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Time for an IT career change? Consider opportunity, not industry

TechRepublic columnist Andy Weeks has taken a new path in his career—and he's glad he did. Find out why he recommends thinking outside the box when you explore IT career possibilities.

Current surveys indicate that one in four employees in the IT market will change jobs at least once in a given year. Looked at another way, the average tenure of a single job is down to less than three years.

I have recently made such a change, moving to a new position after two and a half years at my previous job. What were the factors that led me to this decision?

A better situation
I once had a personal mentor who told me, “Never leave just because you are in a bad situation—you should always be moving to a better situation.” I believe I found a better situation—in a somewhat surprising place.

I was very happy in my previous position. I was the director of professional services for a network/systems integrator. However, a contact I had established years earlier led me to an exciting opportunity as VP of business development. In my new career, I'm helping build business for Henderson Electric Co., Inc., a $50 million company that is now part of a $1.2 billion international corporation.

The most common question I’ve heard from co-workers and friends is, “What are you doing in the electrical business?” To other IT pros, my new career path seems like a strange direction to take. I went from working as an IT manager to working in a more traditional business management position.

But my move makes sense when you think about the way technology is impacting every business sector. Henderson Electric is looking to become a one-stop-shop for the commoditization of networking. In other words, it’s an electrical contractor that promises to take care of your IT contracting needs as well. The company is aggressively moving into the voice/data/video market. That's why it was shopping for a management person with an IT background. I fit that profile.

I think we will see more IT pros taking a career path similar to mine. I like to think I’m on the front edge of the wave. Maybe I’m deluding myself—but for now I’m enjoying the ride.

New skills needed
What made this especially compelling to me is that I have taken on responsibilities that are different from anything I have done before. I have had to master the language of marketing and business development along with learning the electrical contracting business.

For instance, I’m developing a comprehensive marketing plan. I learned how to make global company decisions, not just decisions that impact my department. Fortunately, much of my job is still well within my comfort zone. I’m still responsible for delivering professional services in the networking business.

Lessons learned
My career change has taught me many valuable lessons about selecting a new job. Among these lessons:
  1. Look at relationships with customers, vendors, or even a competitor as a potential future employer. In my case, Henderson had been thinking about how I could fit in with their organization for several years before I ever considered them. They had been impressed with some work I had completed for them when I worked for my former employer.
  2. Look at the opportunity, not the industry. Don’t be frightened to look outside the box, at industries you may not have considered previously.
  3. Don’t accept a job after one or two long interviews. I had five or more in-depth interviews with the officers of my new company. I felt I completed some thorough due diligence. I wanted to know exactly what I was going to face in my new position.
  4. Consider what role you will play within the company. I wanted to create something from scratch to fit my skills.

What has made the move successful?
In many of my previous career moves, I moved without much regard for long-term "fit" with my career goals.

But in the past few years, I have taken a more introspective view. For instance I thought about what I find rewarding in a job. I measured the job requirements against my abilities.

Did I get a better title, more responsibilities, and a better salary? Yes. But more importantly, this is a career position for me. I can honestly say I see myself being with my new employer 20 years from now. That is about as abnormal in today’s technology field as you are likely to find.
If you have any questions specific to corporate technology issues you'd like to have addressed in this column, please send me a letter. Or share your thoughts by posting a comment below.
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