Exit Strategy – Part I

Working full-time while balancing a job search—even a very selective job search—is a big and often complicated endeavor. Many times, you barely have time to reflect on the blistering pace set of final interviews before you receive a call extending a job offer. Make no mistake, getting a job offer is terrific and what you’ve been hoping for, but with it comes a whole set of other things you now must navigate.

Ideally, you have imagined this scenario in advance and are prepared to accept the position outright, negotiate terms of importance, or respectfully decline the opportunity. Working through the job acceptance process with your future supervisor in a manner that upholds your professionalism and preserves your integrity will lay the foundation for your relationship for years to come. Simultaneously, you need to also consider how your current supervisor, institutional colleagues, direct reports, and those you serve (students, alumni, external partners, etc.) will react to the news of your impending departure. Here are a few suggestions to help you stay focused and work successfully through this critical transition:

  1. Know your motivations and why you want the new position. Be clear on how your background and experience will be an asset and fit with the needs and opportunities of the new job.
  2. Conduct your own market analysis to determine your worth, assess the cost of living in a new area and availability of key resources (if relevant), and research financial implications including prospects for selling your current home and relocation costs as that will take the guess work out of the equation when evaluating an offer. Best to start this early in the search process.
  3. Ask for, and strictly adhere to, a reasonable timeframe to consider and render your final decision following receipt of an offer. Bear in mind, your prospective employer really wants you to say “yes,” but also has to weigh the possibility that they could lose the candidate who is next in line if you take too long and ultimately decline. Ask for a written offer outlining all terms—salary, start date, relocation assistance, benefits, etc. Requesting up to four or five days to make a decision is generally reasonable, though sometimes the sense of urgency demands a faster turnaround. The longer you take to affirm your decision, the more time the hiring authority has to wonder just how much you really want the position. This can create a hurdle when trying to establish a trusting relationship.
  4. As soon as you accept the position, inform your current supervisor. While it is possible a counter-offer may be extended, realize that it is considered highly unprofessional to first accept an offer from a new employer and later renege. If you are truly uncertain about whether or not to accept the offer even after you’ve done your due diligence, talk with your current employer. Remember, a counter-offer, even if it has some financial appeal, keeps you at the same institution, working under the same or very similar conditions to what you’ve known, and is unlikely to provide the stimulation of immediate new challenges, new working relationships, or access to new environments and community resources that could positively benefit you and members of your household. Will you likely enjoy long-term satisfaction by staying in place, even with a salary bump?
  5. Conduct face-to-face conversations as much as possible with other key professional contacts to inform them that you have accepted a new position. Acknowledge their dedication and loyalty and how that has helped shape you professionally. Commit to helping the organization—and the people that drive it forward—prepare for a smooth transition as you plan for your own departure. In addition to colleagues, staff, and members of the community you serve, also be certain to quickly update anyone who has supported your candidacy as a reference. A prompt, genuine “thank you” builds respect and adds dividends to your social capital.

In the next Exit Strategy blog, we’ll review some additional pointers on how to transition out of your current institution with grace and some common pitfalls to avoid when leaving one position and arriving at another.

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.