ON THE JOB: On the move, by staying put

WALLACE IMMEN, From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

Kathy Murphy thought she might have to change jobs to revive her career dream.

After losing her position as a human resources director in a company downsizing, she took a consulting contract in 2007 that turned into full-time work as an accountant. “It was a much less responsible job than I’d had, and the company was too small to need an HR manager, so I kept my ear tuned for opportunities to move to somewhere else,” she recalls.

But she liked her new company, Toronto-based private equity company Regulus Investments Inc. “I saw a lot of potential for the company to grow and I loved the people. I let it be known that I was interested in moving into an HR position with the company, when a job became available,” Ms. Murphy says.

She demonstrated her commitment by offering to write an employee manual and do employee coaching, which she did in her spare time after her days of bookkeeping.

Ms. Murphy’s supervisor was appreciative and sent her to HR conferences and paid for her to keep up her professional credentials. Last month, her commitment paid off as the growing company named her its human resources director.

“I’m glad I stayed. If the culture is a fit, the grass isn’t likely to be greener than where you are,” she says.

Career experts agree that no matter how frustrated and stalled you may feel in your job now, it’s worth it to try to revitalize your career from the comfort of a job before risking a leap into the still-difficult job market.

The market’s still tough

Although Statistics Canada reported Friday that hiring picked up in January, with 69,200 jobs created, the unemployment rate rose to 7.8 per cent – well above pre-recession levels. That because more people are searching for work. And many of the jobs created in the past year were part-time or short-term contracts, rather than higher paying full-time positions.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty warned this week that job growth for the rest of the year will not be robust enough to put much of a dent in unemployment. A survey this week by staffing service Right Management found that 57 per of 3,000 Canadian executives surveyed believe 2011 will be “a year of caution, with limited hiring.”

At the same time, competition for jobs that do open up is likely to be fierce. A survey last month by executive networking organization BlueSteps found 79 per cent of its members in Canada and the United States are thinking of looking for new positions this year. Another poll in December by employment agency Manpower Inc. found 84 per cent of U.S. employees are planning to look for a new position – up from 60 per cent in a similar survey last year.

Loyalty will pay off

Other recent surveys suggest that employers worried about an exodus of talented employees as the economy improves are likely to be more willing to work with staff to keep them loyal.

A notable example of that was the promise by Chrysler Corp. this week to pay performance bonuses to nearly all employees, even as it repays government loans that bailed out the company. According to Chrysler chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne: “The obligation to our people was much greater than trying to improve our bottom-line profitability.”

Do a reality check

In a market like this, experts advise that you should think hard before deciding to look for a new job. “If you are at the point you are willing to leave, what do you have to lose by staying and trying to get the growth and challenge you want?” asks leadership consultant Alexander Hiam, author of Business Innovation For Dummies, and instructor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“My advice is to not leave any job unless you’ve left no other stones unturned,” he says. Many people feel stuck and bored because they mistakenly believe the job they do is being imposed on them. “The majority of people can transform their existing job into their dream job by changing their attitude and behaviour at work.”

Make a commitment

The first step is to examine what brought you in the door to begin with. “Ask yourself, what did you hope to achieve when you first started the job and what could you still find rewarding in the organization if you could get it?” advises career adviser Colleen Clarke, principal of Colleen Clarke and Associates in Toronto.

“If it’s just that you’ve become bored with your job, it’s time to think, How can I make this better? Silence and inertia are career killers.”

Commit to spending the next year trying to revitalize your job. The best way to start thinking in new directions is by taking the initiative to increase your expertise, such as enrolling in courses, getting certifications and doing cross-training which will give you not only more credentials, but more options, Ms. Clarke says. Look beyond the confines of your workplace and become active in industry organizations. Do research on new trends in your industry or type of work; you may find they apply to your own job, giving a boost to your routine.

Make your needs known

“In my corporate training, I get approached constantly by people saying ‘I’m unhappy and I want to move.’ When I ask, ‘What does your manager say about that?’ They invariably say, ‘I haven’t brought this up,’” Mr. Haim says.

Your manager may be spending so much time on the front lines that he or she doesn’t have a clue what you do during the day, he says. “You have to take the lead. You can’t expect your manager to come to you and say, ‘This is what we want you to do.’”

Try to arrange a meeting at a time when the manager is not busy or preoccupied and lay it out clearly: “This where I want to go and I am hoping we can find a way to make that possible in this organization.” Ms. Clarke says managers invariably “perk up when they hear that because it shows that you want to see yourself in this organization in the long term.”

Make change your ally

Status quo should be your enemy, says career coach Katie Bennett, principal of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.

“Change is a priority for managers these days. You want to be seen as being on the side of change rather than being seen as a whiner. It’s time to think about how well you accept change, because the sooner you learn to enjoy it, the better.”

Many people are hesitant to question management’s direction because they worry they will find themselves on the chopping block. But that’s not likely to happen at a time when companies know the risk of losing talented people. Far more likely is that by asking questions, you will become the person whose job is to go out and find a solution, Ms. Bennett says.

The message for managers

“If more than three-quarters of employees say in polls that they are thinking about leaving, it’s a signal that it is time for managers to have open dialogues – office by office walk-ins – to find out what people want from their work and find out what’s being discussed in the trenches,” Ms. Bennett says.

“Managers should ask themselves if they are giving people fresh challenges, because when people get bored, they start looking.”


JUMP START YOUR JOB

Want to turn your humdrum job into something closer to your dream position? A few tips from career experts:

Renew your vows: It may not be your fantasy job but it’s the one you have, so make a commitment for a year to try to make changes that meet your aspirations.

Visualize goals: Write out what you offer now to your employer, and what training and experiences could help create a bigger, more satisfying role.

Speak up: Unless managers know about your goals, they can’t help you achieve them.

Seek new experiences: Even the most set-in-its-ways workplace needs people to do something out of the ordinary. Volunteer to solve a problem, or join a cross-departmental team.

Innovate and experiment: Change your routines by devising more effective ways to do things. Target small things that don’t need official permission, so you don’t get tied up in red tape.

Make regular suggestions: Become a source of creative energy. Set yourself a quota of offering one good suggestion each week to improve your workplace.

Keep track of progress: Share results of successful improvements with colleagues and managers, with documents that explain why you’re onto something good.

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Stretch yourself. Look for external opportunities to apply your expertise and gain new skills by working in industry associations, or doing volunteer work. These will provide challenges while giving you a higher profile with management.