I write several blogs on IT career development -- including this one -- and as a result, I end up fielding a decent volume of e-mail from people looking for information and advice on how to boost their careers, find better jobs (or a first job), and learn the skills and knowledge they need to improve their appeal to current and prospective employers.
Last month, I received an e-mail from a person who had been working in IT for a dozen years or so, with a bachelor's outside the field plus an MBA with an emphasis on Management Information Systems (MIS) and a minor in computer science. He wanted some advice on how to break free of the help desk, and find his way into systems and network administration, a field that he professed to find fascinating above all others.
But as I read over his personal and working history, and reviewed his background and experience (see my posting on "How to help me help you" for the questionnaire he answered, or to contact me with your own situation and IT career concerns) I came to a startling realization. His e-mail talked an awful lot more about what he didn't like, didn't want to do, or had difficulty with, than it talked about positive work experiences, problems solved, skills and knowledge acquired, and future goals and aspirations.
And although his background was actually pretty solid -- more than half-a-dozen years in progressively responsible help desk positions for end users and server applications, the full spate of basic CompTIA certs, and some significant Windows desktop and server skills and knowledge -- I came away from our encounter feeling like he was more interested in accentuating the negative and grousing about unpleasant or tiresome situations and experiences, rather than emphasizing the positive and projecting a pleasant and professional demeanor.
"Oh ho!" I found myself thinking "...his difficulties in landing a new position might be more a function of his focus on what he wants to avoid or doesn't like rather than trying to make himself look like a good catch in the hiring game." Sure, he did work his way through some tough situations, and had good reason to see himself as stuck in a rut in at least two points in his working history, but that doesn't mean he should dwell on such things. And it certainly means he shouldn't share them with prospective employers, or be too vocal about the negatives he's had to endure or fix during his working hours.
At most, he might mention a couple of semi-humorous and -self-deprecating anecdotes about such things to illustrate his resilience, problem-solving skills, and ongoing pluck in adverse situations. But there's no way he should get into detail about how some of his jobs have been no challenge, have not provided an opportunity for him to learn and exercise his skills, and how he really feels about working at a help desk and dealing daily with the ordinary run of sometimes clueless, sometimes petty and vindictive users.
Anyone who's looking for a way out of a tough situation would do well to recall and recount the things they like about their jobs, and to focus on the ways in which they have made a positive difference in the past and can continue to do so in the future. All that results from an "honest" sharing of pains and frustrations is the impression that one can be difficult and intolerant, and may not have the kind of thick skin and can-do attitude that people in service professions of all kinds (including IT) must learn to cultivate.
As my grandma used to say "If you can't say something nice, it's better to say nothing at all." That may not be a viable option during the process of hunting up a new job, but it's still best to steer clear of the reasons why you're leaving the old job, and to concentrate instead on the situation and circumstances you hope to find in a new one!