Don’t get stuck in a rut

by 16 Sep 2008

Q. I am an experienced HR manager. I have been in the same organisation for the last eight years and although I like the company, I feel myself getting stale in my role and I think I am due for a change. But I am worried about the market. There seems to be a shortage of positions being advertised at the moment. Is now the right time to be making a move? And if I stay with my current employer for too much longer, will I make myself a less attractive proposition for another company?

A. Don’t worry – you still have every reason to feel optimistic. Despite the challenging global economic situation, the demand for good, experienced HR practitioners in Australia remains strong. Most companies today recognise that HR has an important role to play in business success, and this is particularly so in challenging times.

Good HR people, particularly generalists, are invaluable to organisations in upbeat economies and during downturns. Companies are increasingly aware of the importance of effectively managing the organisational change that can result from a downturn – and most now understand that the role of HR extends beyond ‘turning off the lights’when the change exercise is complete. Additionally, in a tight labour market, organisations are becoming more aware of the need to retain the talent they have acquired during a growth phase by keeping them engaged during a downturn, so that the company is better positioned against its competitors when the market recovers. HR people who can demonstrate a track record in managing organisational change well and who can educate their business leaders to effectively manage their critical talent will continue to be highly sought after in the market. This may be a question that you should pose to yourself when making your decision about your next step – is my current role giving me enough exposure to the sort of activity that will enhance my attractiveness to another company?

But you should not worry that you are any less attractive to a potential employer because you have been with your current organisation for a long period of time. Indeed, most employers are still old-fashioned creatures at heart, and value a stable employment history, particularly if your current organisation is well known and reputable.

What is important, though, is that you continue to manage your career proactively with your current employer, even before you sound out the external market. This may mean seeking out new and different jobs within your current organisation if those opportunities exist, or it may mean actively seeking opportunities to stretch and develop yourself within your current role. Recruiters and prospective employers will be quick to distinguish between a long-standing employee who has remained in one role for an extended period of time - perhaps allowing their career to stagnate in the process – and one who may have held three or four positions within the one company over the same period, giving them opportunities to grow and develop. It’s also important to reflect and articulate these different experiences in your CV and in any interviews that follow.

You mention that you are starting to feel stale in your current role. This is a good indicator that it is time to act. Both recruiters and employers still place a great deal of stock in finding candidates with the right attitude. If they are considering two or more candidates for a position who, in terms of skills are closely matched, they will more often than not lean towards the candidate who they see as having a greater passion and enthusiasm for the role. This enthusiasm is hard to fake, and if you are feeling jaded or disgruntled in your current position, chances are that that attitude will come through when you are interviewing. It’s a cliché, but the best time to leave a position or an employer is when you are still motivated to perform in your existing role to the very best of your ability. Don’t wait until you are over it.

The ‘war for talent’ is still on. There is still a shortage of good HR people, despite the broader economic situation. So, be confident in your ability and think about the things that motivate you in the workplace and about how you want to manage your career in the longer term. If you base your decision around these factors, rather than the way you think other people will perceive you and your résumé, the chances are you’ll make the right choice.

Adam Wilson, consultant, The Next Step