Make Your Next Career Move

A Q&A with career strategist Jenny Blake.

By John Scorza Aug 31, 2016
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If you've been in the same job for four or five years, chances are that your role has changed. That's also the average amount of time people stick with one position these days. With that in mind, Jenny Blake, a former career development manager at Google, says it's time to think about job transitions in a new way. In 2011, she left Google after five years to strike out on her own as a career and business strategist. In her new book, Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One (Penguin Random House, 2016), she talks about how to take "smart risks" to launch yourself with confidence in a new direction.

You worked as a career development manager at Google in its People Operations Department. What did that department and position entail?

In the early days, Google put so much effort into hiring the best and the brightest, but it didn't have formalized programs to keep them at the company. Our team was formed as Google matured to provide career development programs and opportunities and internal mobility initiatives.

What is the Career Guru program?

My good friend and co-worker Becky Cotton—who still leads the program and is now in her 10th year at the company—and I had a shared vision of democratizing coaching, which up until that point was only available to executives and leadership program attendees via external coaches. We wanted to make career coaching as easily available to all employees as many of Google's other touted perks, like onsite massages and meals. After all, what perk could be more important than having someone to talk to about one's values, goals, concerns and deepest career aspirations? What started as a side project for both of us soon became a dedicated team teaching managers and directors around the world how to provide drop-in, one-on-one coaching and making that service available to any Googler.

Why did you leave that job?

I loved my time at Google—it was the best five-year MBA I could ask for—and yet I hit a fork in the road when my first book, Life After College (Running Press, 2011), launched. I had taken an unpaid leave of absence to do a book tour, and, though I agonized over the decision, I ultimately realized that returning would not be fair to Google or what at that point had been my "side hustle." If I tried to juggle both any longer, I would be on the express lane to burnout.

I decided to give launching my own business and moving to New York City a shot. I was excited about the prospect of making an even bigger impact in the career-change arena, even though there was no guarantee of success and most people thought I was crazy for leaving a dream job at Google. I knew I would forever regret not trying, so I made the leap and figured I'd give myself six months to "make it" before looking for another job.

I just celebrated my five-year anniversary of solopreneurship and feel more aligned with my own career goals than ever, even as my business goes through inevitable ups and downs. Even in my lowest moments, I never regretted my decision to leave—I love the freedom I have to choose my own projects.

When is the right time for people to make a change?

Ideally, the sweet spot is when you hit a career plateau. That's when you feel work is "fine" but you recognize that there's room for improvement in terms of applying your greatest strengths on the job and learning and innovating within your role. Plateaus are not a problem. They signal you're ready to make a greater impact.

However, when people don't pay attention to them, change may choose them instead. Their bodies may signal greater distress (such as burnout, getting sick more often or worse) until they heed the call. Or, in some cases, people get "pivoted"—departments reorganize, their company is acquired, or they are let go. In these instances, "pivoters" can still review what was working best in their previous role to shift methodically into a new position.

How do you know when an opportunity is the right move?

Gut instinct plays an important role here, which is why physical fundamentals are so critical when pivoting. Getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising and practicing mindfulness all help someone tap into their greatest source of wisdom: their own instinct and intuition. Although there may be certain external indicators of a right move—such as desired salary, location, job role or company culture—ultimately most pivoters I spoke with "just knew" when they landed on something that truly fit their values, strengths and one-year vision for success.

John Scorza is associate editor of HR Magazine.

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