For life science executives, job searches can be a lengthy and gruelling process. Being at the top means the stakes are higher and the competition, fiercer. Most executive job searches can take up to six months, from submitting your application through to accepting a job offer. The long-winded process can leave you feeling anxious and stressed for months-on-end.
Executives tend to be highly ambitious, with long-term career goals. This can translate into frequent career transitions. In fact, the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times during their career. Of course, it’s important you build a good rapport with each organisation you work at and avoid short stints in roles where possible. Job tenure (how long you’ve been at an organisation) is taken into consideration by prospective hiring managers, but you should still set aside time to assess your career regularly. While job-hopping is on the rise, a series of short stints at a company is a red flag to any prospective hiring manager.
Take time out of your busy schedule to assess where you’ve come, where you are currently and where you want to be in five or ten years time. Only by evaluating your career trajectory can you recognise the best time to make a career transition and which opportunities will set you off on your path to achieving your career goals.
Before you make a career transition:
Before you pursue another role, whether internally or with a new employer, you need to consider the reasoning behind your desire for a transition. Are you concerned about the future direction of the organisation? Is your commute draining and compromising quality time with your family? Are there no opportunities to progress at your current organisation? Or are you just going through a phase of doubt and uncertainty? It’s normal to have ups and downs at work; some days will be better than others, but if you’re beginning to lose hope of ever finding job satisfaction again or the stress you’re enduring on a daily basis is getting too much, then perhaps it’s time to look for other opportunities.
Assessing the pros and cons of a career transition is vital before you make any final decisions. As an executive, you should consider the economic implications of a career move, particularly if you have financial responsibilities.
Red flags to look out for:
If you’re still unsure about whether a career transition is the right thing to do, here are some signs to look out for that might suggest you’re in the wrong position:
- Physical signs of an unhappy career: It’s not unusual for executives to spend the majority of their day working; interestingly the average person will spend 90, 000 hours at work over their lifetime. Your job has more influence on your health than you might expect. If your body feels lethargic, drained and run down, then your job and the responsibility it brings might be the root cause.
- You don’t wake up feeling excited: In an ideal world, you want to be waking up feeling passionate and excited for a day at work. The most obvious sign that you’re dissatisfied in your current role is when feelings of dread for the week ahead occupy your mind on a Sunday night. The Sunday blues as it’s known.
- Difficult separating work and home life: Executives have a great deal of pressure on their shoulders to get the job done within strict time frames. This shouldn’t have to mean that your work-life balance is compromised, however. If your CEO is relentlessly adding more to your workload, forcing you to take it home with you and miss out on quality family time, it’s perfectly normal to crave a different opportunity where you’ll feel appreciated and respected.
- Split personality: It’s difficult putting on an act and pretending to be someone you’re not. If you feel as though you can’t be your true self at work, not only is this incredibly disheartening, but it’s also emotionally draining. If your behaviour at work doesn’t reflect your behaviour out of the office, then it’s worth assessing whether the job is a good fit.
- You fundamentally know you’re in the wrong place: Admitting you haven’t been happy at work is the first step to creating a better life for yourself. If deep down something feels wrong, don’t suppress it, acknowledge it.
When should you make a career transition?
You should first understand that there are different types of career transition:
1. A promotion
If you wake up every morning looking forward to seeing your colleagues and working hard for an organisation that you are proud to work for and values your commitment, then chances are you’ve never considered leaving. And why would you? When you feel appreciated, valued and most importantly, enjoy what you do, you feel loyalty towards your employer. Loyal employees are rewarded for their hard work and perseverance.
Nevertheless, striving for a promotion can be challenging and it might feel like it’ll never happen. For life science executives, promotions can be difficult simply because there are a limited number of roles at the very top. Patience is key; you should continue to work hard and build relations internally so that when top executives are promoted, step down or switch organisations, you’ll be a strong contender for promotion. Once you’ve established yourself as an integral team member, the very thought of you leaving the organisation would put hiring managers into a tailspin trying to find a replacement. Continue working hard and one day you may be rewarded.
