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Opportunity knocks - smart career detours!

It's hard not to get excited by a 'great' career opportunity ... especially when it 'pops up' unexpectedly. More money, prestige, adventure, a chance to work with someone you admire or try your skills in an enticing new arena. Just imagine!

Whether you've been thinking about change or just working away on your career, the natural temptation is to jump ship and 'go for it'. The worry, of course, is getting off track - tossing long range plans for an unknown future. A savvy detour or a total career derailment? How to decide?

When Steve finally became a constable with the local police force his firefighter father was relieved. It was secure, respectable ... a 'grown-up job'. But, at 28, Steve was soon bored and impatient.

He planned to 'put in' for detective (in 4 years) ... and so, (among other things) had taken a course in arson investigation to beef up his application. He loved it ... and when the instructor (a private investigator) approached him about a new opening on the arson 'team' of a large insurance company, Steve was excited ... but torn.

Competition for the force had been fierce. Even with a degree in psychology, Steve tried 3 times before getting in. Now he worried about losing his hard-won place. What if the move was a mistake? For young professionals (especially in a 'closed-shop' culture) the prospect of 'waiting your turn' to try a new career direction is often unsettling. Unless you can continue to build transferable skills and experiences, it's seldom wise to wait too long.

Steve needed to take a breath, clarify his concerns and flesh out his attraction to arson investigation. He also needed to learn more about this specific opportunity and how it might compare to a similar career path within the force? Could he specialize in arson investigation as a police officer?

Our initial discussions (and career assessments) confirmed Steve's strong investigative and entrepreneurial bent. He valued expertise and being 'at the top' of his field. Also highly intuitive, he was naturally attracted to being a detective ... and an arson investigator.

We crafted a 2 week research project for Steve to 'nail down' the unknowns. The competition for the job wasn't closing for 3 weeks and he had some holidays banked ... so he had time to explore.

He set up an information interview with the insurance company and spoke to a junior and a senior arson investigator. He connected with professional associations (both for private investigators and arson specialists) and did web research on training and licensing.

Finally, he sat down with his sergeant to look into possible internal opportunities as an arson specialist with the force.

The Results

Steve's research turned up some interesting results ... and he was more convinced than ever that arson investigation was what he wanted to do.

Within the insurance sector, he really connected with the investigators he met and picked up on their enthusiasm for the work. Steve especially liked the opportunity to specialize, work with seasoned professionals and build a portfolio of targeted skills. He discovered they often consulted to police and fire forces on difficult cases.

A move would mean an initial drop in pay, loss of security and some travel. Eventually, there was the opportunity (if he excelled) to earn more money and large bonuses. While security wasn't guaranteed, there were many companies to move around in.

Becoming an arson specialist within the force was also an option ... although the path was indirect and he'd have to wait for an opportunity. He would end up investigating a variety of crimes (as well as arson) and get to work with the independent specialists brought in for challenging arson cases.

In the end, Steve was better informed about the career options he faced and about his own preferences and working values. A decision-making matrix helped identify the pros and cons. It was clear that his need for personal development and his motivation to become an 'expert' far outweighed his value for security or for the many varied opportunities the force might offer.

Although he would miss the police 'family', Steve felt confident in deciding to 'seize the opportunity'. If it didn't work out with this company, he'd be building transferable skills and expertise in a field he was excited about.

Had he decided not to move, the exploration would have still been invaluable ... helping to flesh out an area of special interest and bring more focus to his career path within the force.

Unexpected career opportunities demand that you re-examine your current situation and career trajectory. Whether you decide to detour or not, the process invariably brings new insights and possibilities. You emerge with more confidence and clarity - better prepared to take charge of your career.