Unless you have been in a coma for the last few years, you know the so-called new economy died a horrible, messy death. It was a veritable swan dive from the penthouse to the street. The old economy came back. Well, actually, it never left. It had just been ignored, to the peril of many people and businesses. Now our economy is in an angry and unpredictable mood. This situation isn’t likely to change for a while.
Corporate accounting scandals, layoffs, downsizing, outsourcing, 9/11, an expensive war in Iraq, even more expensive budget battles going on in Congress, a moderate recession, and the uncertainty of modern-day elections have wrought sweeping changes upon every sector of the work force. This new reality has forced millions of employed and unemployed people to rethink their career plans.
For the vast majority, a twenty-fi ve-year career with a single company culminating with the presentation of a gold watch (well, gold-plated) is not going to happen.
So, what is going to happen? According to leading career counselors, Human Resources (HR) experts, and labor analysts, most of us will make a number of very signifi cant job-change decisions between high school graduation and retirement. Furthermore, if the Social Security crisis and personal savings levels are any indication, most of us will be working until we are seventy . . . possibly longer.
With that in mind, is there a way to help ensure that our career decisions are the right ones? I say there is! In easy-to-understand terms, The Rat, the Race, and the Cage offers a way to analyze your job situation and build a “Personal Career Compass” with which to make better career decisions. I will present a simple model for understanding and organizing three components of your job—your function, the industry in which you work, and the company for which you work.
First, we will analyze the function you perform every day. I call this The Rat. Next, we’ll explore the industry in which you work, The Race. Finally, we’ll take a look at the company for which you work, The Cage. After examining all three areas, we’ll plug it into The Rat, the Race, and the Cage model and analyze the results.
I’ll show you how to take those results and build your own Personal Career Compass. You’ll use it to fi nd your direction with regard to the type of position, companies, and industries you wish to pursue in the future. While you may be surprised by what the results say, you will be better prepared to optimize your future career path and job decisions. Change is not always easy. But small changes today will make a huge impact in the long run.
I have been discussing the concept of The Rat, the Race, and the Cage with various friends and colleagues over the past couple of years, and they encouraged me to promote the concept to a wider audience. Since you are reading this book, I obviously took their advice. I hope the story and concept in this book help you to go for it and fi nd job satisfaction and success.
“I am fed up with my job!”
I was listening to a friend as I sipped on a cup of coffee.
Garrison leaned back and fl ailed his arms. “I need to quit right now!”
I took a deep breath. “I hear you. Really, I do. But try to calm down so we can talk about it.”
He exhaled with a nervous chuckle, then sat back in his chair. Garrison is a former employee of mine, a sharp marketing professional with a bright future. An affable guy, he never took life too seriously, well, except for his lovely wife, cute daughter, and the recently de-cursed Boston Red Sox. He is also serious about his work, and advancing within his chosen career is a priority. Whenever he considered a potential job change, he sought my opinion on it.
I smiled. “Tell me why you want to quit your job.” I braced myself for the inevitable fl ood of the same old tired reasons.
“My job stinks. Our company is being threatened by competitors. Nothing gets done due to bureaucracy. If I don’t get out of there soon, I think I’ll go nuts.”
I listened, looking as interested as possible, and said nice, supportive things, because that’s what friends and colleagues are supposed to do for those we care about. I really wanted to help him.
But to be honest, Garrison seems to have the same work issues arise again and again. He’s changed jobs twice during the last four years. Due to the relief of leaving the old job and the initial excitement of starting a new one, it typically takes a while for him to begin complaining. But, sooner or later, he starts griping about his new job and showing me his updated resume.
I asked Garrison what he liked about his current position.
“For the most part, it’s not too bad,” he admitted. “The product is fairly exciting. But I’d like to get to the next level. The opportunities, however, are severely limited.”
Next I asked how he felt about the industry he was in. He didn’t rave, but he was upbeat. “I recently went to Florida and visited my sister and her family for the holidays. They asked about my job. I really enjoyed telling them how the product I’m working on is impacting the industry.”
“Tell me more about the company you’re working for,” I prompted.
He sighed. “Last year we celebrated our three-year anniversary. But then we were acquired by a big corporation.” He shook his head. “They added our product to their line. At fi rst, things went well enough. But we were soon treated like stepchildren, and it began to feel like we were moving in slow motion. With all the bureaucracy, decisions take forever.” He frowned. “The worst thing is the new management often pointedly reminds us who’s in charge. It’s irritating.”