2. Join a different organisation
If you’re feeling frustrated at the lack of opportunities in your current organisation or you’re no longer feeling challenged, it might be time to move on. When executives are no longer challenged, the job becomes monotonous and motivation is reduced significantly. Naturally, you’ll start to look for other opportunities in which you can thrive. When you become aware of an opportunity that better fits your short and long-term career goals, a career transition is only natural. An opportunity to further yourself and your knowledge is an opportunity that executives cannot miss. A similar role at another organisation might give you control over a larger team, an opportunity to hone your skills in a different environment, and a better work-life balance.
3. Tread a different path
A lateral career move is one which sees you move into another department or functional role. It’s clearly distinct from receiving a promotion in the sense that there’s no obvious benefit or gain to be had that makes your new role different from your previous role. You’ll essentially be doing similar work in a similar position, just in a different department. While it might seem like a backwards career move for some, it has the potential to open doors in the future. The role itself may not involve a pay rise or more responsibility, but it could involve a shorter commute or the ability to hone new skills that make all the difference to your sense of job satisfaction.
When should you NOT make a career transition?
It’s important not to just accept every position that comes your way though. Here are a number of situations where a career transition might not be so sensible:
1. Motivated by money
Changing positions simply because you desire more money leads you down a dark path. Hiring managers will be wary of your answer to the “Why do you want to work here?” question which crops up in every interview. Hiring managers can spot a poor answer to this question from a mile off. While you might have genuine reasons for pursuing a higher salary, for example, trying to provide a better life for your family, being motivated purely by profit can halt your career progression in its tracks. A larger salary doesn’t guarantee that you’ll become a better leader or produce better quality work. Your career should be about personal growth, not just financial growth. Equally, an increase in salary doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll enjoy your job any more. And if you have to relocate to an area where the cost of living is greater, or you spend more money on travel, your ‘raise’ might be absorbed by increased living costs.
When you’re considering a new job opportunity, you should evaluate the role as a whole, rather than just focusing on a single aspect, like salary for example. If the negatives outweigh the positives then a career transition is not worth pursuing.
2. Can’t financially afford a risk
Career transitions can be risky, even for executives. Leaving a job that you feel comfortable or confident in your ability to deliver is always going to be nerve-wracking; what if you don’t settle into your new role? What if you leave an unsatisfactory job for another unsatisfactory job? The upheaval can be particularly treacherous if you have a family who relies on your income, for example. In fact, 29% of participants in a study said that the lack of financial security when changing jobs was a major concern.
3. Haven’t evaluated all of your options
It’s absolutely crucial that you evaluate all of your options before you decide on the wrong career move. Identify why you’re unhappy in your current role and whether you have the power to change this yourself before jumping ship. If there’s been an obvious reduction in your responsibilities, for example, then you should speak to your CEO to identify whether there’s a problem. Addressing the issue will allow you to resolve it, rather than taking the easy way out and moving jobs.
4. You’ve had a few bad days at work
There’s a considerable difference between not enjoying your job and having a few bad days at work. If you had a disagreement with your CEO or colleague the day before, then this isn’t a reason to hand in your notice. Disagreements naturally occur in the workplace as each individual will approach problems in different ways, but they can be easily resolved. Of course, if the negative atmosphere continues and you’re dreading going to work each day, take a step back to evaluate your options. It’s important to be realistic and do the mental math first; just how many bad days have you had?
Navigating a career transition can be difficult for life science executives. The advantages and disadvantages need to be carefully considered before you make any sudden decisions. Ultimately, it’s completely natural to change jobs during the course of your career, but doing so on a regular basis could potentially hurt your career prospects. You need to find a balance between moving jobs to personally progress and appearing to flit about from one opportunity to the next.
For more job-search advice tailored to senior managers and executives in the life sciences…
* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.