Tech & Work

New job or new career? It's your choice

When is it time to leave your job and when should you consider changing careers? Ask yourself these questions before you make your move within IT or to another field.


Terryn Barill is an IT consultant in Princeton, NJ.

Question
I’m working as a consultant in a very big company. The application management project on which I’m working makes me feel that all the technical skills that I’ve pursued will be washed out. This is a monotonous project; sometimes I get the same problems that require a standard resolution.

My technical background is in Visual Basic, SQL Server, Active Server Pages, Microsoft Transaction Server, and COM. I can see that in the current market scenario, it’s difficult to get new jobs, especially having my technical background, so I would like to do something that would help me market myself.

—Mustafa

Answer
Everyone has bad days or bad weeks, but if you find it turning into bad months or bad years, it’s time to make a change. Making a change means making choices, and one major choice is whether you need a new job or a new career. These are two entirely different things.

Do you basically like what you do, but you don’t like the people you’re working with, your boss, or your work environment? Then you’re probably looking for the same job at a different company. To make this kind of change:
  • Revise your resume and cover letter.
  • Decide which job positions you’re looking for: As we all know, the same job functions can have a variety of job titles.
  • Start your search, using your personal network, recruiters, and job classifieds (both online and off).

Perhaps you’ve been doing the same job for a while, and you think you’re ready to stretch a bit. Maybe some of your skills aren’t in great demand anymore, or you’re ready to take on more responsibility. You can go in two directions to expand your job: Go wide or move up.

Going wide
Going wide means adding skills. For example, if you’re a programmer or developer, learn a new or different programming language, such as XML or .NET. If you’re a systems administrator, learn a new environment, such as Linux.

Expand your skills in an area you don’t do a lot of now, such as adding security features to an application or system. Or learn about an area related to what you do, like Internet security, messaging, disaster recovery, or new technologies.

You can also complete any professional certifications you think will help you make your move.

Going up
Going up means filling skill gaps. Find out what these are by checking the job descriptions in your current company. You can also look at job ads to determine what skills sets employers are looking for in your desired position. Once you have the skill sets defined, you can fill them.

Don’t overlook your current employer for help. Often, a company is willing to help you move up if you ask specifically for the training or opportunity. “I’d like to sit in on your project planning session because I’d like to move into managing projects, but I know I don’t have any PM experience,” sounds a lot more professional than “I’ve been here four years; I should be promoted.”

If you’re looking to make the jump from techie to manager, be prepared to learn some soft skills, such as proposal writing, project management methodologies, and leading meetings.

Career change
Maybe what you really enjoy doing is part of your current job, but it’s not the central point. Or the next position you’re going for has completely different demands than your current position. Or you feel like you’ve done everything that can be done in your current job function.

In that case, you’re not just looking for a new job, you’re looking for a career change. The major decision to be made here is whether to expand on your old career or move into a completely new one.

Responsibilities
Look at your current responsibilities. Is there something you enjoy that could become a whole new career? A couple of years ago, I coached John, a network administrator with 12 years experience who was bored out of his mind. The only part of his job that he really liked was negotiating the vendor contracts. He enjoyed the strategy, the process, and the ability to make a direct impact to the company’s bottom line. So he made a career move from IT network manager to procurement.

Making the change involved taking some night classes, talking to his vendor contacts about the procurement process from their perspective, and a move to a larger company with a procurement department. He also gave up his “manager” title with the move, but as of March 2002, he got it back.

Preparation is essential when you’re actively planning to make this type of move. Talk to people who have the position. Read up. Once again, training and education may be required. Look at the official job responsibilities. If you’re going to make a move from techie to manager, for example, there will be less focus on technical competence and more on interpersonal skills, business knowledge, and overall industry trends. People who make this career change successfully will understand that management is a new career, with new skill sets and new demands.

End of the line
If you feel burned out, if the challenge is gone and you’ve done everything there is to do in your field, maybe you’re looking for a complete career change. Perhaps it’s time for your hobby to become your job: I knew a salesman who became a wildlife photographer.

Consider developing an interest into a career: A music-loving Web site developer I know became a radio broadcast engineer. He says he likes “fiddling with technology, but broadcasting provides more contact with real people.”

Job markets change all the time. What is in demand today may be obsolete tomorrow, especially in IT. Your best strategy is to keep developing yourself and make conscious decisions about your career directions.

How did you make the change?
How did you make the move into IT consulting? Do you see it as a long-term career? Share your experiences with us by posting your comments below.

 

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