Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 24: in-house advancement along a career path versus advancement through moving on

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development, nonprofits by Timothy Platt on September 18, 2013

This is my twenty fourth posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-333 for Parts 1-23.)

I have discussed a fairly wide range of issues and challenges, and learning opportunities as well in this series and throughout my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its continuation page. When I address the issues of this posting, I take on the task of clarifying and offering insight as to one of the most challenging and difficult topic areas that any of us is likely to face in our career path, to the extent that we explicitly acknowledge and face this at all:

• Pursuing in-house career advancement where we are working in our here-and-now, or looking elsewhere for advancement and pursuing it as part of a job change,
• And understanding the pros and cons of these two alternative paths, for us as we are positioned now and as we think and plan ahead.

One of the primary reasons why this is so difficult a set of issues is that we slip so easily into work and workplace ruts, and we grow complacent there. Experience shows that this is more the usual pattern even when a business that employs us is slipping and running into problems. Experience shows that even when the warning evidence was clear, in retrospect, many of us even fail to see a downsizing coming – until we arrive at work and find our computer login doesn’t work and there is a note on our desk asking us to report as soon as we arrive to someone in HR. I am very intentionally putting this in stark terms; most of us, most of the time come to take our current work and our current job for granted. And this, long term, is always a mistake. If this form of blindness does not literally put us out on the street without an immediate Plan B for getting back into the workforce again, it is at the very least quite likely to limit our career planning and development capabilities and stunt our long-term professional and career development.

So I begin here by stating flatly that this posting is very largely about looking directly and clearly in what for many if not most of us, would qualify as uncomfortable directions. Changing jobs is scary. But if we do not think and plan at least in part for the possibility of having to do that, it is certain that any job change that we do have to go through will arrive with us unprepared and in terms that we cannot negotiate or shape to meet our needs – at least with anything like the ease or flexibility that we would have if we saw this coming, or if we ourselves planned for it. And this brings me directly to the topic of this posting, and to my first working example: working for a nonprofit.

• Nonprofits, by legal definition and as a requirement to secure and keep a tax exempt status, are required to devote the vast majority of their incoming revenue towards fulfilling their expressed mission and vision. Legal guidelines generally set a large, explicitly stated minimum percentage of gross income that has to be expended in this way.
• That leaves a lean and even minimal amount left over that has to cover fixed operating expenses in general and for purposes of this discussion payroll, and marketing and fundraising expenditures and so on – funding that does not directly address mission and vision goals.
• This means headcounts have to be kept very lean with everyone there wearing multiple hats and carrying out more complex and diverse jobs – in order that everything essential get done.
• And this means that it is rare for a position to open up in a nonprofit that would be a good next career step for anyone who was looking for advancement opportunity. And that means that when someone who preferentially works in the nonprofit sector seeks to make a career advancement move, their best and even only path forward might very well require looking elsewhere, and at the pool of all nonprofits that they would find acceptable for quality of life issues such as location.
• Real, steady advancement up the table of organization in a nonprofit system generally means finding that best next step up at a new nonprofit organization and even repeatedly.
• And for higher level positions that can often mean relocation too, and even repeated long distance relocation.

By contrast, and as a perhaps opposite point on a spectrum from that of the nonprofit, I would cite a high-tech company in a rapidly developing and expanding industry, where new skills are called for on an ongoing basis and where new teams that use them for addressing current high priority projects and tasks are repeatedly being formed. Here, advancement might be quite possible in-house and with a same employer, but:

• Achieving that in-house promotion is going to call for demonstrating both the right new skills, and effective communications and management skills.
• And this should be balanced against presenting yourself as an insider for that business who would not have to be brought up to speed as to what it does or how it functions or who does what, or where necessary resources can be found and secured and most cost-effectively.
• The goal here is to advance in-house by simultaneously showing that you represent a safe and secure career advancement investment who can be offering more value than you cost, as quickly as possible,
• While offering the new and cutting edge skills and capabilities that this business needs and across the board if it is remain strongly competitive.
• And the downside to this is that as new technologies are brought in and become prominent for their high priority value, and as teams form to carry out current and new high priority tasks and projects, old ones drop away – and people are let go.

Nonprofits also find themselves in situations where they have to lay off and downsize too. One of the consequence of their legally mandated budget constraints is that few nonprofits can ever develop anything in the way of significant cash reserves. Ideally, a working nonprofit will have sufficient available liquidity to maintain operations, payroll and marketing and all, for at least six months even absent incoming revenue. But even if the numbers in their books indicate reserves of that six month scale, in practice, a nonprofit that was facing significant revenue shortfalls could not go anywhere near that long before taking protective measures, to keep from running out of funds and having to close down. And concern of possible insolvency would be expected to adversely impact on all ongoing cash flow processes with for example, suppliers no longer honoring 60 days receivable payment terms if they did before, or even 30 days receivable. My point here is that job openings and their potential arise but jobs disappear and people are let go too. So if you want to develop an active and successful long-term career and face as few real disruptions in it as possible, you have to look both in-house and outside for possible next opportunities and even just for ongoing here and now employment security.

• This means knowing your industry, and your current employer, but not just for what they produce and provide as products and services – but also for how their employees fare and how people advance in their systems, or fail to.
• And this means making a clear and objective assessment of yourself and of what you offer and as weaknesses as well as for your strengths, and how best to address the former and augment the later.
• And this also means thinking through how you could best market yourself too. I would recommend at least perusing my postings and series on job search, and particularly in my first Guide directory page, and for insights into the HR and hiring-business side of this, I would recommend a review of at least select postings and series from my HR and Personnel directory too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin to focus on change management and other specialty work situations and contexts. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page. I am also listing this posting in Nonprofits and Social Networking.

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