1. Right Career, Wrong Employer

In my last career (in IT) I once worked for EDS at Telecom New Zealand. I was interested in the work (unix network security for those of you who care). I was good at the job. Yet it was killing me. Trying to achieve anything in a bureaucracy within a behemoth is virtually impossible, or at least too slow for my patience. And patience is one of my strongest virtues – perhaps my only one! Things I was promised at the job interview had still not happened six months later when I finally resigned. By that stage I had escalated my concerns and complaints 4 management levels, and was still a long way from the CEO’s ears.

So what if you are in the right career, but you are working for the wrong people? What if they don’t have the same values and principles as you have. What if they don’t care about the same things you care about. But you are good at your job, you enjoy what you do (or at least you would if you thought that it was valued and contributing something to what you care about). So don’t change career. You can either try to change the organization, accept it as it is, or change employer (not in order of difficulty).

Find somebody to work for who appreciates the world in the same way that you do.

2. Right Career, Wrong Corporate Culture

When I first moved to Ireland in 1997, I worked for Iomega, in the Irish call centre in Dublin, in the tiny IT department, on a contract at fairly crap pay, helping to keep the servers and PC’s up and running. It was a great job. I loved the people, I laughed a lot every day at work with them, and I laughed a lot several (most!) evenings of the week after work in a pub, club or house party with them. It was great – possibly the best fun I’ve ever had working anywhere. I made real friends at work, friends I still keep in contact with and care about.

Then I went to work for Iomega in Holland, for a significant salary increase and a permanent job. It was the same company, but the cultures were chalk and cheese. This was not the same humor – the IT department felt like a besieged island, surrounded by hostile invaders. Going out to a social gathering of the work crowd was often a mutual moan about how horrible it was working for Iomega. there were a lot of really great people working there, but somehow the atmosphere was soured by something that I cannot explain. I stuck it out until I had cleared all my debts, getting more and more bitter about real and (probably) imagined slights. Then one morning I woke up and said “enough” and went in and resigned.

What was different? The corporate culture – the atmosphere – the ambience. What makes one restaurant great and another bad, even thought they both serve almost identical menus? Well, you may not be able to put your finger on it, but you know it when you see it. And you know which one you’ll eat in again, and which you’ll avoid. Do yourself a favor – find a place where the corporate culture suits you – like a comfortable favorite coat that keeps you warm and makes you feel at home.

Don’t mistake the wrong culture for the wrong career.

3. Right Career, Wrong Place

When I worked for Sun Microsystems I had a few different jobs. I really enjoyed working in quality and testing. It suited me perfectly to be proactive rather than reactive, to work mostly independently, to manage finite projects rather than infinite firefighting. But I was not happy. I got burned out, and had to take a month off before I was capable of working again.

I needed to change something – I just wasn’t sure what exactly. I was looking at a new career (which I ultimately did change), other places to work, and moving country (again!). I wasn’t sure what was broken, so I changed two of the three possibilities. I moved to Ireland, and signed up to a college entry course. Well, once I moved back to Ireland, everything clicked. This was the right place. Suddenly work was very bearable. I became interested in it again. I became good at it again. And everything I studied at college helped my work, and work helped my college. Except for the the time conflict between the two which detracted from my performance of both, they were very complementary.

But if I had not gone back to college, I would have possibly been very happy working at Sun doing that job for years. Galway is the right place, and there are a lot of different jobs I’d do to be able to stay here – jobs that might not rank too highly on the career and achievement scale, but they’d let me be where I’m happy to live. I’m grateful that it looks like I’ll be able to do what I love, where I love living, if my luck holds.

Are you living in the right place? Or has your career taken you off course? Can you find the balance that allows you to live where you’ll be happy, doing what you do now? Or do you really need a career change that will enable your right place to be where you live now? Think about it, as it is not likely to be obvious at first.

4. Right Career, Right Employer, Wrong Job

Just after the turn of the millennium, and the world didn’t revert to the stone age, I returned from New Zealand to Holland to work for Cobalt Networks. I started on the tech support desk, but after two months I went to my friend and boss, Michael, and told him that I would have to resign. I offered to give a months notice. I apologised, but the job was killing me. Listening to people complain all day long was giving me a phobia about answering the phone.

Luckily I was offered a promotion to IT manager, and although I was put under tremendous time pressure for the following year, I loved the job. Yet it required not much different technical skills, people skills or management skills. the difference was that I controlled my time, rather than the random chance of which customer might come through to my telephone line. I was capable of solving the problem, and I cared to solve it as efficiently and elegantly as possible. Yet somehow, the two not incredibly different jobs were worlds apart.

Do your skills and career aspirations point you to working in a different job, but using the same skills, education and knowledge that you already have? Is all that is required to make you happy a single adjustment to one parameter of your job? Can you get this change where you work now? Have you ever considered it? Have you ever spoken about what you like and dislike about your job to anyone with the power and authority to change these things? If not, then why not? This is the easiest and most pain free way of changing jobs, and potentially changing how you feel about your career.