Look before you leap into a new job

Despite the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting unemployment numbers over 10%, there are positive signs for the economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is holding steady at over 10,000, and both the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 remain at prerecession levels, indicating that a recovery is imminent, if not already under way.

I'm already seeing evidence of it with some of our clients. They are beginning to hire to make up for having cut too deeply during the downturn, or are planning major ramp-ups this year to meet aggressive sales forecasts. The message from employers is clear: The war for talent is back on.

Even though a recovery appears to be in motion, IT professionals considering a job change in 2010 must remain cautious. There are essentially two types of recession: "U"-shaped and "W"-shaped. A U-shaped recession lasts one cycle, and a W-shaped recession is really two recessions back-to-back. Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately gauge which type of recession we are currently dealing with.

If we are recovering from a U-shaped recession, we can look forward to steady economic improvement. However, if we are just midway through a W-shaped recession, then we still have to travel down the back side of the W before enjoying a true sustained recovery. This means that we could actually see a repeat of the recession cycle we experienced over the past year and a half. This also means that all of the "good" we are experiencing in the economy right now -- the rising stock market, growing employment, a real estate sales uptick and increasing consumer confidence -- could tumble back to the lows we experienced just a few months ago.

With this in mind, as you contemplate making a job change in 2010, consider these points:

Run to a new job or career, rather than away from the one you have. The economy has affected most, if not all, companies in North America and around the globe. Don't be naive in thinking that while you suffered, your neighbors and colleagues did not. If you, as the professional manager of your own career, have determined that your current employer cannot offer the career opportunities that you desire and are truly qualified for, then you certainly are justified in exploring other options. If, however, you do have viable career options with your current employer but advancement opportunities have just been delayed because of the recession and current corporate climate, consider staying with your current employer and waiting until the economy has shown steady improvement for at least six months. Then re-evaluate.

Question the assumption that the grass is greener on the other side. As the market has picked up over the past few months, so has the number of job openings in the marketplace. But again, don't be deceived into believing that every company in your specialty area has recovered except yours. Do your homework on the companies you're interested in. Financial information for publicly traded companies is available online. Also, Vault.com is a good source to find out what people are saying about a company they have left. Just be cautious: People who write about their job experiences tend to express either overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative feedback. If you're dealing with a recruiter, ask him to tell you what is driving the need to hire. Former employees of a company can also be a rich source of current information if their connections with the company are still intact. Just be prepared to filter through any sour grapes if their employment with the company did not end amicably.

The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know. It might be cliché, but there is some truth to the adage. Consider the environment in which you currently work. Perhaps you have established yourself as a trustworthy and reliable employee with a reputation for getting things done. You have probably built valuable relationships and professional alliances. You have likely figured out how to navigate the environment and "systems" you work within, and know the best processes for accomplishing things. You know who the strong performers are, and you stay close to them because they are like you. You also know who the poor performers are and are prepared to avoid them. You know the boss and the politics and, like it or not, you know the routine, which ultimately brings some comfort and sense of stability. In a new company, you'll know none of these things. It could take months, or even years, before you attain the knowledge and comfort level you have in your current position. Taking on a new position in a new company always comes with the risk of the unknown. You need to determine if it's worth it.

Interview your future employer. I've been directly involved with recruiting for the past 20 years. In that time, I have seen many shifts in the way that companies interact with candidates. Namely, I have noticed that now, more so than in the past, prospective employees take more of a lead role in "interviewing" their potential employers. I think this is a positive improvement from the days when hiring managers practically interrogated candidates. Today, it's perfectly acceptable for a prospective employee to ask pointed questions of the interviewer regarding the company's financial stability and strategic direction, specific career path options, educational and professional backgrounds of company leaders, benefits, training and perks. Recently, I even was asked by a candidate what my firm's "employee value proposition" is. In other words, why should she come to work here? While that was certainly a first for me, I was pleased that she cared enough about her career to ask the tough questions. And you, too, should not be afraid to ask difficult but relevant questions of your prospective employer to ensure that the role and the organization will be a good fit.

According to a recent study by Right Management, a minimum of 60% of employees will at least consider making a job change in 2010. If you're one of them, be sure to evaluate your reasons for making a switch, really get to know the other organizations you're considering, and weigh the pros and cons of any move. Before you leave your current organization, make sure you really have exhausted all the opportunities there, and that a move to a new job or company really will be the best thing for your career. In short, look before you leap.

Adam Lawrence is vice president of service delivery at Yoh, a leading provider of high-impact talent and outsourcing services and a unit of Day & Zimmermann. For more information, please visit Yoh.com or http://blog.yoh.com.

This story, "Look before you leap into a new job" was originally published by Computerworld.

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