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Fight or Flight

Dear Career Tips: (Fight or Flight?)

From Career Tips, 2008 Volume 3, March 2008

I've been with my current job for nearly 6 months, but am beginning to think more seriously about looking for a new job. I feel that the environment and culture aren't as good a fit as I hoped ... I'm looking for more mentorship at this stage in my career, but do not see much chance of finding it at my present company. Should I speak to my boss about this?

I think bringing it up could open a can of worms while I'm still working there without a backup plan, but maybe some things can be done if the problems got more attention. I certainly want to feel sure I've given things an honest chance before bailing out. I would also like to make a graceful exit because I'm finding that it is a small world and I may run into some of these people again at some point.

Dear Disenchanted:
These are excellent points to think about! Start by separating the issues:

  1. Is the environment and culture what you want?
  2. Can you find mentorship?
  3. Do you need to look for a new job?
  4. If your decision is to leave, how will you do so gracefully?

The 1st is something you can explore by careful observation, and the 2nd is something you can explore with your boss, and with others. These will feed into your decision on the 3rd, but you don't need to (and shouldn't) bring the 3rd up in any way in your exploration of the 1st 2. And the 4th doesn't even come up until you've made a decision on #3, although how you go about your exploration will affect your success.

You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by having a career discussion with your boss, if you go about it the right way. In fact, by now you should have had several career discussions with your boss. You should have sat down with him or her in your first days on the job to talk about expectations, the most critical accomplishments your boss would want to see from you over the next 6 months to a year, and particularly what outstanding performance would look like.

Don't approach your boss about what you are unhappy with there. Focus on:

  • What you would like to see happen over the coming months and years, and especially what your boss would like to see happen over that period.
  • The biggest challenges your boss, your unit, and you in your role face, and how you could help to solve those.
  • What projects you could get involved with that would help you develop in your role, and move forward towards your longer term goals.
  • Suggestions as to how you can find effective mentorship.

    Don't put blinders on by thinking that mentorship can only come from those with many years of experience, those in your unit, your superiors, or even current employees of your company. You can get mentorship on different aspects of business and personal development from different quarters.

    There may be someone in your operation who has only a few years of experience, but is an incredibly good communicator. Your boss may have great insight into how the company operates and who the movers and shakers are that you should get to know. Someone you went to school with and is at a more senior level in another company may be able to serve as the 'expertise' mentor you seek.

    Don't give up after just one meeting, either. Careers are long term, and so is career development. If you don't make much progress in the first meeting, reflect on how you conducted that meeting, and what you might do differently to achieve a better result. Have informational meetings with others as well to get to really know well the company's operations and challenges. Then reflect on what you have learned from the meetings to assess whether or not you need to think about making a move to a new job, a different operation, or a different company.

    Just by having these meetings, you will have demonstrated that you are really serious about your career, and about making the most of your role there. This will go a long way to helping you achieve your goal of exiting gracefully, if you decide to exit.

    Good luck!