Reflections of My First Major Career Move

By: Lars Gustavson
Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton
BS Industrial and Systems Engineering from University of Florida, 2009

Looking back over the past six months it’s hard to believe how much my professional life has changed. Six months ago I worked for a very different company with a very different role than the one I have now. The old adage “I wish I knew then what I know now” comes to mind as I reflect back on my first major career move. I remember turning to many resources including friends, mentors and even the all-knowing internet for advice on what to expect and how to handle my first job change. Today, if someone asked me for advice here is what I’d say:

Are you sure? I assume you’ve already weighed the pros and cons and have decided a career move (a new employer, job role, or location) is for the better. Whatever your reasons for the change, you have to be confident in that decision. Half-hearted efforts and changes of mind will only hinder you from getting what you want. Using my experience as an example, the reason I decided to leave my previous employer centered on a lack of opportunity and desire to have the chance to grow in a larger firm with more structure. My decision was not easy given the excellent benefits and strong relationships I had at my previous company. Facing something new and unknown is a lot harder when you’re unsure about the path. Putting the thought and time into the decision to make the move and having confidence in the decision is important to ensure a smooth transition.

Once you’ve made your decision, start getting the logistics of the move worked out. I make this point now because I find few think about what actions they’ll need to take and they quickly become overwhelmed and stressed. Everything from clearing your desk, handing over files, and briefing others taking over your responsibilities to scheduling exit interviews and rolling over 401k accounts will need to be handled. I suggest making a checklist and utilizing your resources, such as HR. Leaving a job more organized than you found it is an excellent way to ensure a good lasting impression and not burn any bridges.

Speaking of bridges and connections, try to keep as many as you can. Even if you leave under less than ideal conditions, surely there must be some contacts worth keeping. Be sure to think beyond your close friends and peers. Supervisors and other more senior staff will be the ones you need to call on for references and who have a larger network. Remember to express your appreciation and show your gratitude. When communicating, keep it simple and straightforward. When someone leaves a company or team, the tendency is to think they’re doing so because something is wrong. So be careful not to carelessly burn bridges or add fuel to any rumors.

Finally, take a deep breath. Making a career move is stressful as you leave your comfort zone and enter into the unknown. Hopefully, you’ll have time to relax and get away. But even if you don’t, be sure to take a step back. This is a good time to assess yourself and your goals. The transition can be hard but your career is only what you make it and by making this change you’re taking ownership of your career and giving it direction. Good luck!