Where To Go From Here?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about career direction: After quitting an engineering job in Malaysia because of workplace politics and ill health, now recovered where do I go from here?

I have been in only one company since graduation, for 10 years. I have been promoted several times, the last one a senior assistant manager, overseeing three departments: Laboratory , Administration, and GPS/GIS/RS Mapping. I loved my job though I had to put in many extra hours. Unfortunately about one year ago the office politics, slandering, defamation and bullying boss got to me and I had to quit as I developed major depression and pain all over my body.

After a resting for a period, I am feeling up to return to the job market. However, I found that there are no openings in my industry at the moment. (I was working in oil palm research.) Now as a temporary measure, I have taken up teaching in a kindergarten. It is a big change and a major pay cut, but I find it fulfilling and meaningful. It was one of my dreams to teach children. I am also dreaming of becoming an author, nature scientist or songwriter but these all seem impractical career paths in my country. My major concerns are:

1. When I go to an interview, how would I answer honestly yet not revealing anything negative about my reason of leaving my company and choosing to be jobless for almost a year? (In Asian countries I doubt they understand that after taking a sabbatical an employee could actually perform better.)

2. If I returned to the same industry, would I be able to handle it if similar bad work ethics cropped up? (PS: It is one of the possibilities that I’d be asked to do unethical or illegal things if I take up the similar job function. That was one of the reasons I left my previous company. I did not want to have my conscious tainted in doing something wrong.)

3. If I change professions, what job should I take up that is both enjoyable yet pays the bills? (PS: I don’t wish to become a workaholic all over again. I hope to spend time with family too at the end of the day)

4. Should I just throw the idea of being a stable employee out of the window and venture having my own business instead? As you can see, I am confused and insecure. I want to strive for excellence and make a difference in lives. Yet I am at a crossroad, terrified to venture into the unknown. Please advise.

Here’s more about me that you have requested:

-Education: bachelor degree in bio-industry, majoring in crop science.

-Work experience: industry: agriculture research; specialization

-Global Positioning System(GPS), Geographical information System (GIS), Remote Sensing (RS), Laboratory( fertilizer, leaf, soil analysis) and Administration

-Nationality: Malaysian

-Family responsibility: am single, but my two elderly parents stay with me. My siblings are out-station.

-Training requirements for teaching: I believe formal education is needed. I currently just learn on the job. Do feel free to let me know if any more details are needed to understand my situation further. My sincere gratitude again for taking the effort to reply. I hope to stand up again.

Signed, Sick of Being Uncertain

Dear Sick of Being Uncertain:

Your additional personal and career profile should enable our advice to be more specific. Hopefully, the thoughts we send will help you think through and cope with the anxiety you are living with at this time of career uncertainty. It is not uncommon to have one’s career disrupted. Often such a disruption, as you briefly described, entails stressful, unexpected, and discouraging assaults on one’s sense of well-being; as you say yours was emotionally and physically painful. Yet, now you impress me as able to confront career uncertainty and do what it takes to shape your future.

You have some things going for you. You are fortunate to be well educated and single. Moreover, you have your elderly parents with you and I’m sure they appreciate that. I wrote that I would seek advice additional to mine. I have now sent that of Gloria Salavarria, who has worked as an engineer and technical writer and has a world of experience. She now shares her wisdom in a photo/essay newsletter on subjects such as the environment, her travels, and pets. You’ll find her remarks insightful and inspirational.

They follow: I already see this person as standing up again. She didn’t stay home for long but went out and got a job as a teacher. That speaks well of her. As a former boss who was responsible for hiring, I understand “office” politics and the fact that even some of the best of us can go afoul as a result of personality differences. That happened to me, too. I got fired but fortunately I got rehired within the same week by another colleague in a different division of the same company that I got fired from.

Politics and personality differences happen and the way one handles it best is to do volunteer work or to get rehired quickly; even if it’s not the same line of work. Finding a job as a teacher speaks very well of this person. I also find hers work experience and technical background impressive. It shouldn’t be all that hard to find another job in her field. She should also be open to job possibilities elsewhere, if necessary.

It always helps to be willing to move, even if it means leaving Malaysia to go wherever the job takes her. In the U.S., I would not worry about explaining why I left my technical job but if the question comes up, I’d be honest and say that there was a personality difference in the workplace and I decided to leave. She doesn’t have to go into detail about that but add that the move to a teaching job gave her time to work her way through what she wanted to do with her life and she has decided to return to work in her field.

I, as a boss, wouldn’t fault her for that. If anything I’d give her credit for having made a decision to leave and try a different line of work for a while. There isn’t a boss who hasn’t at some point in his/her life had a crossroad decision to make, and an experienced boss will understand and not hold this against the woman. What happened has shaken this woman’s confidence. It shook mine when it happened to me but the truth is I’m still the same person with the same technical knowledge that made me a valued employee nevertheless. The fact that she and her old boss just didn’t get along is not necessarily an ill reflection on her; especially if she has others who are willing to give a prospective new employer a good recommendation; especially if those recommendations come from the same company from which she left. If this is not possible, a good recommendation from someone who knows her and is in the same field and can vouch for her worth will also work.

When I turned 50, I became seriously ill and had to take medical leave and early retirement. After over six months of sitting at home and regaining my health, I got stir crazy and missed working with other engineers. A local job for a technical writer came up and I applied for it (similar to this person becoming a teacher). The new employer never questioned why I was unemployed at the age of 50. He looked at the fact that I was able to show him what a gifted technical writer I was and decided I was just the person to fill the technical writer’s position.

It’s best to go forward with confidence and remember that one has a great deal of experience and skills to offer. The positive approach; ideally done with the confidence that she is a good employee and just the one that this employer is looking for to fill a job is the best tactic; one that is more likely to become a self-full-filling prophecy. Know that you are good and that you have something to offer a new employer and you’re more likely to convince an interviewer that you should be hired. Know also that there’s not a one of us that is perfect and hasn’t had a hard knock in life. Those hard knocks are valuable experiences; making us grateful for the job we next get and more willing to overcome whatever faults we have.

Since this person left of her own volition, how about reapplying for work at the same company? Staffing may have changed and they might gladly welcome this person back. A friend of mine decided not to take a transfer to Arkansas when the company closed its Constantine, Michigan plant down. He went instead to work for the railroad and got fired 18 months later. He applied to his former employer and got rehired and is now happily working in Arkansas. This person might be pleasantly surprised and get rehired. If not, at least one can say they gave it a try. Nothing ventured; nothing gained. Best wishes,

Follow Up: Thanks a lot for your email. My deepest thanks to Mdm Gloria. Indeed her words are very insightful and inspirational. I’m most grateful to both of you.

Gloria Salavarria and William Gorden