1 Thing You Must Do Before Leaving Your Job

Before switching companies, think about switching roles

Ryan Holmes
Nov 27, 2015 · 4 min read

For millennials, switching jobs goes with the territory. Most millennials expect to leave their current job within three years, according to a recent Elance-oDesk study. Compare that to Gen Xers, who stick around for five years, or Baby Boomers, who average seven years.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Millennials have grown up against a backdrop of economic recession and scarcity, learning early on that getting ahead requires hustle, entrepreneurialism and creativity. Waiting around for a promotion — or hoping that long-term loyalty will be rewarded — just isn’t in their DNA.

But that desire to move up — and fast — often runs up against a hard reality: climbing the corporate ladder takes time. The ascent from specialist or coordinator to manager or director within a company doesn’t generally happen overnight … or even in the space of a few years. Frustration over the pace of advancement leads many millennials to jump ship — to abandon a company altogether in search of opportunity elsewhere. In many cases, candidates land back in a similar role, facing the same set of hurdles to advancement — only with a different boss.

I get this frustration. As an entrepreneur, I’ve never been one to patiently climb the corporate ladder. But I think some millennials may be overlooking a golden opportunity — to move over, not up. Transferring laterally within a company, i.e. finding a new role in a new department, may not immediately translate to more pay or greater responsibility. But it can bring clear benefits, both in the short- and long-term.

For starters, there’s the obvious: you get to work with a new team on completely new projects. This means a chance to acquire new skills on the job and expand your resume — and get paid to do so. At the same time, moving laterally is almost always less disruptive than finding a brand new job. You’re spared all the job hunting, onboarding and life upheaval that goes along with starting over. Not to mention, you’re often able to talk your way into positions that you might not qualify for at another company.

But there’s a deeper benefit, as well. People who learn to perform multiple roles within a company — and do them well — quickly become invaluable. They amass a skill set that a) practically no one else possesses and b) has real value to the business. And that’s where promotions and fast-track advancement often do come into the picture.

I’ve seen this time and again at Hootsuite. An employee may start out in sales, for instance, selling our social media management tool to clients. Instead of pursuing a senior sales role, however, he or she makes the jump to marketing. The learning curve can be steep initially, but in time you’ve got someone who knows exactly what prospective customers want and how to translate that into ads and marketing campaigns. That’s an employee worth keeping … and promoting.

Of course, I realize not all managers are enthusiastic about losing their people to other departments. But if an employee isn’t fulfilled in a role, then something has to give. I’d rather see him shift to a different team than lose him altogether. At the same time, I think any manager worth her salt wants what’s best for her employees. There’s no point in keeping someone around who isn’t happy, no matter how talented he may be. It’s far better to find alternate ways to channel that energy.

So how do you facilitate internal transfers and ensure you’re keeping top talent? I’ve found that the best employees actually search out their own opportunities — what’s critical is not getting in their way. They’ll set up casual meetings with other managers to understand how teams work together. They’ll ask to be assigned to projects that transcend their department. They’ll look for ways to bridge the technical and business sides of an organization. The key is not perceiving this as a threat but instead allowing this curiosity to flourish.

At the same time, you can encourage cross-pollination in other ways. Lunch-and-learns — where teams have the chance to present to the entire company — can help break down silos. After work, social events — from talent nights to informal mixers — give employees a chance to connect with people outside their immediate circle. There’s huge value in those interactions — introductions are made, questions are asked and seeds planted for collaboration down the road.

Having said this, it’s also important to step back and recognize that not every employee is cut out for climbing the corporate ladder in the first place. While the “management track” may appeal to some, others may be far less interested in moving up the chain of command. But they still need opportunities to grow their skills and responsibilities. To address that, we created an alternate “guru track” especially for these individuals. Employees in departments across the company are given the option to become gurus — diving deep into particular skills, as opposed to working their way up into management. Rather than switching jobs, they’re able to carve out a role in the company that works for them.

Millennials may be notoriously demanding when it comes to fulfillment on the job, but this isn’t a bad thing — by a longshot. Companies that are able to satisfy their curiosity and provide channels for growth, even if this doesn’t always mean direct advancement, will find that employee loyalty does exist, even in 2015. Enabling lateral movement and offering alternate career paths can be the difference between retaining real contributors and losing them to the competition.

Many thanks to senior product manager Alex Grant, who has been one of our cross-department standouts and provided insight for this article.

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Ryan Holmes

Written by

Entrepreneur, investor, future enthusiast, inventor, hacker. Lover of dogs, owls and outdoor pursuits. Best-known as the founder and CEO of Hootsuite.

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