Your Career: When the “Sure Thing” Isn’t

Sunrise First Light, Last Lights

Sunrise First Light, Last Lights - Image by cobalt123 via Flickr

Sometimes the job you’ve been promised won’t be there; sometimes the job you think you’ve lost may return.

So how do you know if it’s a sure thing?

You won’t.

Learn why the “sure thing” today is likely the maybe thing tomorrow, and what you can do to make yourself better prepared when that sure-thing-to-make-or-nothing happens.

Why is the sure thing is not exactly the sure thing?

People change their mind(s). For (now-former) Sara Lee exec AJ Fraleigh, it was a board of directors that changed their mind on the CEO spot they’d promised him when the firm splits in half next year. Sort of a “you’ve done a good job, we’ve decided to go in a different direction.

A career coaching client recently made the same call after she’d committed to take a job with another firm, something I wrote about in a recent post The Job Hunt: Offer in the Hand Better than the Offer in the Bush?” Turns out she never really felt comfortable with the “lesser job” – and the other firm – the bird in the bush – ending up making her an offer she accepted after graciously withdrawing her acceptance at the other firm.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker announced in August 2011 that HP would either close or spin off its exit from the PC and WebOS business. Layoffs in the WebOS unit reportedly started shortly afterwards. On October 12th new HP CEO (what a difference a month or two makes) CEO Meg Whitman announced that HP was reconsidering the move, and may keep both units.

Short story is, as you can see from the three examples, that things change – indeed quickly.

When I’ve run recruiting operations I counted new hires when they started, not just when they accepted; you should do the same if you’re an employer. If you’re a candidate, count the new job when you start, not when you accept.

So what can you do?

Apart from some form of functional schizophrenia – it means to perform well you have multiple considerations entertained and in mind (and in some cases, in action) simultaneously. Not hopefully tentative, but rather moving forward assuming that something might happen while knowing that it might not  – and having thought about options if it doesn’t. Plan B as it were – not out of fear but rather the realization that the “sure thing” may have gone the way of a “permanent job.”

Nice to dream about, and just not likely to happen for the overwhelming majority of people.

After all, having options you’ve considered and vetted is what you need to do when the sure thing – like a sunrise – isn’t.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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