Sunday, January 17, 2016

Don't Quit Your Job (Yet)

Entrepreneurship and alternative, non-corporate careers have become the hot new trend among young professionals. Articles abound featuring 20- and 30-somethings quitting their jobs and starting companies or going to work for a friend's startup. Not that there aren't exceptions to what I'm about to say, but it needs to be said: The path to Black success is different from White success and this affects the way you should think about your career and quitting.

Let's start with a simple question: Do your clients or customers at your Corporate job look like you?

Mine don't.

What's the difference?

Educational Opportunities: Many young Black Corporates don't have the same educational opportunities in school and after graduating. This starts at the application process for schools and continues through securing internships and research positions to full-time employment. 

Safety Nets: There was no money set aside for me to go to college. My family does not have seed money lying around for me to start a business or a house for me to move into while I save up for my own home. Many young Black Corporates looking to build something for themselves must first create a safety net where many (not all) of their White counterparts start from a much different place.

Golf Course Dealing: Business deals do not happen in offices. Many Black Corporates, especially women and younger professionals, are left out of the social interactions in which deals get done and relationships are built. 

Access to Capital: Even with a safety net in place, the fancy degrees and an established network of mentors and contacts, Black Corporates transitioning to becoming Black Entrepreneurs still struggle to raise capital for their businesses and establish broad, diverse client bases. 

Recognizing these differences, how should I go about quitting?

Quitting your job is a major life decision that will impact your finances, future job prospects, and potentially business relationships. Stop, think and plan.

A few questions to ask yourself before quitting:

1. Have I gotten all I can from this position in terms training, networking, and skill development?

2. Should I consider working at another corporate job before transitioning to something less secure?

3. Do I have enough money saved or resources available to sustain myself during my transition?

4. Will exiting at this time reflect poorly on me as an employee or burn bridges I may need in the near future?

5. Have I produced enough good work product to get a useful recommendation from my supervisors and peers?

Prepare to Quit:

Start living the way you intend to live once you are no longer at your job. You need to maximize your savings. Some experts suggest 6 months' living expenses. I would say 8-10 months' living expenses is more appropriate, especially if you don't have a parental safety net. Yes, this will likely mean that you need to stay at your job longer to save up the money. You might also want to go ahead and downgrade your apartment and pay down any high credit card balances.

Max out your 401k. Retirement savings will inevitably become less of a priority for you during your transitional or underemployed period. Save while you can, especially if your job matches.

Get additional training . Attend that two-hour accounting refresher training your job provides, even sit in on the new hire trainings where useful. Look into whether your job pays for continuing education courses. Working for yourself or without a direct supervisor can often mean learning by trial and error where corporate offices can provide formal, structured training from professionals with years of experience. 

Go to conferences. Most corporate employers will pay for you to attend a few professional conferences relevant to your field. Go and make it count. Expand your network and share your interests and perspectives (don't mention any job dissatisfaction).

Take it with you. This tip will be controversial. If you own your work product (and it is not illegal to do so), start saving documents you've created, articles you've written, e-mails and anything that might be useful. Redact these documents to protect client and company privacy and save them on your home computer or your personal filing system. Do the same for all contacts. Don't do this all on the same day. Pace yourself so you don't raise any flags. The extent to which this is helpful will vary by industry.

Don't tell anyone until you've given notice. No one. Nope not her. No not him either. It will get out and mess up your preparations. Be private in your preparations and planning until you've given formal notice.

Quit with Grace:

Give adequate notice. Two weeks is not appropriate for higher level positions or smaller offices. Be considerate of your employer and any seasonal demands or major projects. A sincere and thoughtful exit announcement is important for maintaining the relationship. Many employees return to jobs years later because of good exits.

Tell mentors and close colleagues in person and in private. Once you inform your employer, your next step should be to find time within that day (if possible) or the next to inform your mentors and office colleagues with whom you've worked closely. It can be painful to find out that a colleague you really like and respect is leaving and she didn't tell you. This will make these people feel like their relationship with you goes beyond the office (which it should). Make sure they have your non-office contact.

Do a good job until the end. Corporate America runs on reputation. No matter your feelings about your job or your coworkers, your final days there should be your most productive and most friendly. They should weep at losing you. Weep!

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