In careers, just as in life, timing is everything.  The news of Brian Kelly accepting the head coach job at Notre Dame this month created some controversy about the timing of his departure from Cincinnati.  The Cincinnati team, so close to the biggest game of their lives, felt betrayed and abandoned.  They vocally shared this with the mediaESPN reported that Kelly did not inform his players until after their banquet ended, which was actually three hours after the news made headlines.  While some of these students expressed their anger, saying Kelly was taking the Notre Dame job just for the money, others seem to realize that sometimes people have to make difficult business decisions in their careers.  There are certainly a number of ripe issues ranging from NCAA policies to personal ethics that could be explored from this story.  From my career development perspective, however, I would like to discuss the challenge of leaving one job for another while continuing to maintain a strong reputation.

Timing can be everything

All industries have peaks in their work flows - retail peaks from Thanksgiving through the end of the year, education peaks during the school session, and of course, athletics peak while in season.  It could be argued that Brian Kelly’s decision to leave his employer at the pinnacle of their season was a poor one to make.  However, difficult decisions like this have to be made at some point in everyone’s career.  How one approaches these decisions can significantly impact their reputation and future career.

Long gone are the days of taking a job after college and staying with that employer until you get the “gold watch” upon retirement.  In my experience, I saw most college graduates holding their first professional position for an average of about two years.  Additionally, individuals will likely have multiple careers (not just jobs) over the course of their lifetimes.  Therefore, the process of transitioning from one employer to another will occur many times and is something to prepare for.  Obviously, planning for a departure outside of an employer’s peak season is ideal.  However, opportunities (like Head Coach of the Notre Dame football program) do arise at inopportune moments.  Regardless of the timing of the decision to leave an employer, here are 4 tips to keep in mind.

(1) Be Ethical, Upfront and Honest

The way one conducts a job search while still employed will indicate to the prospective employer how his/her company might be treated in the future.  When an individual approaches the search with this in mind, it will allow the job seeker to maintain a good reputation with both current and future employers.  Clearly, conducting a job search will impose upon any person’s work day, so making sure to do as much of this as possible outside of office time demonstrates to other potential employers that you take your current work responsibilities seriously. 

  • Use a vacation day (or a portion of the day) for scheduled interviews. 
  • Arrange for phone conversations to be held during the lunch hour or after work – this applies to email correspondence too.
  • Do not put your work email address on your resume. 

(2) Give appropriate notice when possible

Industries have varying standards when it comes to “giving notice”, although the across the board standard is about a two week’s notice.  These standards are not necessarily written in stone, but rather an unspoken norm that people follow.  For example, in commission sales or finance, one might be expected to leave within days of resigning because continuing to build a customer pipeline is not appropriate.  In higher education, on the other hand, a month’s advance notice is not uncommon.  Again, as in Kelly’s case, sometimes the employee is forced to move more quickly than the industry norm, and doing so as respectfully as possible can help avoid misunderstandings or damage to one’s image. 

(3) Don’t Burn Bridges

Sometimes people leave their current position because they are miserable.  Even if this is the case, it is not recommended to leave that employer high and dry.  Before making a move professionally, think carefully of how it could be perceived from the outside. The networking world is extremely powerful, so while you may just want to walk out the door and never come back, your behavior can speak volumes to people who don’t even know you.  Your actions should always reflect your best professional face, as there will certainly come a day when a future employer will ask for a recommendation from a previous one. 

(4) Maintain Positive Relationships

Knowing that future employers will want to speak with people from your past jobs, maintaining positive relationships with those people is crucial.  Today, resources like LinkedIn provide an easy and effective way for individuals to maintain a professional networking database and stay in touch with former colleagues – no matter where they may end up.  If you happen to be a college athlete, it would be a good idea to ask for a general letter of recommendation from professors or coaches while you are still at school.  This will allow them to speak to your qualifications at a point when it is fresh in their mind, and it may prove very useful if you want them to write another letter down the road. 

This conversation of leaving one job for another may feel light years away for a current student athlete looking for his or her first job, but this situation will be upon you before you realize.  Keeping in mind some of these tips will help anyone in this situation.