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Career Conversations - Ryan Bales

Be Your Own Career Advocate

Ryan Bales

By Ryan Bales, Director of Software Engineering, Conversation Intelligence, Invoca

It’s no secret that we’re currently in a job seekers market. Looking across many sectors, there are many available roles and career opportunities. If you dig deeper into the technology sector, it’s evident that the Great Resignation is in full swing and people are changing roles at record levels. Technologists are changing roles for various reasons: compensation increase, career advancement, technology stacks, team culture, and more.  

Regardless of the reasons why you might be considering a career move, it’s important to advocate for yourself with both your current and prospective employers. This starts with clearly defining your answers to a few questions below. This exercise starts the career advocate process and helps set the bar that you’re shooting for with your potential job change. It’s important to note that it can be difficult to fill the role of being your career advocate. If you’d like assistance with this process, it may be a good idea to consult mentors, the Stuart Career Management Center, or hire a career coach.

  1. Why are you looking for a new role?
  2. What are you looking for in your new role?
  3. Is the right role for you available with your current employer?

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these questions in more detail.

Why Are You Looking for a New Role?

When starting to look into a new role, you may choose to start by thinking about the things that you don’t like about your current role. Are you happy with your compensation package? Do you enjoy working with your current manager? Is your manager invested in helping you grow your career? Do you feel like a member of your team? Do you feel good about the career growth opportunities within your current team and company? Are you happy with the culture of our company? Is your company embracing new technology as it’s developed? Are you interested in the current project that you're working on? Do you believe in the mission of your company and its product offerings?

Digging into the details of these questions should get you thinking about why you might be unhappy or unmotivated in your current role. We all want to wake up and feel motivated about the work that we do. We want to work on interesting projects with fun teams and great managers. It’s important to take the time to look retrospectively at your current role as you prepare to look for a new opportunity. Each of us ranks the importance of job characteristics in a different way. Consider taking the time to make your list and rank it according to what’s important to you.

What Are You Looking for in Your New Role?

Now that you’ve spent some time thinking about why you are looking for a new role, it’s time to look at what you’re looking for in your next role. This is a great opportunity to think big and longer-term. Think about the next couple of roles and lay out a path to get you there. Mix that with some shorter-term thinking around your next role.

For example, do you prioritize earning potential and compensation at the top of your list? Maybe you’re more interested in learning new skills and technologies to widen your technological toolbelt, or the corporate mission of the company you work for, or the area within the technology sector that you would prefer to work in, such as data science, robotics, or UX design.

You may also be interested in the technology stack tools such as Ruby on Rails, Python, or React. Do you want to work in engineering, research, product management, or some other area? You’ll also want to consider if you’re looking for individual contributor roles, team leadership roles, or some combination of both.

Taking the time to think through will help you streamline your job search filters and conversations. It will also help you hone in on exactly what you’re looking for in your next role. In some cases, you may find that your dream role is in a whole different area of the technology sector or in a different sector altogether. You may find that you need some further training before starting that next role. Whatever you decide, think big and focus on building the right plan to get you on the path towards that next role.

Is the Right Role for You Available with Your Current Employer?

Now that you’ve spent a lot of time looking into why you are looking for a new role and what you are looking for in your next role, you can start your search. As people begin their search, I encourage them to also look within their current company for new opportunities.

There’s also a possibility that some adjustments made to your current role would make it a better fit based on your dream job list. For example, maybe you can do more work with React or other new technologies. Maybe you can transition to the data science team to help with research. If you’d like to become a manager, your current manager could work with you to develop a plan.

If you’re concerned about compensation, benefits, or other aspects of your contract with your current employer, your manager should be able to help you navigate those questions as well. Hopefully, you have a great manager who understands that part of their job is to be your advocate within the organization. In certain situations, compensation adjustments may not be possible, but in my experience it’s always worth the conversation.

In many circumstances, I’ve found that a primary reason that people leave a job is because of their direct manager. If you find yourself in this position, I suggest working with your skip-level manager or the People and Culture team at your company to bring up your concerns and look into other opportunities within the organization outside of your current team.

I currently work as a group leader within the engineering team at a mid-size software company. As a manager, I always appreciate a chance to have this conversation and never shy away from it. You and your manager should be having conversations about these types of concerns in regularly scheduled one-to-one meetings. I’m always keen to help someone grow within their career. However, if there’s a problem that I can’t help solve, I’m never upset if someone seeks out my manager to get help.

Generally speaking, your company knows that they are better off with you than without you. Your current company would welcome the opportunity to help you find your next role internally before or during your external job search. Of course, there are exceptions to this line of thinking.

If you don’t see a way forward with your current company, maybe you no longer believe in the mission, or you feel that the product isn’t solving a worthwhile problem. Another reason might be that you want to change tech stacks, or you’re simply looking for new problems to solve or a fresh start.

My career is proof that this conversation is worth having. I worked for a company that was acquired by our biggest competitor. As part of merging teams together I landed in a role that wasn’t exactly an ideal fit for me and my career path. Fortunately, I had a great manager and I was comfortable approaching them about my concerns. They worked with me to carve out the right role within the engineering department. My manager also helped me transition into the new role over the next couple of months. I really enjoyed the role and things worked out great in the end.

In the end, taking the time to think about why you’re looking for a new role and what you’re looking for in that role will help streamline your search and the conversations you have, either with your current employer or prospective employers.

Your list of requirements for your next role is the first step in advocating for yourself in your career. Cast your search as wide as possible while keeping your requirements in mind. Be careful not to discount a great new role at your current company if you’re interested. Finally, consult your mentors often and keep your search flexible as you go through the process. Good luck!

 


Ryan Bales is currently a director of software engineering helping lead the Conversation Intelligence group at Invoca. Ryan has worked in numerous roles within the software engineering and data science fields as both an individual contributor and manager. He’s excited about both solving technical challenges and helping mentor others. Ryan is also a member of the Career Management Center Advisory Board at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School or Business.

Posted April 20, 2022

Career Conversations is presented by the Stuart School of Business Career Management Center.

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