I’d read about the acquisition in the local newspaper. On the surface it made a lot of sense. The economics were solid and the transaction was well received by analysts, investors, and others outside the company. Inside the company was a different story.
Garrison dropped his spoon into his half-empty cappuccino. “The guys at headquarters have no idea what’s really happening with our customers. We can’t respond to the market as quickly now. It’s silly. And sad! The position we carved in the market is what led them to acquire us in the fi rst place, and now it’s slipping away.”
I wondered if Garrison was over dramatizing the situation. “There’s bound to be some adjustment whenever a change like this happens.”
He continued as if he hadn’t heard me. “The opportunities for advancement have disappeared too. We are in a hiring freeze and they’re talking about cutting jobs, which makes no sense to me. It’s sure not a very nice thank-you after three years of hard work.”
“Sounds like your exciting young company got swept into the rat race. I’m sorry.”
I encouraged Garrison to try to analyze the factors surrounding the acquisition. Of course there is dramatic change whenever one company buys another. But such tumult is usually temporary. And he could not control the decisions being made by the new management. I urged him to not allow this fact to cloud his thinking about the job he did each day. His three years with Upstart represented a time of professional growth and achievement. I told him he should be proud of what he had accomplished.
He mumbled his thanks, then stared into space.
Garrison’s main issues seemed to center on bureaucracy. The companies he had worked for in the past were large enterprises with layers of management and more than a little bureaucracy. He had joined a young start-up company but it had been recently bought out by (guess what?) a large corporation.
In addition, Garrison had appeared somewhat uncomfortable in his chosen fi eld, but he certainly wasn’t ready to throw it away and do something else. From what I knew, he was very good at product marketing. I contrasted his situation with others I knew who viewed their work history as a set of shackles that could keep them inescapably trapped in a given line of work. Some of them looked back to college and mused that they should have chosen a different major.
Garrison seemed satisfi ed with his industry. It was growing and certainly not boring or mundane. I thought of others who had exactly the opposite problem. The market was moving too fast for them, and they felt left behind.
Like so many others today, Garrison’s current job was simply out of balance with his personal preferences and professional skills. I said to him, “I can help you with something I call The Rat, The Race and The Cage.”
Garrison replied, “I’d love to hear it but I have a full schedule today. Can we meet in a week for lunch?”
As we walked out of the coffee shop, I encouraged him to remain positive.
The Rat, the Race, and the Cage can help you, too.
Over the years, I have had many conversations about job changes and career paths with friends and co-workers. We would discuss the job function, the industry and the company. I found that all three areas need to be in balance, or at least close. While they all blend together, they are separate issues, and each has a different impact on a person’s overall job satisfaction.
“Rats run around in cages,” I often thought to myself, following the rat-race analogy. “Like employees run around in their cubicles.”
Over time, the concept gelled into The Rat—the job function, The Race—the industry, and The Cage—the company. Analytical by nature, I have always been good at breaking complex problems into chewable issues. When faced with my own career decisions, I always broke them down into parts, considered all the options, spoke with trusted friends, then made the best decision possible with the information available to me at the time.
I had also helped friends approach their career decisions that way. Being careful not to draw any conclusions for them, I asked questions that allowed them to hear and refl ect on their own answers.
I have seen friends and colleagues jump the gun on career decisions without really evaluating all angles of the new opportunities. Some of them even regretted leaving their old jobs or companies.
When you seek medical attention for an illness, the doctor analyzes all of your symptoms before determining whether you have a cold, the fl u, or something more serious, like bronchitis or pneumonia. There are different treatments for different ailments. Yet people often bypass a careful analysis of their job symptoms before making career-impacting decisions. They take action emotionally and quickly. They are guilty of career malpractice!
If you think it’s time for a job change, take a long look at everything. Be brutally honest with yourself. Analyze all of the issues before you do anything. The Rat, the Race, and the Cage will show you one way to approach these important career decisions.
First, I will introduce the three parts of the model and analyze each one individually.
Second, I will show you how to build your own Personal Career Compass.
Third, I will show you how to put your results into action.
Along the way, we’ll check in on Garrison’s story as an example so you can see his thought processes unfold.
Ready? Let’s go!