In our quest to create new ideas and strive for what's next, one thing gets lost in the evolutionary life cycle for companies, products and even employees: finishing well. We've become really adept at starting, and often inept at finishing.
Over my 15-year career in the online world (yes, the Internet actually existed in 1994, we just didn't tell anyone about it), I've seen the rise and fall of more great ideas, can't-miss companies and promising careers than I can remember. I certainly understand this phenomenon isn't unique to the Internet industry, as progress has never stood still for anyone or anything even before we knew what a smart phone was -- or any phone, for that matter. While the technology and the companies change over time, one thing that remains constant in the equation of any industry is people.
Careers used to be defined by longevity, loyalty and perseverance even when faced with economic downturns and industry changes. My father-in-law worked for the same company from the day he graduated from college until the day he retired nearly 40 years later. 40 years in one company -- seriously. In my experience, four years at an Internet company would be extraordinary. One Internet year can roughly equate to 10 years in the traditional careers of our parents, kind of like digital dog years.
The point of all this is that our constant churn of employers moving from one company to the next means that we are regularly faced with the opportunity to choose how we finish.
Last Friday, Amy Auerbach and Jason Krebs' Online Publishing Insider column addressed the problems one can have in the sales process when a contact at an important client or prospective customer leaves the company. What about the other side of that equation, though? What does this look like from the perspective of the person leaving the company? How can they finish well?
When I recently left my previous employer, one of the first items on my agenda was to reach out to all of the partners, vendors, colleagues and friends that I had worked with over the past four years. I wanted to thank them for the time they had spent working with me, helping me achieve the objectives critical to my success and the success of the company I worked for. I also provided information for their new point of contact after I was gone along with my new contact information. I made sure to position my previous employer in a positive light on the way out and was truly grateful for the opportunity that the company had provided me during my four years there.
While this wasn't necessary, and possibly not an option for everyone depending on the terms they leave under, it serves a number of purposes. First, it benefits the company you are leaving. I'm a firm believer in not burning bridges. Positioning yourself in a positive light on the way out can have long-term benefits down the road. Second, it maintains contact with the partners you've spend years cultivating and solidifies your professional network. Third, you build positive capital in the hiring marketplace when prospective employers begin to dig into your previous jobs, seeking feedback from past colleagues or researching your social media history.
So, before you make another leap to chase your next life-changing career opportunity (that will probably last about two years), consider how you are going to finish. It could just turn out to be instrumental in opening doors in the future and provide the building blocks for starting the next chapter in your career.