview skills honed and ready.

As many of the best roles are never advertised, you should build and maintain a network of contacts with people in the industry working for other companies, and with headhunters. This will ensure that you are in the running when interesting positions arise. The alternative of trawling through job sites and cold calling busy recruiters on the day you are unexpectedly made redundant is going to be a miserable experience - lay the groundwork now.

Finally, remember that we are in a buoyant market, but we live in an era of short economic cycles. Right now there is a great deal of demand for IT talent across the board.

However, it is difficult to predict the next downturn, so if you are ready to make a move, the right time is now. In the words of the great Samuel Johnson, "Life is not long, and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent."

Sam Gordon is principal consultant, executive IT, at Harvey Nash

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This was first published in December 2005


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