Endings and Beginnings

At the end of 2018, I was unemployed for a week. At the same time, over 800K of non-essential government employees were put out of work for an unknown amount of time. It was hard to relate: I had a choice, and they did not.

I’d actually made the decision to leave my job as a director of product marketing several weeks earlier, and I dawdled through December, taking advantage of the benefits and unlimited paid time off (PTO) that’s become a standard for the tech industry. I had been recruited to a new role at a tech services company, and for the first time in years, I was the one who initiated the breakup, despite mixed feelings.

Here are a few observations I want to record, before I move too far from the transition period and forget.

Do Not Compromise What You Want in Your Career

A few years prior to leaving my job, my friend Thomas left our marketing group. Rather than take a promotion to the head of marketing, he decided to step back and dive deeper into demand generation, his area of expertise. He stayed true to his career vision, saying no to a leadership role that provided a career boost but swerved away from his passions. I admire him for that.

When my role changed following an acquisition, I sensed the same disconcerting swerve. Like when you’re on a train that unexpectedly veers away from where you need to go because you missed the transfer. Knowing that I wanted to get back on course – and to rise in responsibility in product marketing – I decided to get off at the next station and transfer back to my original destination. While the first train had friendly passengers and an amazing snack car, I decided not to compromise for comfort. Not an easy choice.

No One Leaves a Good Boss

You hear this said quite often, and I estimate I see a LinkedIn post with the same sentiment at least weekly. My choice to move was also motivated by the departure of my former manager, a dynamic, experienced and supportive marketing leader. My new supervisor was adept at navigating company politics and deliverables but never showed interest in advancing the careers of the individuals she managed. She made it easier to leave.

The best leaders I have had are the ones that you work with, not for. They’re collaborative, focused on what’s best for the company and sensitive to the needs of their direct reports. At a minimum, I look for someone who is radically candid, has a sense of humor and perspective, is someone I can learn from and is a servant leader to her employees.

Close Out Strong

Recent research has shown that our perception of an experience, say as a consumer shopping in a supermarket, is malleable and that we more often put greater weight on  the end than the beginning. We may love how we’re greeted when we enter a post office, but if we’re in line for ten minutes, we will remember that wait foremost when asked about the quality of the service at that office.

I believe the same applies to work. More of your peers will remember you for how you finished up than for what you did in the months prior to leaving. So, despite advice to the contrary, I put in extra effort in my final weeks to finalize projects, organize the documentation and hand off work. The alternative – slacking off or leaving immediately – may sound appealing, but it’s hardly professional. I recommend this approach to everyone; it has served my reputation well.

Choose to Work with People You Respect

I interviewed with a number of companies last fall, from giant cloud services to ambitious startups. More than ever before, I listened to the tone of the leadership and took measure of the attitude of the employees. Is my direct manager inspiring? Has he been at the role long enough to have the respect of the organization? Are her reports energized and empowered to make important decisions? Can the company share examples of how it embraces the culture so proudly stated on their About Us web page? (For example, if they’re supposed to be humble, how does that manifest?)

I’m glad that I prioritized this aspect of the interview process. In one case, I had doubts about a new marketing leader, especially when he wanted me to provide him with hours of free research on his market. The company was sexy – growing fast in a hot market – but his vibe was off, and it was difficult to measure his status. By prioritizing character this time around, I ended up at an organization that has been an immediate fit, and I’m already far more productive than I imagined.

Take a Moment to Look Back Before Moving On

Unless you’re switching jobs every year (I know some marketers that do), I recommend savoring the transition. The exit interview, the final goodbyes (or not), turning off the company laptop and walking away. All of it.

When it comes to a new beginning, appreciate what you’ve left and acknowledge why you left, but also make sure to recognize what you loved (hopefully, it wasn’t all bad for you). I’ll miss my work colleagues the most, because they wanted to succeed as a team, and they made most every day enjoyable. When your bittersweet ending is “more sweet than bitter” (than you, Big Head Todd), it’s a rare pleasure.