Handling a sudden end to an assignment
Every assignment has an end point. Some end in a euphoric high, with the outcomes delivered and all involved revelling in success, others are less fortunate and they end because key influencers move on, priorities change, budgets are cut, or someone decides that there’s better use for the resources elsewhere. Like many good ideas that never make it to the starting blocks, many that do don’t get to deliver everything that was originally envisaged.
So, when my projects or assignments ends suddenly, what should I do?
The first thing to recognise is that this is not that unusual. It’s not your fault, or anyone else’s fault. These things happen. It might be unexpected though, and an unwanted surprise, so you may feel anxious and unsettled. The certainty that you once had has gone and you’re now facing an uncertain next few months. So, firstly, don’t panic!
There are four steps that might help you make this experience a positive and worthwhile experience and a key ‘career moment’:
Here’s each step in a bit more detail.
Reflect on your assignment experience
In this anxious state don’t dwell negatively on the decision to stop the project, reflect on what you achieved in your time on the project, what you’ve learnt, what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, who you’ve met along the way, who helped you, what you would have done differently if you had your time again. Write it all down. Just because the project hasn’t achieved the stated aims, doesn’t mean there aren’t successes for the individuals and the project overall. Capture what you contributed and evidence of it. Taking your thoughts into words, pictures or some other record helps you both process your learning, and aids your ability to recall it at any time in the future.
Close with purpose
Whilst you reflect on your experience, you will face the practicalities of finishing the work, saying goodbye, moving offices, sites, or even home. All potentially challenging to deal with when it’s not the change you wanted to make. Nobody wants these things to happen to people suddenly, but sometimes they do.
So, whilst you may feel down as you progress through the known stages of change (see Change Curve above), through this period you have some emotional and relationship ‘capital’ to draw on. People are more likely to be willing to give you time and support you to move on and find your next assignment, but don’t abuse this. If asking for some of their time avoid catching them at their busiest moments, fit it around their schedule and make it as easy as possible to say ‘yes, of course’. Use this ‘capital’ carefully and it will create ‘career credits’ that can bring value to your next role and your future career. Close out all of your work professionally and with a smile and others will remember you for that. Make a point of stating that you want to keep you network live and that you want to stay in touch. Make sure you are connected to all those in your network through LinkedIn or other groups/channels/methods. Make a particular effort with those who might be a good contact or ‘mentor’ to maintain contact with for your future assignments.
Plan for your next steps
Take your reflections on this experience into your planning for your next assignment. Develop your story about what you enjoyed, learnt and achieved. Write it down. Practice telling it. Update your cv and LinkedIn profile to highlight the key aspects of the story.
Think about and describe the next chapter of that story. What would success look like in your next assignment that builds on the achievements in your last? What would the work involve to make it as exciting and challenging as the best parts of your last assignment? Develop your plan around a clear ambition. Break it down to key milestones (achievements, relationships, learning) and actions you’ll start to take now, tomorrow and in the next few weeks that will start to move you towards these milestones.
Don’t wait around for someone else to take the initiative or for someone to present your ideal next assignment on a plate. Go out there and find it. It is more likely to come from one of your friends, colleague and contacts than it is from a total stranger, so get your story out there. Keep exploring your areas of interest, talk to others who share those interests and seek them out in other new networks. Volunteer for things that get you into new areas, doing new things and meeting new people. Through these connections you’ll find more opportunities in your interest spot that waiting for a recruiter to find you. For more on building proactive habits see https://bit.ly/2eBxNzY. Whilst doing this, be mindful of colleagues who may be in the same situation. Get to know them and share ambitions. Collaborative searches can be far more productive than hunting alone. And, finally, remember you’re more experienced now than you were before you started this project, if it takes time to find the next assignment, stay patient and keep your morale high. Make sure the next opportunity builds on your last and takes you in the direction of your career ambitions.
Through mastering these stages, you will not only position yourself well to quickly find your next assignment but will also have had a valuable career experience in dealing with knock-backs. You will become more resilient to face similar circumstance in your future.
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