What was one of the most difficult choices you’ve had to make in your career?
On reflection, there were two situations which presented difficult choices for me. One was when my company was bought by another and I was faced with the decision to stay or take a severance package and leave. The other was when I was offered an international assignment which meant uprooting my family. I’ll talk about the first here. Another AAPAAN panelist talked about her International assignment decision in our Oct 2017 Dear AAPAAN.
My company “merged” with a direct competitor in the same industry when I was middle age. Though it was depicted as a “merger”, it was clear to insiders that my company was bought. This meant that the culture of the buying company will dominate. It also meant that employees of the buying company might have an inside track on promotions and future top job openings.
The buying company offered a very generous severance for some employees of the bought company, but only under very specific conditions. Fortunately, I met the conditions. Should I take the money and run or should I stick around and hope for the best?
If I stayed, what would be the prospects? Since I would be starting out with a new organization, deciding to stay would be like interviewing to join a new employer. I wrote about studying a prospective new employer in prior Dear AAPAAN’s. Check out our entries for June 2018 and Feb 2019. Beyond looking at the overall prospects for the new company, I needed to consider the company’s corporate culture and whether it matched my strengths and preferences. For example, how do they make decisions, and how do they measure/compensate for good performances. One key for me was that I have a very disciplined and analytical approach to evaluating business alternatives and making decisions. It was that engineering training! Did that run counter to how the new company operated? Another key was how do they treat minorities? Lastly, what job did they offer me in the new organization? Did the job make sense in my career progression, or did the job feel like a place holder? It was an early clue on how you are regarded.
If I took the severance money, what would be my employment alternatives? At middle age and as a middle manager, it would be difficult starting fresh in a new industry without losing a lot of pay. My best alternative would be working in the same or allied industry so I could leverage my experience and accumulated expertise. Going to another company, I would have to create a new professional network as such networks are crucial for career development. (On the other hand, I would have to rebuild my network in the new organization too.) The overall job market was fairly good at the time so doing a fresh job search would not seem too risky. However, the market felt it might have peaked. If so, a new hire in a new company might be at a greater risk of being let go if the industry turned south.
While I was extremely tempted to take the money and start over, I decided to stay. Actually, I brought my spouse into the decision as leaving or staying impacted her mightily. I was offered a good position in the new company. My career continued its upward trajectory and concluded satisfyingly on into retirement. In hindsight, it was the right decision as I had no regrets. Of course, I do not know whether I would have been better or worse off if I had left. That’s life. Make a decision and move on.