The Difficult Decision to Switch Jobs

Katie Nickels
Feb 17 · 7 min read

Over a month ago, I made the difficult decision to leave MITRE and join Red Canary as a Principal Intelligence Analyst. I’m happy to report that although it’s been a busy couple weeks, I’m loving my new company and team.

Yes, I now have canaries on ALL THE THINGS!!!

I’ve gotten questions about why I made the switch, and since I put a lot of thought into this, I thought I would share how I tackled this huge decision in case it’s helpful to others. Deciding to leave a job isn’t easy, so in this post, I wanted to share key things I considered that I’d encourage you to consider if you’re thinking of switching jobs. My guidance is aimed at mid-career professionals like me, but if you’re in other parts of your career, you might find some of this guidance helpful as well.

Think about why you want to leave

Stop and carefully think about why you want to switch jobs. In many cases, people leave jobs because they have a bad boss, are unhappy with the work, don’t like the culture, or don’t see advancement opportunities. We all have bad days or parts of our jobs we don’t like — no job is perfect. Did you just have a bad day, or is there something more persistent that’s happening? I encourage you to check in with yourself regularly about how thing are going to make sure your desire to leave is a persistent one, not just a fleeting case of temporary frustration.

In my case, over the past year, I got the itch for access to raw data about what adversaries were doing beyond what I curated as part of the ATT&CK team. I also found myself wanting to work for a different kind of organization to try something new. I had worked for large bureaucracies for my entire career, and I felt a pull to venture into a smaller organization. Over a series of months as well as both good and bad days at work, I kept feeling like I was ready for a change.

Talk to people you trust

Everyone needs mentors for their career, especially when you’re making big decisions. At the point I felt like I was ready for a change, I started talking to people I consider mentors (all of them informal). I made the decision to start seriously looking for a new job while drinking wine with a friend who advised me that often people are ready to leave a job before they realize they are — and I realized that was true for me. (Drinking wine can be a helpful part of this decision process, though not required. 🍷)

Your mentors can also help you throughout the rest of your transition, particularly with suggesting what you should look for in a new job, researching companies, and negotiating salary (more on those below). Multiple people I trust all recommended that Red Canary seemed like a good fit for me.

Make a list of what you want in your next job

Brainstorm all the things you could possibly want in your next job, including items like salary, location, culture, role, career advancement, and whatever else matters to you. Write them all down. It should come as no surprise that as a CTI analyst, I am a fan of structured analytic techniques, and I consider this to be one. Having a list lets you structure all the things floating around in your mind so you can carefully consider them, rather than being completely overwhelmed and confused by all your thoughts and emotions. This was absolutely crucial to my decision-making process, so I highly recommend you do it too.

Here is a peek at part of my initial list:

  • Good people. Teammates who work hard but have fun too…regular gif posting required. Strong company culture of being good humans.
  • Mission. Company that cares about helping the community, and evidence that they’ve done this.
  • Hands-on CTI work and access to raw data.
  • Support to keep speaking and sharing knowledge publicly.
  • Remote or DC area.
  • Small organization with minimal bureaucracy.

Once you draft a list, think about how your prioritize each of the items — what is non-negotiable and what are you flexible on? I also recommend comparing your current job to this list, because you might realize your current role a better fit than you previously thought. This can help protect you against a common issue when looking for a new job: feeling like “the grass is always greener.”

I found that most of my job at MITRE covered my list, which made me carefully consider why I really wanted a new job and reprioritize my list several times. In total, my list was over 20 items long — I’m kind of picky. 😉

Research companies

Now that you have a list of what you’re looking for, start figuring out what companies meet those requirements. While open source research helps (for example, sites like Glassdoor, which you should always take with a grain of salt), the way I went about this was to talk to people in the community I know and trust. I encourage you to do the same. This is a good chance to build up your network by attending conferences or reaching out on social media if you don’t already have a network in place. I encourage you to seek out “informational interviews” from current and former employees of a company, which might be as simple as asking a couple questions about what it’s like to work somewhere. In particular, if you’re part of a underrepresented group, find folks with a similar background to get their perspective.

As part of your research, consider your own interactions with different companies. Have you met their employees in the past? Do you feel like their culture is a fit for you? This was a key part of how I made my decision. Real talk: there were several companies I knew I didn’t want to work for because of how their leadership has previously treated me or what they did to market themselves. If you’re trying to recruit experienced people in this community, remember that your employees and your marketing are a key part of that. A great interaction you have with someone could help them decide to come to your company.

As I did this research, again and again, I kept coming back to Red Canary. Culture fit was extremely important to me (which I knew from making my list), and over the past several years that I’ve watched Red Canary, I’ve seen their commitment not only to helping their customers but also to helping the community. One example: when I asked them to team up on a workshop for the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu over a year ago, they were happy to do it without hesitation. Words matter, but actions speak louder!

Apply, interview, get the job, and negotiate

Now that you’ve decided where you want to work, go get the job!

Legally Blonde has quotes that apply to almost any situation.

I know, I know, this is a lot. There are many existing resources on these topics, so I wanted to focus more on making the decision to leave and choosing a new company rather than the rest of the process. Of course, your first choice might not work out, so it’s good to have a “short list” of possible companies in mind and apply to all of them.

  • On applying: If you found someone who works at the company during your research, ask them about the best way to apply. They may be willing to refer you or get your resume moved to the top of the pile so you don’t get lost in a sea of applicants. I’ve consistently found that this is the best way to make sure you get hired. If you don’t have a connection, apply however the website tells you to, and be sure to politely follow up…be the squeaky wheel!
  • On interviewing: Check out Lesley Carhart’s sage guidance. Remember that you’re interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you. It shouldn’t surprise anyone by now that I had a longgggg list of questions that I asked as I interviewed, and I didn’t hesitate to ask all of them. Listening to how a company answers your questions is another great way to tell if you’d be a fit.
  • On negotiating: Remember that negotiation is expected, so you don’t need to feel bad about it. I’m not great with salary negotiation, so just go read Keirsten Braeger’s advice on this. It’s also helpful to realize that every company is a little different in what they can negotiate on.

Take a deep breath and go for it

I was pretty darn nervous when I made this change, so it’s okay if you are too. Whenever I switch jobs, impostor syndrome rears its ugly head… “what if they figure out I don’t know everything? What if my new teammates don’t like me? What if this was the wrong choice?” As I’ve so often told those I’ve mentored…

When you’re a little scared, that’s when you grow the most because you know it’s a challenge.

I felt in my gut that this is the right choice for me at this point in my career, so I went for it.

I encourage you to try to leave your current job gracefully. Be honest about why you’re leaving and make sure you transition your work so you don’t leave your team in a tough spot— remember it’s a small community, and you might work with them again someday. I was fortunate that my MITRE teammates were very supportive, though we were all sad we wouldn’t work together anymore.

In closing

Choosing to switch jobs isn’t easy for anyone. To make sure it’s a good choice for you, I encourage you to be thoughtful about any change and not rush into it. While this was a difficult decision for me to make, by carefully thinking through it as I outlined above, I felt more confident that it was the right choice. So far, I’m happy in my new role and excited for what’s next!

This blog reflects my personal views only and does not reflect the opinions of my current or past employers.

Katie Nickels

Written by

I’m passionate about cyber threat intelligence, bringing women into cybersecurity, and Oxford commas. This is my personal blog.

Katie’s Five Cents

My musings on cybersecurity, threat intelligence, women in tech, and the infosec life.

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