Best selling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. who wrote Life’s Little Instruction Book captured an important immutable truth for career management: If you do not do your best, if you do not achieve your performance goals, you are damaging your professional brand, ergo you will make it more difficult to find your next job. A resume with multiple short tenures is typically the more truthful story of performance than a candidate’s claims to the contrary. More candidates are eliminated at the first stage of the search process because of a chronological job progression that suggests something less than a stellar performance. Clients usually do not like those candidates, and recruiters are in the business of meeting a customer’s needs.
That said, no one is perfect. We have all stumbled in our lives and in our careers. So here are three ideas to consider when you think of your past performance and future career moves:
Be honest with yourself and your boss. If you find yourself in a bad situation — a new job that was not what you thought it would be, a new boss with whom you do not get along, or you are doing the work for which you are not well suited — do not slip into denial or inaction. Create a plan for performance improvement. Be honest (and respectful) with yourself and to your boss. If you want to leave, ask for his or her understanding as well as an exit plan, hopefully one that does not harm the organization or your career transition. You may end up with no severance but that is better than hanging around and further damaging your reputation in the job market.
Learn from your mistakes. I am always amazed when I see resumes of candidates with multiple short tenures — two years or less — who want me to find them the same job in another city. If you have gotten the sack or failed multiple times, stop and ask yourself: Is there a recurring theme? Remember, just because you like the work does not mean you are particularly adept at doing it. This is a tough lesson for many but it is one that must be learned unless you want to be packing moving boxes every couple of years. Find a career counselor and honestly explore those competences where you excel, and those where you struggle. In this new economy, with corporate consolidations, expense reduction initiatives and increased competition from other job seekers, you cannot afford to continue failing or even underperforming against your peers. You might get lucky but do not depend on it.
Avoid a desperate career dead end. The worst possible place to be is in your late 50s / early 60s with no chance of finding a job for which you have experience but no opportunities because your job history suggests mediocre performance. There is a special kind of financial terror, a sense of desperation that overwhelms candidates who find themselves in this position. What am I going to do? How can I support myself or my family? I cannot afford to retire. At this point, it may well be too late. That is why I have long advocated the importance of a career strategy that anticipates a variety of factors, just as corporations do when they look to the future. Now here is the key: you must be aware of yourself. If you are seeing short job tenures, ask why, and be honest. It is nothing short of career management insanity to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.
In Mr. Brown’s words: “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.”