Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Specialists, generalists and navigating the path to career advancement 7: understanding and surmounting unexpected challenges 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 15, 2014

This is my seventh installment to a series on the changing nature of specialist and generalist career path options, and both as their choice impacts on job search and the immediate here-and-now of employment and employability, and on longer term career advancement opportunity (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 359 and following for Parts 1-6.)

I begin the discussion for this posting with Part 6 of this series, and from what might at first glance seem to be an unexpected place: getting laid off from a job when I am writing about specialist and generalist career paths. And I focused there on day one of this career path transition when you are actually terminated from your old job, stating I would finish my discussion of that here. And I begin by offering what in my experience is almost certainly the single most important point that I could offer for this entire topic area:

• Never, ever burn bridges.

You come to work and suddenly find that your job there has come to an abrupt halt, and you feel anger and a sense of betrayal. You feel vulnerable and that contributes to both of those emotional responses, and you are probably feeling at least somewhat as if you were suddenly standing at the edge of an abyss. You are not; you do and will have options and possibilities for moving forward and past this, even if they do not appear visible just yet. It is vitally important that you not lash out in anger or say things that would provoke defensiveness and anger in return.

If your exit interview is with your manager, and even if it is with a HR representative from your employer business who you have not worked with, they are probably feeling uncomfortable in having to do this. And if you stay calm and professional, you can use that to at least an extent in negotiating your own needs and wishes. If you lash out at whomever is giving you this exit interview, you will just make them feel defensive and angry and unwilling to listen to anything else of what you have to say, let alone negotiate in good faith with you. Never burn your bridges. Plan for your next steps and from this meeting on, and with a goal of securing the best references and letters of recommendation that you can – and yes from this manager who has just let you go too.

I am not going to try to recapitulate here, what I have already written through 100 postings and more to this blog on preparing for and conducting job search campaigns. See my postings and series on that in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and particularly in the Page 1 listings of that directory. And for your next-step follow through to that, I also point out here, my series: Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation (see that same directory page, postings 73 and following for its Parts 1-15.) Instead of repeating that, I explicitly reconnect this discussion back to the questions of specialization and of taking a generalist approach.

• If you take and pursue a narrow, rut-creating and enforcing traditional specialist approach to your work performance at the jobs that you have, you are more likely to find yourself caught off guard by unexpected career downturns such as layoffs, and you will find yourself avoidably lacking a lot of the flexibility that you would need to more effectively move on again from them too – and not just as you seek out a next job but as you seek out and secure the right next job for yourself too.
• I have written here of the need for taking a more flexible and open minded and inquisitive, and a more open eyed approach to you work and to what you do and can do in it, to avoid falling into any ruts and to limit your being stereotyped by others.
• I explicitly wrote in Part 6 of this series about doing your homework and preparing in advance so you will have the tools you need when you suddenly need them – in case a layoff or downsizing happens. Part of that, as discussed in Part 6 is about being prepared for the processes and the mechanics of getting laid off and of being prepared to protect and secure your rights if that happens. Just as big a part of that has to be built from what you do on the job before this type of event can happen, and how flexibly you do your work and on how effectively and proactively you have advanced your skills and experience sets and your basic, overall career development capabilities.

And that brings me to a part of this discussion that I have been intimating and briefly touching upon for several series installments now: understanding the new generalist option. I have said that you do not have to be a generalist, old style or new to successfully gain and retain employment or to build a meaningful, fulfilling, and lucrative career. I then at least somewhat contradicted that by noting that everyone who works and seeks to work should develop at least some generalist skills, and certainly in the area of understanding jobs and the workplace, and careers per se and how hiring and career advancement, and yes layoffs and job and career setbacks work so you can be prepared for them. I would reconcile those points by saying that it is OK to be a specialist in the hands-on and management skills that you develop and use – and certainly if you retain a flexible and adaptive edge in developing and maintaining, and adding to them. But do this and pursue this with an acute awareness of the larger context that working at any job fits into. So if you pursue a more specialist path as your best option, do so as a “selective generalist” too and certainly for jobs and careers skills that cut across all hands-on specializations.

That said, I turn to the more fully generalist approach and in this I begin by acknowledging that I have, myself pursued more of a generalist path even if that has meant being something of a serial hands-on specialist too and in several areas.

• A specialist focuses in on the here-and-now details as their primary job and workplace orientation.
• A generalist always seems to find themselves stepping back and even when focusing in on a here and now, to consider their work and the work going on around them from a wider perspective.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will more explicitly and fully discuss the generalist jobs and career path option. And in anticipation of that, I am going to at least briefly discuss points of similarity between end of job, and job search negotiations.

As a final point of detail for this posting, when an employee is laid off or downsized they are generally led out of the building as quickly as possible after their exit interview. If you have critically needed skills and experience that the business still needs and has not already found a way to replace, you might be let go as a matter of record but with a work end date set back by days, weeks or even months. If you are laid off or downsized under deferred terms of this type, at least tentatively agree to continue on in this way, and use your now soon to be former employer’s need for your continued presence as a negotiating lever in reaching terms that would best meet your needs. And if you do stay on for some agree period of time, use that as an opportunity to develop more and better letters of recommendation and references and as an opportunity to network, and particularly with the people where you have been working who have needed you the most. Remember in this that the real strength in your business networking is not in who you know, but in who your direct contact know and in who they in turn can help you to meet. Use this to find out why your end date of employment there was delayed and who you have worked with would have found an immediate dismissal unacceptable and why as a part of that. And, of course, use this time to actively begin your next job search, and to at least consider whether you might want to seek to transition there, where you have been working already from working in-house to working as a consultant or contract worker and if that is even possible.

I add this contingency here because I was laid off through a downsizing once where I was kept on for six weeks after my exit interview – and I found that additional time very useful for positioning myself and preparing for next steps. Be flexible and open minded and look for opportunities that you can develop to your benefit – and even in the midst of what could easily become just an employment crisis. A calm head and a smooth professional demeanor can sometimes open doors and even at a time like this.

You can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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