Career Resources

The Wisdom of Changing Jobs

Changing jobs is a prospect that executives in every field face. The circumstances under which an individual changes jobs vary. They may be voluntary or involuntary, or they may involve changing positions within your current organization or accepting a position in another organization or even another field. The experience of changing jobs has become such a common occurrence that collected wisdom now abounds in career management columns, newsletters, and books. This posting will explore some of that collected wisdom so readers can learn from others’ experience.

As indicated above, there are many different reasons for making a job change. One of the more welcome reasons is being recruited away to a better job with better pay. Another is initiating a change that will further your career on your own terms. There are less welcome reasons for changing jobs such as involuntary separations due to downsizing, merger, or individual factors. There are also employee-driven involuntary separations such as when one spouse in a two-profession family gets the career chance of a lifetime two time zones away. Following are considerations to help you better handle change when your opportunity comes knocking.

Considerations in life and career stages

How collected wisdom applies to you will depend on where you are in your career or in your life. Those who are younger tend to have fewer responsibilities and obligations. Therefore, they can operate with fewer constraints than older executives. The early careerist typically has neither dependents nor the need to cover a mortgage or an offspring’s college tuition. Younger individuals can consider changing careers for equal or less pay in exchange for a new experience that will broaden their skills. For example, by switching from a technical role to a general management role, the younger manager will gain experience and skills that will help qualify him or her for a higher level of compensation and responsibility in the future.

Those more advanced in their lives and careers typically cannot entertain a new position that involves a significant sacrifice of income or status. However, being older has its advantages. Senior executives will likely possess superior personal and professional networks, a documented record of accomplishments, and a broader range of transferable skills. These are assets that typically command higher compensation.

Changing organizations

A lateral move within your current organization can be a sensible one that broadens your knowledge and skills. However, if opportunities are not available within your current organization, you may want to consider looking elsewhere. When changing organizations, whether in the same field or to another field, there are three crucial considerations you must address. First, make sure your management style fits with the new organization. Healthcare executives, especially those with hospital-based experience, have prospered in hierarchically structured organizations where responsibility is fixed and clear. In a fast-paced start-up company, flexibility and collaboration in teams may be the patterns that succeed. If your management style does not fit with the new organization, you must be flexible enough to change or look for an organization that better suits your style.

A second consideration is whether your new position will establish you close to a profit center with a stable or growing future. If you are moving to a new organization for a position that serves only internal customers or that is a project-based operation, you may be assuming considerable risk. Your new division may be discontinued for sound business reasons. Before you accept the position, investigate the organization and the division in which you will be working and decide whether you will be able to perform well under unstable conditions.

Finally, talk to others within the organization to learn as much as you can about the environment in which you will be working. Your new position may be in a division that is rife with political risk not apparent to the casual observer. New leadership of the organization may have created a winner-take-all competitive situation pitting your division against another. Or, you may have been picked to succeed a very popular supervisor who was forced out. Will you be able to win over the direct reports whose support you need to succeed? Not being thorough during the recruitment process can have dire consequences once your new job begins.

Changing industries and changing functions

Many industries, healthcare among them, have become more flexible about recruiting executives from other fields. Some skills are readily transferable such as human resources, information technology, and accounting. Ultimately, what is important to the employer is finding a professional who has the necessary skills to make a positive impact by building revenue and cutting costs. Sometimes there will be a great advantage to bringing in a specialist from a field that has preceded healthcare through consolidation and merger. Human resource specialists from the financial services sector may have a relevant fresh perspective and experience in issues healthcare organizations are just beginning to face.

It is possible to change industries without much difficulty. Changing functions, however, is another matter. When you step away from your unique expertise to start a new career, you usually leave behind the basis for producing the accomplishments that make you an attractive candidate. In ACHE’s May 1999 audio conference, panelist John Challenger noted that the executive starting over typically gives up 20 percent to 50 percent in income. That earning level sometimes can be attained again, but maybe not for another 5 to 10 years. Before making such a profound career change, consider whether you would be able to endure the consequent lifestyle changes for the next decade.

It is likely that you will make a job change some time in your career. Whatever your reasons for changing jobs, following the collected wisdom in this posting can make your transition a smooth one.