Careers in Flux: A Tale of Two IT Pros | Ladders

Careers in Flux: A Tale of Two IT Pros

Sometimes when you have to make a career move that feels like a step sideways, backward or down, you create an opportunity that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

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Richard Bird, 43, was on the IT fast track, with the position of CIO the brass ring. As a technical director for merger integration at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and then technical director for global banks at Citco, Bird was managing programs in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Then life — and the recession — happened. Bird was laid off from Citco. He was forced to take what felt like a step backward — taking a job as a an IT program manager at retailer Limited Brands. The position at the Limited, and the 60 percent pay cut, “didn’t reconcile well” with Bird’s career plans, but he said that his work experience allowed him to serve as an important resource to company executives.

But just as Bird was reconciling himself to this new lot in his professional life, he was laid off again. (“Last in, first out,” he said.)

Bird spent the next five months waiting for his next move “on the bench,” as he put it, before he got a call from one of his former employers, JPMorgan Chase. The firm wanted Bird back but could offer him only an associate project manager position — at a salary that would essentially mean another 30 percent cut in pay.

In many ways, Bird was lucky. Severance packages had left his family in decent shape financially, but his wife and four children “insisted” he go back to work. So he accepted the offer from JPMorgan Chase, “with no title and none of the trappings of my original job.”

What Bird didn’t realize at the time was that the circuitous and bumpy path he was taking would lead him to a different kind of success — and a different kind of life.

“This experience has been a gut-wrenching check on how I see myself and what kind of value I can generate,” Bird said.

With “no BlackBerry, no 24/7 [schedule] and no travel around the world,” Bird, of Delaware County, Ohio, has found the time to follow his dream of political office and is running for the Ohio House of Representatives. Bird said he is looking to apply his background and experience to serve his community and in turn bring this knowledge of citizens and their needs back to his employer.

Would Bird trade it all for the money and title of his earlier career? He was given just that opportunity, when JPMorgan Chase offered him a more senior job at substantially more pay. Bird turned it down, opting to remain in his current position. “It’s not the season nor the time for that now,” he said.

Bird sees his experience these last few years as creating an opportunity that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Your work will make way

Joseph Wells, 41, has seen his career take similar turns over the years. Wells started in the IT industry back in the mid-90s, and has gone through two cycles of layoffs. Each time, Wells was forced to take lower-level positions to pay the bills. As a result “my resume is about three pages long now. And that’s going over only seven to 10 years of work.”

Wells said he has tried the summary approach to resume writing but that it didn’t allow him to tell hiring managers what he could really do. Describing your experience explicitly, on the other hand, can make you look like a job-hopper if you’ve moved around, he said.

One hiring manager Wells dealt with told him his resume looked like Swiss cheese. “I was just trying to get my bills paid,” he said, “but the resume sent out all of the bells and whistles that this person is a job-hopper, not a keeper.”

With each job posting yielding 500 to 1,000 resumes, Wells said, it can be hard to explain individual circumstances. This is exacerbated by the fact that many IT jobs in Arizona, where Wells lives, are contract positions.

With little hope of attaining the kind of IT position he wanted, and with no option to move to an area in which the IT job market is in better shape, Wells, so — like Bird – he explored other avenues.

Wells is a certified teacher and has been working toward his MBA. One of the bright spots in this economy, Wells said, is the fact that money is being spent in support of adult education. He now plans to finish his MBA so that he can teach business courses to adults.

Bird and Wells had each reached a point in his career where “up” was not an option, and each took a different tack based on circumstances and need. Both men, however, recovered and landed in a spot that will serve as a launching pad for the next phase of their working lives.

Said Bird: “Your work will make a way for you.”

Debra Donston-Miller

Debra Donston-Miller Debra Donston-Miller covers work-life issues and difficult job-search situations for Ladders.

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