Matt Beck takes a deep dive into changing roles within the industry, specifically asking how to know when it’s time and how to do it well.
Should I stay or should I go?
Instantly, the iconic song by the Clash might pop into your head. Unfortunately, the Clash did not reveal the answer. All campus recreation professionals will at some point need to answer this question for themselves.
Growing up, adults told me “get a job and keep it.” Period. My father worked in the same job for his whole career. The general workforce is becoming more accepting of job-hopping. I have worked at six different organizations before turning 40. The campus recreation industry’s structure encourages job-hopping. In most cases, in order to move up one has to move on. Upward mobility in campus recreation is possible but rarer than other industries that tend to promote from within. A coordinator leaves their role to become an assistant director at another school, and then eventually leaves that position for an associate director position at a new school, etc.
Staying in a role offers safety and familiarity. People generally like consistency and routine. When we know what to expect, we feel comfortable. Changing roles scares many of us. The downside of being in a role too long is boredom, and the feeling of being unchallenged. Leaving offers new challenges, new surroundings and an excitement of the possibilities. It also represents an unknown. Unknowns are scary.
The decision to stay or go is shaped by personal values and motivations. Each of us is wired differently which could affect whether someone wants to stay in a role or leave for a new opportunity. Some might crave extrinsic motivators such as promotions, increased salary, benefits or increased responsibilities. Others may look at more intrinsic factors such as job satisfaction, general happiness, being challenged, belonging to a group, living close to friends or family, or being able to utilize one’s strengths in their role.
Ultimately, what matters to you?
As values frame decisions, so do situations. We all go through periods where getting out of bed to go to our job can feel like a chore itself. If you are not engaged in your role, take stock of why you feel this way.
Perhaps you really do not mesh well with your boss or have coworkers you have a hard time working with. Maybe the role simply needs an adjustment in order to make it more appealing. There could be a change in leadership coming. When you see the people above you are moving on or moving out, hold tight. Changes could make the situation better for you and alleviate frustrations you are experiencing. Their movement may make room for an interim role, possible promotion or role change. Maybe a family situation requires you to stay where you are, be closer to home or to move for a spouse or significant other’s promotion in their field. How would a change affect your friends and family? Will it be well received or will it cause issues? Make sure to involve those closest to you in the discussion.
How long should you stay before you think about changing roles? The typical campus rec career path timeline looks something like the following:
- Coordinator position: 2-5 years
- Assistant director: 5-15 years
- Associate director: 5-15 years
- Director/AVP: 10-25 years.
For entry-level positions such as a coordinator or specialist, the general expectation is a commitment of at least two years. Leaving at a year or less can look questionable to your next employer. If you take a job that does not feel like the right fit, do your best to make it last at least one year.
Unfortunately, I have experienced that situation. I knew within the first few months the job was not right for me, but I couldn’t just leave. John Wooden once said, “Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.” In that situation, I gave my best effort every day, and committed to being there the full year. It was hard, but knew I wanted to avoid hurting the department that hired me by leaving mid-year and not adversely damage my professional reputation.
It is also possible to stay in a role too long.
Not changing roles when needed can cause stagnation, boredom, lack of development and a lack of drive. This can ultimately hurt the area you oversee as you might slip into a comfort zone and repeat the same things over and over which stifle innovation and progress.
Take some advice from someone who has moved around for a litany of reasons to include pay and responsibility increases, family, job satisfaction, etc. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. My pastor often says, “If the grass is greener on the other side, water your own lawn.”
Perhaps your current role can become more satisfying if it were to change. Take some initiative in having conversations with your supervisor about additional responsibilities or opportunities for development.
If you truly are unsatisfied in your role and want to pursue an advancement, look for a job while you have one. Leaving a position to free yourself to look for jobs is a very risky proposition, which can create employment gaps on a resume that can be difficult to explain.
Changing roles? Leave on great terms.
If you do leave, leave on great terms. Communicate with your supervisor when you are looking around at other opportunities. You do not want them to receive a surprise call from another school without knowing you were applying. You want them to be able to give you a great reference.
In the campus rec industry, a two-weeks’ notice really is not sufficient as it may take months to replace you. If possible, give up to a month which allows the department you are leaving time to plan, review job descriptions, post the position and it allows you to work on a transition plan.
A good transition plan includes the creation of a continuity binder outlining the tasks you do in your role, how to do them, when to do them and important contacts for issues that may come up. While you are transitioning out, do not drop things that are still your responsibility, finish projects and start anything that cannot be finished by the time you leave. Be open to communication from your former department if they need help in the few months after you go. Our industry is a small world. If you burn a bridge with a school or a supervisor, it will follow you around in your career. I know of instances where people just leave with only an email or a note as notice, which destroys professional relationships and credibility.
Staying at this point might be your best bet. At some point, you will choose to go. Your next step does not have to be your last. Examine your personal situation and motivations. They will guide you in comfortably deciding should you stay or should you go.
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