Negotiating the Fork-in-the-Road Moments

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: November 5, 2014

How was your day at work today?

Odds are, it was pretty routine. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this on a Monday or Tuesday or Friday, chances are that you did mostly the same thing… answered a bunch of emails (that looked like the same emails you answered last week), went to some meetings, talked to your boss about that project, and maybe met with some clients. Routine.

The problem with having a hamster-wheel routine, is that you look back in a few months or a few years and find that you’re stuck doing the same exact thing every single day.

However, if you ask a mentor or an older professional to look back at their career and explain their success, they will often point to just a few fork-in-the-road moments that made all the difference. If you’re too caught up in the grind, you might miss them. But if you’re attuned to looking for these opportunities, they can serve as a slingshot to career success. Let me give you several examples.

I recently saw a conference panel that featured Jeff Glueck, the COO of Foursquare. He talked about the May 2014 spinoff of their primary app into a new one called Swarm, which will handle check-ins, while the Foursquare app will be focused on discovery. This was a pretty significant move, as it went against the long-ingrained thoughts of what most consumers thought Foursquare was.

When asked if he lost any employees during the transition, I believe he responded “a few,” but emphasized that the rest of the team was incredibly motivated and focused on this new vision, and that there was a renewed energy within the company.

This is an example of a fork-in-the-road moment. If you were an employee there, you had a decision to make. After pouring your heart into one direction for several years, this new plan might seem like an abrupt change. If the new mission doesn’t line up with your values, perhaps now is the perfect time to change course, find a new gig, and hopefully negotiate a higher salary.

However, if you’re on board with the new vision, it’s also a huge opportunity. Since so many people are resistant to change, if you fully embrace it, it could be the perfect chance to provide extensive input and push for a raise or promotion. And while losing an employee is most often viewed as a bad thing, that’s not necessarily the case for Foursquare (or any company). Better to have a focused team all rowing in the same direction, as opposed to spending energy convincing the non-believers in their future plans.

I’ve experienced this first-hand. A company I once worked with went through a pretty big re-organization. Not only was our department moving to a new group under new managers, but we’d have different responsibilities and even be physically changing to a new location in a different building. While my co-workers had their doubts – as did I – I refused to let them bring me down with negative thinking. I said I was going to give this new structure every chance to succeed, and throw myself into the change with a positive attitude. It was a fork-in-the-road moment.

How did it work out? After months of build-up, it was a bad sign that our VP was nowhere to be found when the day of the big move finally arrived. They had already decided to move in another direction starting that day. There were about 5 of us with the same title, managing different properties. Within 6 months, one gave their notice to move to a more lucrative job, one joined a startup to have more freedom, one made the leap to a well-deserved VP position, and I started my own business. While the new structure clearly wasn’t conducive to senior-level professionals, it opened up fork-in-the-road opportunities for lower level managers to get promoted, ask for a higher salary, take on more responsibility, and step into their shoes.

What’s interesting is that your priorities change depending on the stage of your career you’re in when a fork-in-the-road moment hits. I recently worked with two clients that illustrate this fact.

Susan was mostly happy in her job, but a little concerned that several key employees had recently left her company. A married mother of two in her 30s, she received an opportunity with one key component: the job was much, much closer to her home. The other factors were important… she was ready for a change, I helped her negotiate a $15,000 pay increase, and the new company was well-known, but she felt a little guilty about leaving.

But then she told me, “Jobs that are located nearby without having to fight traffic into the city are few and far between. This will significantly cut down on my commute, reduce my stress level, and give me a lot more time to spend with my children. There’s no way I can pass this up.”

Susan then referred me to Jill, who was in her early 20s and worked for her. While Jill was really disappointed that her boss was leaving, she was having her own fork-in-the-road moment herself. With 2 years of experience and now the most senior person in the group, she recognized this as an opportunity to go to management and lobby that she take over Susan’s position.

While getting a raise was important, her priorities were different. She knew that at this early stage in her career, it was a key opportunity to prove her leadership capabilities and get an increase in title. Showing a jump in responsibility on her resume at such an early stage of her career would set her up for bigger and better things down the line.

So, how was your day at work today? Was it just another day, or was there an opportunity for a fork-in-the-road moment?

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