Java with Joe: Changing Jobs…A Servant Leader Approach

I’ve recently been asked by a number of followers of Java with Joe, many of them “millennials,” about the topic of changing jobs…and more specifically, if, when and how to make that change. It seems clear that even the thought of making a career move can leave people confused and apprehensive. It’s that old fear of the unknown. While I don’t think this brief discussion can completely eliminate that stress, here are a few thoughts that might be helpful.                                              

First, there’s the question of when to make a move: “How do I know that it’s time?” To get a handle on this, it might be helpful to remember that the decision to change almost always starts with some level of dissatisfaction with your current state. In the case of a job change, the dissatisfaction is often pretty obvious. You don’t have a good relationship with the person to whom you report or possibly with the people you work with. You feel undervalued and undercompensated. You don’t see any opportunities for growth and vertical mobility. Maybe you just hate going to work in the morning.

But sometimes the dissatisfaction is less a burning platform than a smoldering flame. You’re paid pretty well. You get along well with your colleagues. Your manager is ok. The work itself is interesting, at least most of the time. And yet, you just have a feeling that something isn’t right.

So how do you figure out if you’re dissatisfied enough to make a move? One way is to approach the whole question through the lens of Servant Leadership, and more particularly, its underlying concept of service to others. Whether or not you’re in a leadership role…formal or informal…having service to others as a core value gives you a solid platform on which build a career, and a life. And it can help you make important decisions about your career and your life.

So, try asking yourself if your current position allows you to really serve others…your customers, your colleagues, the organization as a whole. Think hard about how much of your whole self you’re using in your current role. How has all this changed since you’ve been in the role? Even if everyone around you thinks you’re doing fine, what does your gut tell you? If the answer…the real, deep down answer…is that you’re no longer fully utilizing your talents…if you have much more to give than the current job allows… then it’s probably time for you to make a move.

Here’s a different way to approach the same question, an exercise I call “Standing in the Future.” Look out 3-5 years and ask yourself what you’d like to see yourself doing. Write a news story about yourself, your life, your work. Fill it with details and even quotes. Think of a compelling headline. When you’re done, ask yourself if you see a realistic path from where you are now to where you are in that story. If you can’t see that path, then maybe it really is time for you to start looking for a job, an organization, a role that will serve as a better jumping off place for your future.   

Once you’ve decided to make a move, the question of how immediately arises. You can certainly go on line to access various job-related sites, like Indeed.com, Monster.com, ZipRecruiter.com, etc. And you can check out the career opportunities listed on the websites of companies/organizations you might be interested in. But as much as it may be a cliché, the best way to find a great new job is through people you know…networking.

If I look back on my own career, this is one area where I definitely could have done much better, and many of my friends have told me they feel the same way. Indeed, for many people, just the word “networking” is enough to make them feel slightly nauseous. It conjures up the idea of reaching out to people they haven’t talked to in months (or years) to ask for help. Not a pleasant vision.

In my experience, what prevents people from networking effectively is that they wait until they need help to connect with the people who could help them. If you haven’t talked to someone in two years, it’s no wonder that you’re uncomfortable about now reaching out to ask for help.

It seems to me that this is less of a problem for millennials than for previous generations. Growing up with social media seems has made it much more likely that millennials will build and maintain connections with a broad network of friends and acquaintances. But based on the questions I’m often asked, it seems clear that they too want to avoid taking advantage of the people in their network. They want help, but they don’t want to use people.

I would suggest that if you’ve been living the core value of serving others, this issue will take care of itself. In other words, if you’ve found ways to serve the people in your network…if you’ve helped and supported them in the past…you won’t really need to ask for help when you yourself need it. All you’ll need to do is tell them you’re thinking of making a job change and they’ll be there for you.

So…if you’re thinking about making a job change, I hope these ideas will take at least some of the stress out of the whole process, from deciding when it’s time to actually implementing your search. In the meantime, ask yourself these questions:

Are you still doing your best work in your current job?

Does the job offer you the opportunity to make full use of your talents?

Does it offer a path to the role you want to have…the life you want to be living… a few years from now?

Are you finding ways to serve the people in your network, so that you’ll feel comfortable asking them for help when you’re ready to launch a job search?

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