How to Get Back on Track After a Career Detour

It happens.

The job that was supposed to work out well, doesn’t.

You parachute out of that job to take another that is not on the road map to a successful career .

Somewhere between Point A and Point C you got detoured to Point Z.

Can you get back on the right road?

Maybe; here’s an example of somebody who got detoured and how they got back on track.

Men’s collegiate basketball coach Steve Alford (college coaches, in case you haven’t noticed, are big business – Alford’s new contract is for $18.2M for 7 years) is a great illustration of a career that started well, detoured, and has gotten back on track in the fast lane.

Alford was an All-American basketball player at Indiana University, the heartland of boy’s and men’s basketball. He played for the legendary Bob Knight, led the Indiana Hoosiers to a national championship, and played on the Olympic gold medalist team with Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. Knight described Alford’s graduation and departure from IU this way: ”If you were married to Miss America and she walked out, how would you feel?

It was tremendously hard work, lots of sweat, and yet there’s another word that get’s associated with Alford’s life; charmed.

Alford turned to coaching college after a brief pro career and following successful stints as head coach at two colleges he was hired to coach at the University of Iowa.

The glory days of Iowa men’s basketball were in the 1950′s, and the team last reached the Final Four in 1980. Alford never got them back, and resigned in 2007 – most likely before he got fired – and took the head coaching job at the University of New Mexico.

New Mexico can be politely as the land of detours rather than the land of enchantment if your earlier stint was coaching in the more prestigious Big Ten. Alford six years marked the highest winning percentage of any coach in the history of the school’s men’s basketball program.

When UCLA, formerly one of the most storied programs in the country but struggling of late, came calling in a surprise move, Alford jumped.

Cut to the chase: So how do you jump back from a career detour?

  1. Performance counts; Alford’s teams won at New Mexico, which put him on the radar for consideration elsewhere.
  2. Be ready to jump. Alford had agreed but not executed a 10-year contract extension. When the path to get your career back on track presents itself, be ready to say “yes.”
  3. The path back may not be perfect. Great schools, like great employers can be choosy about who they hire. The UCLA program had just fired Ben Holland, and it’s seen as a program trying to return to glory before it gets eclipsed; in other words, a proud fixer-upper.
  4. You likely only get one shot to get back on track. If Alford bombs at UCLA he’s headed back to the New Mexico’s of the world; OK programs but not considered elite schools.

So you can get back on track after a career detour. Work hard, do well, and recognize that the road to a comeback may not be covered with roses.

Guest author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better.

Detour image courtesy of Shutterstock

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