CAREER | The Art of Moving—Moving Up, Moving Sideways, Moving On

publication date: Feb 15, 2024
author/source: Eyre Purkin Bien, CFRE

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Is anyone besides me tired of being asked this question at a job interview or performance review? How often do you have an answer that really speaks to your ambition, insights and skills, confidence and abilities? More often than not, I wanted to say that “I see myself here, doing a good job, liking what I do and who I do it for.”

Now, forty plus years later, I’ve moved roles often. I was mostly in the driver’s seat of the decision-making but a couple of times I was not.

Being in control of your career change is more important than the new role itself. While being laid off sucks (my very first job in broadcasting – a soul crusher) being chosen for something new, something innovative that your leadership hand picks you for—that’s an incredible rush. How do you say no to an opportunity brought to you by the CEO who says, “we have a need, and we think you’re the right person for the job.” It’s heady stuff. In hindsight, I’m not sure whether it was my ego or enthusiasm that answered “Yes. Absolutely. When do I start?”

Moving up is something we’re hardwired to want

The successful individuals I admire do the job at hand—effectively and efficiently—while staying in their lane. Their work speaks for itself while the loudest voice in the room (the vibrating souls who come in oozing confidence and looking for the ladder) implode, as fast-moving meteoric stars eventually do.

Doing the same thing for years will eventually wear us out. I’ve found the average threshold to be 2-3 years, depending on what else a person has going on in their life. We may love an organization but still welcome a segue into something new and different. It can be difficult to break out of the duties we excel at and end up getting pigeonholed into a role we do well. In this scenario, perseverance is key, as is having a meaningful conversation with your supervisor. Remember, there is a huge plus side to applying for a new role within your organization (whether successful or not). Leadership will notice and become aware that you have other skills.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got

I’ve known many multiskilled, talented colleagues who successfully migrated to a new department and different sets of duties. In legacy media, it usually happened within the programming realm; start at the bottom, learn as you go and grow into a new role. This also happened in nonprofit. Lateral moves were often from the service delivery side taking on management roles, with an occasional move to philanthropy. Very rarely did I see a move into administration (sorry finance and human resources). However, knowing the impact of donor support doesn’t necessarily mean being able to articulate it engagingly. Rightly or wrongly, the two sides of any house sometimes have a disdain for each other. Fundraisers (like salespeople in media) are often seen as a necessary evil. Believe it or not, inter-departmental moves can be harder to achieve in your own organization, which is the number one reason people move on, to “move up.”

Leaving an organization is not an easy decision—even if it’s your own

Discounting moving to another city or country, there are several other reasons people “move on.” Being passed over for a key position, perhaps more than once, is a typical situation. Organizational culture is another big one. If you haven’t worked in a toxic environment, please let me know, I want to meet you. When leadership knows something is wrong, and doesn’t fix it, it can permeate an organization. While you may think you can be the one voice to change it from within, it’s a challenge. Often, moving on will be the only healthy and rational thing to do. The trick is not to become complacent, or jaded because then you are part of the problem. A few things to watch for -

  • Is it always “the organization’s fault?”
  • Are you someone who sees impropriety in every gesture or comment?
  • Do you take on roles you’re not equipped to handle, because moving the needle on your career is your primary concern?

If so, I encourage you to look at your own employment pattern. Is it personal impatience? An overblown sense of your own abilities? Or, are you wearing your belt so high (the old adage of hitting someone below the belt) that any constructive suggestion is criticism you don’t have to tolerate? I believe in self-reflection and owning and acknowledging your own part in every circumstance.

Let your own light shine, look for opportunities to advance, but don’t run over other people on your rise to the top. What goes around comes around harder.

Moving up or moving sideways have these shining prerequisites:

  • excel in your current role, it will be noticed
  • don’t make excuses, take responsibility
  • problem solve solutions, not just complaints
  • lean in on your current role, but also own your boundaries
  • don’t be taken advantage of, your peers see, and office gossip is cruel
  • patience commands respects
  • be realistic about your skills and limitations
  • don’t wait forever for the next step

It’s your career to own. You are the captain of your professional destiny, so row your boat with courage and confidence. Regrets, you’ll have a few but hopefully too few to mention.

Eyre Purkin Bien CFRE is enjoying catching her breath after 40 plus years in both the nonprofit (not for profit philanthropy) and private sector (media, public relations and communications). Having held leadership roles throughout her career she is returning to her first love, talking about it. By sharing insights, techniques and lessons learned, Eyre hopes to instruct and inspire those still in the trenches. Your feedback and questions are welcome.



Like this article?  Join our mailing list for more great information!

Copyright © 2011-Current, The Hilborn Group Ltd. All rights reserved.

Free Fundraising Newsletter
Join Our Mailing List