My recent move to UCL as a Digital Manager marks my fifth role in ten years.
I’ve gone from a freelance web editor in Leicester to an established digital professional via roles at LSE and the universities of London and Greenwich.
I’ve held most of these roles for around three years each. It’s only a 10-month stint at LSE that lowers the average. But five in a decade still feels uncomfortably high – almost trigger-happy.
I don’t flip roles lightly – I think that’s important. I kept my first weekend job for over two years, despite 7am starts and sacrificing Saturday football and most social opportunities in my late teens. The self-discipline felt important and the longevity felt good.
But things in the professional world turn out to be far more variable than that. My line of work is such that 2-3 years at a particular level gives you the experience for something more senior.
Maybe five roles in a decade is reasonable? It’s all contextual, and many would argue, why does it even matter?
It’s mostly that what strikes me now, looking round, is continuity.
Universities suit people who like continuity. They can be ideal workplaces for family people who have changing circumstances or need flexibility. The result of this is a mixture of career-hoppers like me and those that stick it out for decades.
Part of my career-hopping is down to urgency. After a career reboot in 2015, I’ve looked to fast-track my way up the ladder. The stakes are a little higher in London, where finding stability and getting on the housing ladder is horrendously expensive.
But having achieved some of these goals, that endless mental crusade is finally starting to wane.
And now that I take stock, I’m struck by the continuity that many of my oldest friends have achieved. Several have been at the same company or organisation for over a decade and developed themselves or worked their way up from within.
And this is hardly the easy route. Some have sat challenging industry exams or qualifications to advance. I wouldn’t envy that for a moment.
Now, there comes a question of identity and purpose. Is there more purpose in working intensely on big projects before then moving on? Or is there more value in setting foundations at an organisation – knowing the institution, its people, and its work inside out?
I think this will be an interesting challenge that emerges now – more so than just career goals.
I’ve been given an enviable amount of autonomy to shape this new role, even if the ability to make the kind of impact I’ve achieved in recent roles is quite thin. But the main value I bring will have been delivered in the first three years. I can already see the amber lights glowing.
So now, maybe, instead of seeing this as another countdown, I can anticipate an opportunity. Could I perhaps get seconded to other faculties to lead on the same types of work?
It will be interesting to see whether there is appetite for the kind of flexibility that will keep me engaged at the same place. Sometimes, the opportunity to shape the work you want to do is more important than earning more for doing the work you don’t want to do.
Sometimes, the whole point of recognising patterns is to acknowledge that they cannot keep going forever. Let’s see how this next chapter goes.