Frightening Career Moves

In anticipation of Halloween here in the States, I’ve been thinking about scary jobs, the kind most would find risky, weird or just plain icky. Jobs like coroner, hazardous materials technician, miner, transmission tower work or, in the just plain icky column, herpetologist or arachnologist (people who work with snakes and spiders).

But what about frightening career moves? You know, the kind one makes to seemingly advance a career or escape professional danger. A little bit of fear can be good. Too much of it can yield dangerous outcomes. Which leads to a simple question: Is it possible to successfully avoid the frightening career move?

The answer is yes.

According to Anne Kreamer, author of Risk/Reward (Why Intelligent Leaps and Daring Choices are the Best Career Moves You Can Make), in spite of the widely recognized desire on the part of many professionals to dream big, human propensity to stay with what one knows is very strong. Per Kreamer in April 2015’s Harvard Business Review, “most people dream, but fail to act.”

And that lack of action is a very scary move indeed. Job security has moved from fact-of-life to urban myth over the span of 25 years. Globalization has crept into almost every aspect of the professional world; no longer the provenance of manufacturing work, the phenomenon of off shoring has put pressure on jobs from customer service to operations to design. We are seeing the last of the long tenured employee class fade into retirement, or second careers.

The frightening career move in today’s world is the non-move, based on the belief that stability and success are found by sticking to the well worn path one started years ago. The truth of careers being in continual flux is scary, I admit. In fact, the whole topic of modern career growth and development can cause one to sleep with the lights on. Yet the pace of change and need to never take anything for granted is very real.

In many ways, eschewing the non-move stance is stimulating and refreshing. The ability to learn and evolve represents a high level of control and optimism over one’s future. Learning and evolving can help smooth the bumps one hits when the uncontrollable downsizing or job loss occurs.

Which leads to another form of “frightening career move” – the panic move. We’ve all been there. Rumors of workplace disaster are at a fever pitch or you’re involved in an issue that requires higher ups to bail you out. You’re convinced your stock is plummeting and you must do something now before it gets any worse. So you jump to another job, either internally or externally, instead of waiting to gather more data on what is really happening. In the quest to remove ambiguity and buy yourself the feeling of safety, you short-change your career. Maybe not immediately, but it will happen nonetheless. Frightening.

There are things you can do to “de-spook” your career and avoid the frightening career move:

  • Be curious – Complacency is a trap; interest in what is beyond one’s scope prevents the trap door from closing. Be curious about what your company, industry and peers are doing. It may open up new avenues you can’t see from your current perch.
  • Invest time in your growth – It goes without saying that a career, like any other long-term asset, demands thoughtful investment. Networking, education, development opportunities, all these activities serve as building blocks that yield real results over time.
  • Move before some moves you – Finally, and most important, move before someone moves you. This is not the “panic” move noted above. This is about using data, observation and gut instinct to figure out when to try something new, before someone shows you the door.

During this time of year putting on costumes, watching horror movies and scaring your friends can be a lot of fun. Making a frightening career move, no matter where we are in the calendar, is not. You’ll be better off spending 364 days a year de-spooking your career while leaving your best Fright Night moves to October 31.


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