Walking A Fine Line When Switching Jobs

Changing workplace can mean better opportunities for those who stay connected to their industries

June 15, 2005|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Switching careers in midstream once was considered a setback. And moving from one company to another often meant that a worker had to start over in terms of salary, benefits and vacation.

But a changing economy has made career diversions more commonplace than ever. And most workplace experts said the stigma once attached to transforming a career is all but gone as corporations downsize, merge and push employees to do more with less.

"People don't stay with one company throughout their career anymore," said Don Spatner, senior vice president of global marketing and communications for Korn/Ferry International, an executive recruitment firm based in Los Angeles. "Companies are acquired and merge, management changes, companies downsize. You can't always count on your employer being there."

A 2002 study by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average worker born during the latter years of the baby boom - between 1957 and 1964 - held 10 different jobs through age 38, meaning they likely will switch employers again as their career matures. And those in mid- and higher-level positions can still transfer their skills and expertise to other places without giving up everything they have worked for, experts said.

Change often can mean better opportunities, experts said, whether it's voluntary or a result of corporate cutbacks. And there is no need to wait for a downsizing to make a change. The key for workers is staying connected to colleagues within their industry, pushing to upgrade their talents to remain competitive and knowing what skills they have or will need to have to move to another field.

Regardless of your role in an organization, experts said, cultivating relationships and networking is important to building a circle of support within and outside your workplace.

"Don't wait until you are out of work to build your net," said Melissa Giovagnoli, co-author of Networlding: Building Relationships and Opportunities for Success and a career coach in Chicago. "The more options you have, the more you can get perspective on your career.

"The higher people climb the ladder, the more vulnerable they are," she said. "They tend to not take the time to build key relationships. By having a network, people have choices when the rug is pulled out by downsizing, or they are not happy with a new boss, or they have relocated for a position and are not happy where they moved."

Corporate recruiters said they like to see job applicants from various industries because they may have skills that can transfer well. It helps to keep their staffs competitive and promotes a diverse kind of thinking in their workplace.

"We look at diversity of experience," said Linda Olin-Weiss, director of staffing services for Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda. "We look at their career goals and development. Did they change fields? Did they go from human resources to communications? What was that individual trying to do?"

Even leaving a company is not necessarily considered burning a bridge.

"We put up an alumni network as a way to communicate with people that left for whatever reason," Olin-Weiss said. "These are folks that know Lockheed."

Before making a change, experts said a worker needs to understand his or her current salary package by breaking it down into cash and noncash components, meaning medical benefits, stock options and other perks. When considering a job offer, remember to consider factors besides money - weigh quality of life, intellectual challenge and balance of work and life, according to Korn/Ferry International.

Many factors can be negotiated, Spatner said. For example, if the cost of living is higher in the city where you plan to live, make sure the salary and benefits will meet your expectations, he said.

Molecular biologist Harshawardhan Bal has held five jobs since moving from India in 1997 to work on a research fellowship on gene therapy.

He has a master's degree in pharmacy, a doctorate in molecular biology and a strong background in software development. He joined management and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in Rockville about a year ago and is working with the National Cancer Institute on a Web-based system connecting 60 cancer centers.

He also has worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, OSI Pharmaceuticals, Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

"It's all been a career progression," Bal said. "Different skills allow me to approach any problem from different points of view. How you assemble your skills is a lifelong process. How you apply your skills is to help your employers succeed."

He said networking and keeping abreast of the job market are important components to his career. He also belongs to the International Society for Computational Biology and the Project Management Institute, which are both industry trade groups.

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