Question: I'm a victim of a hostile corporate takeover. Until last week, I was the regional sales manager for a Fortune 500 company where I have worked since 2003. On Monday, the new management installed its own man (after saying there would be no personnel changes) and offered me either a job in sales or a severance package.
I'm not sure what to do. The following questions keep rolling around in my mind: should I take the cut in responsibility and be thankful that I still have a job? Should I agree to the severance package, lose my security, and look for a new opportunity equal to my current position? How difficult would it be for me to change jobs considering that I'm in my early 40's and earning about $100,000 a year? If I quit my job to search full time, will potential employers question my worth?
Answer: You have a lot of issues to deal with; let's take them one at a time. The decision to stay or leave the company depends on what you want from your career now and in the future. If you've been feeling overworked and out of touch with your customers, moving into a sales slot may rejuvenate you. Or if your personal life has suffered because of your professional responsibilities, returning to sales can give you a chance to achieve a better balance in your life.
Chances are that you consider a move back to sales a move in the wrong direction, however. Trying to lower your expectations will be difficult and may lead to increasing resentment and a lackluster performance. To get your career back on track, you'll have to take a risk and look for other opportunities.
Not long ago, I was working with Sue, a client who had the misfortune to be laid off twice in one year. As you may imagine, her ego was severely bruised. Yet after several months of introspection, she said, “While this last year has been the worst I can remember, I've discovered two important facts: No matter what happens, I can survive. And my greatest security is my own talent and belief in myself.” Out of tremendous adversity came the seeds of some real personal and professional growth.
As Gail Sheehy proposes in Pathfinders, you can use your current dilemma as a springboard to finding a job that will fulfill your career goals. Your concern about your age and marketability is your greatest barrier. I've found that 40-year-olds who feel they have a lot to offer easily connect with employers who are enthusiastic about their maturity and experience. On the other hand, job hunters who are defensive about their age generally encounter interviewers who think they are “over-the-hill.”
If your identity is closely tied to your work or the unemployment rate is very high where you live, you probably shouldn't quit your job before you've found another. But if you can handle a lack of daily structure and banish thoughts of living under a bridge, a full-time job search may be your better alternative.