By Allison McWilliams (’95), Assistant Vice President for Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
Inevitably, it happens: you stop being challenged by your job, you realize that the culture isn’t a great fit, you’re being treated poorly and you’re sick of dealing with it, or a number of other reasons that makes you ready for a job change. But, sometimes this is easier said than done. Being ready for a change, and actually making a change, are two very different things. To make a change, you have to be willing to do the work.
It is always better to take a new job because you are moving towards something, as opposed to because you are escaping from something. When you are in the latter position, it tends to lead to a poor decision-making process: I’ll take anything if it just gets me out of here. It encourages you to make a leap into something without doing the work to assess what the next opportunity might offer you, in terms of the long-game.
Whatever your current situation, don’t shortchange this critical work! No matter how bad it is, no matter how undervalued you may feel, you already have a job. There is no need to jump from the frying pan into the fire, as the saying goes. All that will mean is in relatively short-order you will be job-hunting once again, which isn’t great for your mindset or your resume.
This is the point at which having a robust, diverse network of mentors, wise counselors, and sponsors is critical to your path and your decision-making process. And you don’t want to wait until you need those people to develop those relationships. Instead, you should work on constantly building your network, especially in those times when you don’t need people. Informational interviews are not just for when you need a job. Start building that practice into your routine and ongoing professional and personal development activities.
The Emmy and Academy-award winning producer Brian Grazer is known not just for his work in television and movies, but for his intentional practice of holding regular “curiosity conversations.” Over thirty-plus years, he has reached out to individuals outside of his industry and expertise to talk about their work and their lives, to stay in a place of constant, lifelong learning. [i]
I love this practice for its utter simplicity. This is something each of us can and should do; you don’t have to be a famous movie producer. Starting right now, make a habit of having these conversations once or twice a month with someone who is not in your immediate sphere of influence. Your goal is only to listen and to learn, not to ask for anything (but their time). Come with a set of prepared questions, but also be prepared to let the conversation go where it needs to go. Stay in a place of natural curiosity.
Here are some potential questions you might use:
- What is one “life lesson” you have learned and how did you learn it?
- If you were starting this job all over, what would you do differently and why?
- What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about effective communication and how did you learn it?
- What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about leadership and how did you learn it?
- What is the greatest challenge or hurdle you have had to overcome and what did you do?
- What is the greatest success you have accomplished? What did you learn?
- When faced with a complex decision or problem with no obvious solution, what steps do you take to approach it?
- How would you describe your learning style? What tools or strategies do you find particularly effective?
- What habit would you most like to change about yourself? Why?
- If you weren’t afraid of failing, what would you do? Why?
- What was the last time you were surprised by something/someone? What happened?
- What were the differences between the best and worst decisions you have made?
- How do you define success? How have you (or how are you working to) achieved it?
- What is the best piece of advice you have for me?
Another reason curiosity conversations are so valuable is they provide critical insight into other fields, industries, and roles that may be of interest to you. It’s not acceptable to just sit back and complain you don’t know what all of the possibilities are. Of course you don’t! And no one is going to do that work for you. Do your homework.
The bottom line is this: rarely will someone just walk up to you and hand you a job, or take you by the hand and say, come with me, I’m going to show you the way. And in today’s world, where information is available at our fingertips, it is unacceptable to say you did not do your homework. Ask for help; you don’t have to do it on your own. Reach out to your mentors and your sponsors for advice and guidance. You might want to seek out the guidance of a professional career coach. But you own your future and your decisions. You have to do the work.
[i] Grazer, B. (2016). A curious mind: The secret to a bigger life. NY: Simon & Schuster.