Disarming Restructuring

What? Your position has been eliminated? And, after all those years of solid performance reviews and good work? Sometimes it’s true, bad things happen to good people. In the face of senior leadership changes, new strategic priorities and/or institutional financial constraints (or add your own rationale here) many professionals have had an up close experience with restructuring—and it’s rarely a pretty experience.

For those who suddenly find themselves without a job, the initial impact can be devastating. The obvious solution might be to quickly jump into job search mode. Here at Spelman Johnson, we would urge a bit of patience and caution. Particularly, if you feel your whole world and sense of professional well-being has been turned upside down, it would be far better to work through the angst and grief that comes with the loss of your position before you move head long into a search for a new role. The first order of business is to work through that roller coaster of emotions with the goal of arriving at a centered place where you can clearly articulate your strengths, accomplishments, and how you can bring value to a new role, likely at a new institution. Some distance on your restructuring experience is essential as you shape your ready-to-go-in-an-instant, two-minute response to, “Why are you seeking a new opportunity?” There is simply no room in that explanation to lay blame at the feet of others. Nor do you want to risk having to explain your “transition” and find the pain of it creeps into the conversation with a prospective new supervisor.

You will need to do all the usual things to gear up your search—such as pointing up your resume, updating your social media profiles (and, yes, you need to be on LinkedIn these days), and perfecting some of the frequent phrases that will be used to substantiate your candidacy that will find their way into many cover letters—but first you’ll need to practice. With a mirror, with friends and family, and with trusted professional colleagues, you will want to practice how you will handle the hardball questions about why you left your last position, how you are ready to contribute to a new role, and what have you been doing lately to add to your portfolio of skills and overall reputation. The investment of time and effort will be well-returned, trust me on this.

Once you’re comfortable with how you will discuss your transition, you may want to think about whether you want to continue in exactly the same career trajectory you were on in your last position, or change things up a little. I can’t tell you what the “right” answer is here; either option can work well. What is most important is that you have thought this through very intentionally. Sometimes change, even if imposed by forces outside of your control, can be a good thing that motivates you to take stock of what is truly important. Think about where your passion lies. What are the strengths you bring to your work and how would you feel if you could do more of what you love and less of what annoys you or keeps you awake at night? What type of institution and institutional mission really resonates with you? There are great career coaches out there who can help you with this. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to steer your career in a new direction.

Here at Spelman Johnson, we have seen plenty of talented professionals move beyond the loss of a position due to restructuring and into new leadership roles that are both challenging and rewarding. Our advice is really quite simple: 1) take time to reflect and regroup; 2) ready your job search materials and update your social media profile (as well as your profile on the SJ network!); 3) be intentional—only consider new opportunities that are aligned with clearly identified priorities (sending out mass job applications rarely nets good results); 4) for every job you apply to, do your homework, work your network, and thoroughly research the opportunity, institution, strategic priorities, and leadership environment so you will know early in the search process how you can add value to the organization and how you will expect to thrive in that particular culture; and 5) believe in yourself and others will too.

Valerie Szymkowicz

Vice President - Spelman Johnson

Valerie Szymkowicz received her BA in natural science/environmental studies from New England College and her MEd in student personnel from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Vermont. For over 20 years, she worked in higher education at both public and private research, baccalaureate, and liberal arts institutions, principally in the areas of academic advising, experiential education, and career services. With a strong belief in cultivating leadership potential among talented rising stars, Valerie has been a guest presenter at the NASPA Region I Mid-Managers Institute facilitating discussion on professional development priorities and she regularly presents on topics related to building capacity and leadership potential for other professional organizations including the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers.