When Job Opportunities Knock: Do You Take the Unexpected?

“When a great adventure is offered, you don’t refuse it,” trailblazing aviator Amelia Earhart suggested.

The same can be said about that unexpected job opportunity that surfaces; the one that you didn’t foresee, is off the planned career arc and yet you find intriguing.

Take it or punt? Kick the heart-racing-intrigue down the road until you’re “ready” or take a flyer and pursue it.

You intellectually know that there are no guarantees for any path you choose. And if you have any doubt about the concept of a “safe career choice,” just ask  any law partner from a firm who has been dumped, or seen major cost cutting initiatives sweep through the profession as legal services gets their own up-close and personal look at cost-cutting that’s hit just about everyone else in the business world.

A rule of thumb, particularly if mouths to feed extend beyond just yours, is to stick with the path you’re on.  Work that career route and the rules that define it. But as Mike Krzyzewski notes, “The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions.”

The fact of the matter is that you really don’t know if taking that unexpected opportunity is the dumb or smart thing to do. The only thing you do know is that if it appears to be a valid opportunity - a real job - than it’s something that I’d encourage people many times to consider.

When not to listen to that unexpected offer? When you’ve just taken a new role and owe yourself (and maybe your employer and colleagues) some real time in the new job. Or if you’re in an interim role with hopes of getting the role on a fulltime basis, avoid sending conflicting messages by entertaining the unexpected offer unless you’re ready to leave.

Innovation and design strategy colleague and IDEO alum John Rehm, who moved back to Portland from Singapore last year with an intent to make the Rose City his fulltime home (again), recently dropped me a note that perfectly captured the quandry that “opportunity knocking“  can provide.

John wrote, “I’m writing from Kuala Lumpur, where I’ve had an amazing two weeks of workshops and experiences with social entrepreneurs and NGOs from across Asia [while doing work with a Portland-based organization]. The other amazing thing has been that while I have not been seeking work, work has been seeking me here. I have never quite experienced anything like it and the options in front of me are both gratifying and worrisome at the same time.”

John’s decision, which professionally seems like a pretty smart move for him, is to take the unexpected opportunity and to return to Asia to run a design project in Singapore for well respected architectural firm Ong & Ong. Is it life in Portland raising a garden complete with chickens? No. But is it a great opportunity that seemed to have his name on it. Portland can wait, at least for awhile.

Katharine Hepburn said that “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”

I’d add that if you obey all the rules, you may miss all the opportunities.

Author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better. Over the past 25 years as a senior business executive, J. Mike has worked with Fortune 500 companies such as Genentech, AT&T, and Visa. You can learn more about J. Mike at Life Back West.

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