When your Career Path Veers Off Course
Written by Alex Campanelli // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
In early December, my boss pulled me into our conference room and asked me to sit down. I didn’t anticipate that what he would proceed to disclose would flip my world upside down for the next few months.
“You know I’m always looking out for you since we’re a two person team”, he began.
“Long story short, we’re almost out of funding. You should start looking.”
My thoughts went haywire.
We’re almost out of funding? How does that happen? I guess that’s always the risk you run in a startup, but what does that mean for my job? I’ve only been here for a year and a half. Oh God, I need to start looking right now. I thought I just finished this process.
As everyone prepared to celebrate the close of 2016 (what a crappy year, huh?) and prepare a clean slate going into the new year, I was stressed out of my mind. Living week to week - through the holidays, no less - and not knowing what would happen to my company and my colleagues was something I wouldn't wish on anyone. I did the only thing I could and continued to press on, applying to jobs daily and even receiving two offers. Unfortunately, nothing felt like quite the right fit, and I found myself in a constant anxiety-ridden waiting game.
Finally, the news came, and the light at the end of the tunnel appeared: we were being acquired by an international startup who wanted to integrate our services into their offering.
I got lucky in a lot of ways. In working on a two-person team, my boss has always had my best interest at heart. Almost three years out of undergrad and thrown into a Marketing-focused role with no Marketing degree, he has helped me build a strong skill set and expand my personal and professional network. While I am grateful for all of this, I'm a hardcore planner whose goal was to stay in my position and company for the next few years before applying to Marketing Manager roles. What I've learned from this experience, unfortunately, is that when it comes to our careers, things rarely go as planned.
After we learned about the acquisition, our new company flew our team out to their headquarters in Israel on just a few days of notice. Not only did they keep all of us on our respective teams, but they were especially gracious in hosting us and giving us a taste of the local culture and sightseeing for the week.
Now that I’m on the other side of the unknown, I have learned quite a bit, and looking back, I would say there are three main lessons I took from this experience:
1. It’s always about who you know.
Before I learned of our company's (miracle) acquisition, the first thing my boss advised me to do was to make a list of all of my contacts in the marketing world. This includes anyone I'd worked with in my current role, previous roles, friends, friends of friends, college acquaintances, etc. Slowly but surely, I reached out to each of them and asked if they had time for a coffee date or a phone call. (It’s important to note I didn’t just shoot them a quick "hello" and let them know I was looking for work. Anyone can disregard your emails, LinkedIn messages, or voicemails, and unfortunately, most people do.) By asking to schedule an appointment, I left the ball in their court. Once appointments were set, I took the time to ask them about any opportunities they might know of, or people they could connect me with. This way, my network continues to grow organically, and I will hopefully have the opportunity to connect with future jobs before they're even posted to the public.
2. You have to take care of yourself.
We all know that the job-hunting process can burn us out pretty easily. Constantly putting on your happiest face to network, sending in tons of applications daily, and waiting to see if anyone bites is exhausting. Chances are, things will fall through and will not work out more often than they will. Your patience and self-confidence can wear thin, and it can become easy to feel badly about yourself. For your sanity’s sake, make sure you’re taking the time for self care. It’s okay to take a day off, relax with a bubble bath, or treat yourself to your favorite meal. Whatever taking a break looks like for you, do that.
3. Stay honest, and always go with your gut.
If an opportunity doesn’t interest you, it’s okay to respectfully withdraw your application. You can shoot the hiring manager a kind note saying you decided to pursue other options, or whatever form of communication feels the most natural for you. During my job hunt, I received two offers for two very different positions and turned both down. One did not meet my salary requirements, and the other just didn’t seem like it would be something I would enjoy doing long-term the more I considered it. You don’t want to wind up a year into your job wishing you had never taken it. Be honest with yourself about what specific points you are looking for in your next role.
As much as we’d like to, we cannot control our career trajectory. Sometimes we stumble upon an unexpected opportunity that leads to lots of growth, and sometimes things end abruptly before we feel we can really get started. No matter the circumstances, it’s crucial to be your own main priority. No one knows you better than you do, and not everyone will have your best interest at heart. Take each leg of your journey in stride, and embrace the opportunities that you feel will truly better you as an employee and as a person.
Alex is a Washington, DC native and recent Boston transplant whose true loves include writing, good beer, and burritos. She is currently the Marketing Specialist at a software startup, and hustling her way to writing her first book on being a biracial millennial in the US.