Once every four years, most state and local governments go through a multi-month period of major upheaval. Regardless of which political party wins in the November midterm elections, major executive turnover usually occurs at the highest levels of government. This fall and winter is one of those times. How can you prepare?
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Are you ready for a job change?
Whether you are looking for a new role or the upcoming election results bring about unwanted change, it's time to plan ahead. Even if you are happy in your current government role and plan to stay put, chances are high that government staff around you will be moving on and/or priorities will change for your current position after a major election.
Why now? Here are three significant reasons:
1) On November 4, 2014, political change will happen in most states. “Elections will be held for the governorships of 36 of the 50 U.S. states and three U.S. territories.”
New governors and other newly elected leaders usually bring executive teams with them and fill top management roles with trusted advisors.
2) Even when incumbents are reelected, staff changes often occur before and after elections. Many government executives move to new roles within administrations or take new positions back in the private sector after fulfilling one-term commitments. When positions are vacated, others naturally throw their names in the ring for potential promotions or new opportunities. Those top appointed leaders often bring their teams or key players with them into government department management.
3) All of these role changes, new priorities, new relationships, different projects resulting from campaign promises or even the potential for an upcoming staffing overhaul (even if it doesn’t happen) can lead people to seek new opportunities elsewhere. Sometimes, technology or security professionals in government make a jump during this four-year cycle since major strategic initiatives and/or milestones are completed, which can create natural exit ramps for executives, project managers, or even other business leaders at lower levels.
There are hundreds of examples that demonstrate this historical trend of top state government leadership rotation every four years. Indeed, there have been several recent announcements of state CIOs and other state government technology leaders announcing their departures and/or moving to new roles even before the November 2014 elections.
A few recent examples include: Texas CIO Karen Robinson, Delaware CIO Jim Sills, Arkansas CTO Claire Bailey and even yours truly. I moved back to the private sector in August of this year. Expect many more changes to be announced over the next 3-4 months.
And remember, your position may change even while your title and/or office location may not. In government, projects may be canceled or divisions (and sometimes even entire departments) abolished as a result of a new top leadership. These changes can happen quickly or take months to be implemented.
Perhaps none of these examples apply to you. However, you are just ready for a change or want to test the waters to see what opportunities are available somewhere else. You are seeking more money (or other rewards), more responsibility, less stress, a different work culture or a new boss. In some cases a respected boss or trusted colleagues move on after an election – which opens up a similar job hunt process.
So regardless of the reasons for position change, whether you are seeking a new role or you become collateral damage from election results, here are seven things to consider regarding a search for new public or private sector positions.
1) Do your career homework. Think of your career as a marathon, and this is just one phase of the journey. Effective research usually takes months and not weeks. Understand what viable options you have. Ask: Why are you making the change? What are your priorities? What do you like and dislike about your current job? Consider: Do I like my new (potential) boss? Is there work/life balance? Are there co-worker and management conflicts? What about relocation? Do I have special family matters to consider (such as schooling)? Is there good communication?
2) Fill the resume holes in your experience and/or education. Perhaps that dream job you find requires a master’s degree or a technical certification you don’t have. This step requires plenty of advance planning, but if you uncover your perfect position during step 1, perhaps an interim job is the next step towards your final destination. Also, remember that your current position may be the best place to be while you enhance your skillset with more classes or experience. Here are some other tips on filling resume gaps.
3) Think outside the box of your current organization. Ask trusted experts in your professional network for help. Hopefully, you have built these contacts over the years, and they are ready to help you in the next phase of your career journey. Ask: What is the potential for growth if I stay in my current role? What options are available in the new role to use my skills? This blog offers practical suggestions for security professionals, but most of these pragmatic ideas apply to other technical career fields as well.
Another important aspect of "thinking outside the box" for government technology professionals is to examine the latest technical developments leading to the hottest job opportunities. Cloud computing, new mobile application development, big data analytics, new networks to support the Internet of Things (IoT) and cybersecurity are a just few of the current growth areas in the public and private sectors.
4) Focus on where you are going and not what you are leaving. Is this a good job opportunity, or are you just escaping a bad situation. How will you feel after a month or two at the new job? Be proactive, but make sure that you are not just looking at the situation from one vantage point. Seek a multitude of advisors who come from different age groups, professions, inside and outside government, etc.
Ask yourself: Is this a good time to move into one of the hot areas that can enhance your future career prospects? Are there key projects that you can join or lead within your wider government organization in one of these hot tech areas? What new policy priorities are elected leaders or top appointees likely to support. What new programs will be funded and looking for help?
5) Go ahead and take that job interview. Practice makes perfect regarding interview skills – even if the new role is not an exact match. Many professionals were offered their choice of intriguing positions years ago, but they have not interviewed recently. Here is some timeless great advice from my father: "You can’t turn down the job you haven’t been offered."
If possible, try to have 2-3 options to choose from so that you can compare and contrast different roles.
6) Never burn bridges. Watch your language when discussing current organizational challenges or reasons for leaving your current role. Remember that your colleagues will continue to be a part of your professional network. Thank people. Write nice notes. Say yes to a going away party. Honor those around you who have helped you get to where you are. Always be kind on social media. Focus on the positives. Here are other reasons to not burn bridges.
7) Stay in touch. I never cease to be amazed at how many people leave an organization and yet come back within weeks, months or years. Even if you never work at that employer again, you will likely have professional contacts from your government role(s) for the rest of your life. LinkedIn and other social media websites are great tools to help as we head into 2015. Nevertheless, go back and do lunch or attend after-hour events to maintain professional relationships, where possible.
Some final thoughts: If you have new ideas that you believe can help your government after the upcoming elections, now is a great time to package these strategies to be clearly communicated. Many technology and cybersecurity plans can find bipartisan support. If you plan to stay in your current role, get ready now to brief the new team with the best possible materials to make your case.
Regardless of what happens in upcoming elections, each of us needs to constantly nurture our careers with care and feeding through ongoing planning. All elections bring winners and losers. Nevertheless, careful planning can turn job changes into exciting new career opportunities.