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By Caroline Ceniza-Levine
August 22, 2016

Much of the recent election news has focused on the rapid comings and goings at the Trump campaign – a new campaign manager is named, the team under the previous one might leave, if that happens even more changes could be afoot.

Sure, a presidential campaign makes for high drama, but sudden staffing changes are not limited to politics. Given the market volatility and the speed of technology change, workplaces in all industries are subject to periods of turmoil. If you’re a job seeker and considering joining a workplace in turmoil, here are some pros and cons:

Pro: You can make an impact

If your area is communications and you join a company in the midst of a media firestorm, you will play a much bigger part than if you joined just any old company. If you’re an accountant and your prospective employer is in the midst of a sale, your number crunching may be part of that decision. I once hired a CFO whose earlier experience included closing down a subsidiary. She came in with her days numbered, as her workplace would be shuttered. But the two years of experience unwinding that business included substantive experience in managing complex financials, operations, and people situations that made her a unique and desirable candidate. She also felt a special sense of pride that she took a difficult situation (people were losing their jobs) and created as soft a landing as possible (moving as many as she could into other subsidiaries).

Con: You discover even more turmoil and can’t make an impact

While you may join with the full intention of working through the turmoil and perhaps contributing to a solution, the situation may be worse than you expected. Even with the most diligent interviewing, you won’t know the full picture till you’re there. You may find that your role is relegated to a small part of the problem, such that you can’t change the bigger picture. Or you find that senior management is less committed to a solution than you thought. I once coached an experienced business development professional who joined a consulting firm to grow their financial services practice, which she did, only to find out that it was a much smaller percentage of the overall business and also a much lower priority to top management. Even with big contributions within her practice, she barely influenced the overall bottom line and therefore could barely influence the direction of the firm. She left shortly after joining.

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Pro: You have a unique opportunity to hone your skills, expertise and experience

Even if your role isn’t directly involved in the crisis, sale or other difficult situation, by virtue of being there, you are performing under difficult circumstances and demonstrating grit and perseverance. If you don’t have other difficult workplaces in your background, this could be a nice testing ground for you. If you’re in marketing, you can see how well you do when market conditions are against you. If you’re in operations, you can see how well you do in an organization without well-defined processes. From a recruiting perspective, being able to produce results in a difficult environment is a competitive advantage. (Keep in mind, however, that succeeding amidst turmoil also makes you more desirable specifically for these difficult environments so you may get tapped for more of the same.)

Con: The opportunity shifts faster than you can adapt

Or you may arrive at your difficult workplace and find that your skills, expertise and experience are insufficient. You’re in over your head. The allure of solving the big problem is actually not as enticing as it looked from the outside. Your personality is not suitable for the constant anxiety, stress, and frustration sure to accompany any role in a difficult environment. If you misjudge your ability to adapt to the turmoil, you could be faced with having to leave a job earlier than you had expected. This has implications for your resume and for your confidence.

The decision to join a workplace in turmoil is highly individualized – based on the workplace and the job seeker. You need to do your research into the workplace and get as realistic a picture as possible of what is happening there. This way, you know what you’re getting into – what the problems are, what senior management intentions are, how feasible potential solutions are, and what the culture is like day-to-day (you have to work with these people, after all). At the same time, you need to do a realistic self-assessment of your skills, expertise, and temperament for such an undertaking. You need to know that you can make a contribution and that you have the constitution to endure the difficulties you will encounter.

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