The Ever-Ready Exit Strategy—Your Career’s Best Friend

Jobs aren’t forever anymore. That’s a reality we often try to forget when we (finally) get hired.   

No matter how great our careers are going, things will eventually change and us too. The shine will come off our jobs, the company, our boss, and/or our coworkers. 

When our careers are moving along well, we’re energized. When they’re not, we start looking behind us. 

Time’s up. 

Getting a job is one thing and keeping it another. We tend to invest significant thought and energy in both. 

Like it or not, the time will come when the party’s over and very few have a strategy to deal with that. 

We tend to think of exit strategies as actions a company or entrepreneur takes “to transition one’s ownership of a company…[or] devise ways of recouping the capital they have invested….”  

Well, that’s you: Your life is your business and you’re the sole proprietor. That means your job is your source of capital, something that you need to protect and build. No time like the present, then, to develop an exit strategy to implement when you need it. 

When it’s time to walk… 

Change is both predictable and unpredictable, so we need to be ready to act prudently and strategically when conditions present themselves, like when: 

A line has been crossed—You’ve reached your limit of unfair treatment, broken promises, excessive workload, or disrespect

You’re motivationally bankrupt—Disappointment, negative or no feedback, ever-shifting direction, and disengagement have sapped your energy.

You’ve drawn the short straw—The last-in and first-out formula puts you out the door, or a work assignment that’s detestable is forced on you.

You wake up—The moment of discovery that you’re in the wrong career hits you like a surprise party when it isn’t your birthday.

The perfect job comes along—An opportunity lands in your lap that you never expected, perhaps in another line of work or industry, but it’s tailor made for you. 

I’m sure you can think of other situations that are calls for “exit action.” Often there’s not much time to make decisions or act, so prior preparation is all. 

Be ready…. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get prepared. Consider these seven steps: 

  1. Stay solvent—Be smart about your money by living within your means, knowing what you can live without, and keeping some liquid asset near at hand.
  2. Create fall back positions—Set up some realistic, money-producing options just in case, like some freelance work, part-time work outlets, or a hobby business.
  3. Don’t burn bridges—Keep your emotions under control and face situations like a grown up, recognizing that we don’t always get what we want and understanding that word about you will travel fast.
  4. Keep tabs—Your records are important assets, so keep them up to date, including contact info for people in your network, the results you achieved in your jobs, and organizational resources you can tap.
  5. Be respectful—When it’s time to go, let your decision be known through the chain of command, avoiding drama. Remember you don’t want to be famous for leaving, but respected and respectful.
  6. Send the right message—Express your reasons in a big picture context, recognizing the positives from your job and acknowledging the factors that didn’t match your expectations. Use clear and calm language.
  7. Protect your brand—Your reputation and image follow you everywhere, both as you enter and as you leave a company. Take a marketer’s approach to your leaving by rising above negative issues and by showing gratitude for the positives.

Keeping it together 

A workable exit strategy is about mindset and practical positioning. The more you can accept the likelihood that you will eventually make a career change, the more you will look at your work as a gateway to another career phase. 

Change is a good thing. It keeps us moving when we may be getting too comfortable. We just need to be ready to make a gracious exit that will neatly open the next door. 

Photo from jm3 via Flickr