Role Change Advice: try before you buy

Thank you for the feedback on my post last week. It inspired me to make blogging and sharing learnings a weekly activity.

Today, I want to share some advice on role switching that I commonly give my team: try before you buy.

At Google, and other large companies, employees can fairly easily switch between roles (which is one of the reasons I recommend larger companies for people early in their career). For me, flexibility between roles acted as a driver in bringing me back to Google. I get the security of staying at the same company, with, relatively, the same salary, yet the ability to try out many different products and role functions. As I decide what “I want to be when I grow up,” breadth of experience remains an important tool.

When people come to me for career advice, I encourage moving between roles, but also offer caution not to do so quickly for several reasons.

Early in a career, most people think that their job contains too much mundane work and does not fully take advantage of intellect. Yet, if one too quickly jumps to another role, he or she simply inherits a different set of uninspiring work while also moving a few steps back in the totem pole of progress since he or she is new– they incur switching costs. So, unless someone truly knows why he or she wants to switch to a different “totem pole,” I encourage them to get to the next level to understand if they actually so like their line of work before jumping ship.

Additionally, even for people out of the first two to three years of work experience, employees gain a lot of value in trying out a new role “20% time” before officially switching to that role. “Volunteering” to help with work above and beyond your core responsibilities, like helping a team you want to consider joining, offers many advantages. You get to understand:

  • the mundane (and exciting) work the new job would entail (combating the grass is always greener mentality)
  • how your new boss and colleagues work and function. Sure, they were nice at coffee, but how do they function when you disagree on a next step
  • what success looks like in that role. Yes, the hiring manager or recruiter can describe what it takes to succeed, but it helps to realize first hand this may take 80 hours per week while your current role takes 30.

Finally, in addition to providing insight, “volunteering” or offering “20% time” may even snag you a role you don’t qualify for or doesn’t have headcount. In proving your value, ahead of an official role, you may get to develop your own role and responsibilities. That happened to me with my role as an APMM on Google Fiber. I  lacked in the criteria to transfer from Sales to Marketing at Google, but once I started just doing the APMM role for a new team that didn’t get any marketing headcount, the new VP of the team, Milo Medin, told the Head of Marketing to create a role for me. Since I did the role already, I made myself the most qualified candidate at Google to take it.

For these reasons, if you want to move within your company, I suggest finding a way to try before you buy. If a formal rotation does not exist, simply talk to the person or head of the team you want to work for and offer some “free” help. While managers often turn down people for new jobs, they rarely turn away free help, which is exactly your token to understanding if you want the new role, and if you do, making it.

One important note on this: do not put yourself in a place to get fired from your current team while pursuing a new opportunity (something I came close to myself). Make sure you continue to excel in your full-time role and put more time into work through the “volunteer” role (no one will stop you working harder and longer). Good ratings in your current job impact your ability to move to a new role, even if you create it. In discussing your extra pursuits with your current manager let her or him know that you do not plan to let your current role suffer and check in on how he or she thinks you are preforming on that front periodically.

Happy exploring.

Role Change Advice: try before you buy

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