We’re headed back…back to the corporate world.
It’s OK, I’ll wait a minute while you check the date.
No, it’s not April 1st.
No, really, this is not a joke.
I’ve been offered a job, a job in the corporate world, which I’ve accepted.
This is something we were told we wouldn’t be able to do. If we quit our corporate jobs, people said, that was it. We’d never be able to go back. After a few years, we’d be stale, our skills would be rusty, we’d be passed over in favor of fresh, cheap recent grads. The day I gave my boss my notice, almost two years ago now, he gave me a stunned look and asked, “Did you read the paper today? Did you see those new unemployment numbers? This is a stupid time to be trying to do something on your own.”
But I was past the point of caring whether or not this was a stupid thing to do. If we wanted to eliminate the what-ifs from our lives, we needed to get started. We could worry about what would happen later…later. Back in my boss’s office, 22 months ago, I responded, “Well, then, you should have no problem filling my position.”
And you know what happened next. We traveled the US for eleven months. We spent a month in London. We moved our possessions to upstate New York, we started writing a book, and I dove into my next what-if: a job in the wine industry. And that was all well and good, with nice fringe benefits (in the form of free, delicious wine), but once we settled down, something was missing. The challenge and adventure were gone from our daily lives. We had learned a lot on the road, and I learned more at the winery, but the pace was slowing down. I was getting bored. I’d been discussing a potential “corporate” job since just about the day I gave my notice. Paul and I assumed the job would be based in Boston, but, once the discussion became more serious, my contact broke it to me that I would need to work out of their Wisconsin office. Paul instantly loved the idea of heading back to Wisconsin. I needed to think about it a bit more.
I missed the structure of the work week, especially having weekends. Without a regularly scheduled job, every day filled up with “work.” I wanted two days each week when I was allowed to relax, when I was supposed to goof off. I missed the challenge of complex problems, brainstorming creative solutions, and implementing good ideas. I missed working with a driven, vibrant group of people who love what they do. And the money…a regular paycheck would be nice, but it wasn’t the main motivator.
I kept wavering back and forth on the job decision. Then, one day, I was working in the winery and spotted a quarter on the floor. It was face up. Pro and con lists weren’t helping me — I needed something more absolute. I said to myself, “Self, if you pick up this quarter, and it is a Wisconsin state quarter, you are taking this job and that’s final.” I nervously bent down, picked up the quarter, flipped it over, and…it was a Wisconsin state quarter. The back of the Wisconsin state quarter proclaims “FORWARD” in large capital letters. There is also a round of cheese (I do like cheese). And that was that. The decision was final. Forward!
But that’s enough of me trying to justify my decision.
What I really want to share is that it is possible to walk back into whatever world you left after taking time off. Sure, luck has a lot to do with it, but there are some things that you can do to prepare for a smooth re-entry:
Build bridges, then reinforce them.
You’ve probably spent years building good working relationships with your coworkers, clients, and vendors, so don’t throw any of those relationships away. Instead, use your departure to reinforce them. Give lots of notice when you quit. Make your transition as easy as possible for your boss and coworkers. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t gloat. Thank everyone who ever helped you or whom you’ve enjoyed working with. Don’t get wasted at your going away party. Leave a positive final impression.
Choose contacts to stay in touch with, then keep in touch.
Get on LinkedIn. Just clench your teeth and do it.
Before you leave your job, spend some time thinking about which of your coworkers, clients, and vendors you would like to work with/for. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Then be sure to keep in touch with those people. Send casual emails every few months. “Hey, just checking in, how are you doing/what interesting projects are you working on/did you see the new job title Sally posted on LinkedIn/what did you think about that latest piece of industry-relevant news?” It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort — it shouldn’t take a lot of time or effort. Just make sure that person remembers who you are (LinkedIn is there so that they can double check should they forget). You never know when they might have an opening that would be perfect for you.
Stay up to date on industry happenings.
Track industry trends in an RSS reader and scan the headlines every few weeks. Make sure you’re at least vaguely aware of important industry news and events.
Make your adventure part of your resume.
You are going to pick up some very useful skills while off pursuing non-traditional employment. When it comes time to update your resume, don’t just leave a blank space where your adventure should be. List the skills you learned while you were out there: budgeting, communication, writing, web design, search engine optimization, anger management, whatever. This is now a part of your personal development story, and your non-traditional thinking could be a big draw for the exact kinds of employers for whom you’d actually want to work.
Have I mentioned that this job happens to be located in Wisconsin? I don’t think I could manage to get a job in my field in upstate New York even if I personally knew every potential employer in the industry. Sometimes you need to be willing to go where the job is.