I really should be an expert at changing hats, feeling like a job transition has been necessary every time I’m ready for a promotion or new challenge. I have compared my career to peers (not a good practice), several of whom spent 5 or more years working for the same company. I have feared appearing like a job-jumper, someone who can’t cut it and who jumps out of a company to a new role before the deficiencies are revealed. Then again, those friends who have been in the same company for years have often experienced role changes and promotions within their company, enabling them to grow and advance their position, and their job changes occurred at about the same frequency as my own.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the transition I’ve made from being an active product developer to working in sales and business development. Lots of emotions, from excitement to take on a new challenge and be mentored by a manager whose career I respect and opinion I listen to closely; to fear about tripping straight out the gate; to fear of being found as an impostor and not deserving of this opportunity and certainly not expected to be successful.
Friends/colleagues have told me that I would be “so good at sales,” and I’ve always laughed it off, thinking they meant that I’m more social than the average food scientist. Then, when our household needs required my move into remote work, sales seemed like a great opportunity and logical career move to continue growing. I was recruited by a friend in the industry who committed to being a mentor through the transition and believed that I had the right foundation to be effective, and I think he’s correct. My conversations with potential customers have gone well, and I feel like I bring value to the relationships. But at the same time, it’s not really a natural state for me to be away from the bench and not being a technical expert. (Sales folks are not, traditionally, considered the experts in the room.)
Ambitiously, foolishly, I thought, I won’t have such an issue with my identity now that I’m moving completely away from culinary or product development – I’ve got the self awareness to separate my identity from my work. But I’m finding that’s while it’s not accurate, it’s also not untrue. I don’t feel like I’m treated like one of the smart people in a conversation, anymore. There seems to be an aloofness that I detect from some technical professionals when we talk. Am I projecting? I sometimes wonder if I should introduce myself as a former product developer who has moved off the bench, or if I should not care to identify myself as having a scientific background. Will the customer respect me more – or less – if I tell them I’m a scientist and just left their field?
At the same time, there’s a stronger sense of management and control of a project by serving as the business development manager and working with the rest of the cross-functional team. I can reach out to purchasing, supply chain, marketing, and market research without really feeling like I’m overstepping, the way I sometimes felt as the scientist. I write the timelines and follow-up with team members to see if I need to remove any hurdles and find out how to to defend their processes. I see the bigger picture opportunity for our brands, both as the consumer-facing brand and the supplier that serves it. It feels more like business entrepreneurship than the active product work did.
The team I’ve joined are all prior-technical professionals, so there is a shared camaraderie, fractionally comparable to that of befriending a fellow military veteran. We understand customer and project backgrounds, we ask detailed questions, and we can comprehend the technical components and challenges in projects requiring fewer explanations. I’ve worked in clean label products my whole career, so I’m also closely aware of the timelines and documentation (ad nauseum) required to receive a certification of almost any sort. I think that makes me a helpful project manager and sales person.
And yet that nagging voice and subtle sense of loss.
The HBR Ideacast shared an interesting episode about how our identities are tied to the work we do, even when we have good work and life balance and good self awareness. The acknowledgement that there will be some feelings about the job change and a change in one’s self reflection seems to both normalize this experience and provides some tools for addressing or living through it. Listening to the episode is what has spurred this post, in fact. If you’ve considered or recently experienced a job change or career crossover, perhaps this will also resonate with you.