Over the years, lots of colleagues and students have asked me whether they should accept a particular job offer. I thought about this when someone asked me how I had arrived at la Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, six years ago.
Basically I knew a guy who knew a guy. What happened was that someone saw me give a presentation about journalism in Spanish before an audience of hundreds of native speakers. So he recommended me for a job that I had never performed. It required similar experience and similar skills to what I had done before, but not exactly the same.
But this school was on my radar. They had a program that focused on the business of media, which interested me greatly. I was nervous. It involved a big move. Many unknowns. The point is, when you are offered a job, by definition you have not done it before, but people believe you can do it based on past performance. Of course there are so many unknowns.
When a person hesitates about making this kind of move, they are usually uncertain about their own abilities. They worry about being accepted by a new group of colleagues. They fear having to give orders to people who might have been peers previously. They worry about failing. And when part of a job change involves moving across country, the stress level increases.
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My gut reaction when people ask me if they should accept a new assignment or a new job is to say, yes, go for it. You know more than you think you know, and you will learn a whole lot because this job is different from what you’ve ever done before. People wouldn’t offer you a job if they didn’t think you could do it.
If you are in that position, I recommend starting by answering one question: Is this a teaching-learning organization? Does this organization make development of their people’s talents and abilities a priority? If you can answer yes to this question, other decisions related to a big move will become easier to handle.
An organization that makes development of its people a key part of its strategy will be patient when someone makes a mistake. They understand that part of developing a person’s leadership is to give them the latitude to innovate and, possibly, fail. They also know that it takes time.
In my first newspaper job, at a small daily, they hired me because I had some experience writing for publications, but they really liked the fact that I did well on their spelling and grammar test. They wanted a copy editor. But I really knew nothing about the craft. I had never taken a journalism course.
I had two editors who spent time with me, taught me about page design and news judgment, recommended books, and really were delighted to have someone eager to learn. Eighteen months later, I went to a large metropolitan daily.
At the large daily, I had several different assignments in a dozen years. People kept asking me to do things I had never done before, but they also coached me. And when my boss asked me to lead a new investigative reporting team, I said, I don’t know anything about how to do that. He replied, If you don’t do it, who will? You’ll figure it out. So with the newspaper’s help, I set out attending some conferences, educating myself. It was the best assignment ever up to that point in my career.
But then I had the chance to be the editor-in-chief of a business newspaper and lead a newsroom. I had most of the qualifications, but not all. A big hole in my professional profile was that I had covered economic development but never the world of stock markets, bond markets, or fiscal and monetary policy.
The solution? Humility. Admit ignorance to my staff and ask lots of questions. Read lots of books and articles. Ask more questions. Journalists are supposed to be good at that. If you’re afraid to look stupid, get over it. Ignorance is a temporary condition, easily cured by self-education.
So, to sum up. If you’re considering whether to make a change, look at the possibility to learn and grow. Focus on the culture of the organization you are planning to join. Say yes to a place where the leaders are teachers and coaches. They have the patience to guide you through the rough patches.
You will never be perfectly qualified for any job you take. So focus on the talents and experience you do bring to a new job. And if most of the lights are green (examine the yellows, investigate the reds), trust your gut and go for it.
You want to work at a place that celebrates successes and helps people overcome failures. You want to work at a place where people collaborate in an environment of healthy competition.
When you have learned all you can learn at a particular organization, and you find yourself bored and looking for the next challenge, it’s time to go. Again, you will be leaping into the unknown.
By the way, moving to the Universidad de Navarra turned out to be a great experience. I did my due diligence beforehand, but I could not have known that its culture was at the same time one of friendship, solidarity, excellence, achievement, and humanity. My only regret is that I hit the mandatory retirement age and now have to leave.
Related: As I was writing this piece, I saw an article by Iris Pase on IJNet on how to deal with impostor syndrome, which is thinking that you are not qualified to be doing the job you have and that you will be exposed as a fraud. She interviewed a number of journalists and asked their advice. It’s good stuff, worth checking out.
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