Q: I was part of a mom-and-pop dot-com that grew quickly into a multimillion-dollar operation and was acquired by a much bigger company last year. I now run the sales and customer-service department for the merged companies. I oversee close to 50 employees, and my department has achieved more than we thought our systems could even handle. That means I'm succeeding in a bigger job at a bigger company, and I have a bright future.
Still, I'm uncomfortable. In the old company, I liked being able to make quick decisions and be involved in everything from marketing to employee relations. Now that I only manage one department, I feel I'm stagnating. Further, I'm not happy with the new corporate culture, which is so thick with politics I'm afraid to go on vacation.
Do you think I should stay where I am unless things get really bad? If not, how do I look for work? One more thing: My resume reflects my successes of the past three years, but it also reflects some time "sowing my oats" in my younger years. Will that hurt me?
-- M.R., Miami
A:Let's get one thing off the table fast. Don't worry about "the oats thing," as the elder George Bush might say. "If we can elect a President who fits that description, this guy can get a job," says Peg Neuhauser, co-author of Culture.com (John Wiley, 2000), which charts the culture changes that occur as companies modernize.
As for your bigger problem, our experts are sympathetic. You sound like a prime candidate for frustration, says Mary Cianni, a senior consultant at Towers Perrin and co-author of Making Mergers Work (Business One, 1987). You thrived in the old system, and that system worked so well, it's hard for you to see any point in the changes. Indeed, our experts have seen many mergers collapse under the weight of culture clashes because, they say, executives often pay more attention to uniting their phone systems than their staffs.
Still, although the sources we consulted are as one in their conviction that no one should remain in a job they dislike, they also advise you to refrain from scheduling your exit interview just yet.
"STICK IT OUT."
For one thing, times are tough for dot-coms, notes Mike Sweeny, managing director of project staffing at T. Williams Consulting, a Philadelphia recruiting firm. "My personal opinion is that unless there's something out there that just knocks his socks off, he should stick it out where he is for now," he says. "He has to watch that he doesn't go to a company that goes under in two months."
Perhaps more important, the new order just may have a few things to teach you, says Cianni of Towers Perrin. And though you have the big-company blues -- defined as depression over office politics and lumbering bureaucracy -- she advises you to take a moment and recognize what the new company can offer you, including more responsibility, a better chance for advancement, and perhaps, in the long run, a more interesting variety of jobs.
To make your stay more bearable, try to divine the new pecking order so you can safely take your problems to someone who can help you, Cianni says. The company should want to keep a competent person like you, so your bosses may offer some accommodations if you let them know you're less than satisfied.
If after you try all else, you find you're too unhappy and need to go job shopping, Neuhauser says, be clear on what you want more of and what you want less of. Her hunch is you're looking for the kind of adrenaline high you found in the fast-paced dot-com world. When you talk to other companies, get them to tell you what she calls their "corporate legend and lore." The details may not be exactly true, she says, but the way a company views itself speaks volumes about its operations style. Another big tip-off is humor. "If you don't get their sense of humor and they don't get yours, that's a bad sign," she says.
Also, given how tough the dot-com market is, network carefully. Limit your job inquiries only to people you know and trust, Sweeny says. He recommends you check out www.localbusiness.com, a good place to monitor business activity and job opportunities.
In the meantime, try to make a home for yourself where you are. Maybe a new photo of friends or family for your desk?
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H.J. Cummins has covered workplace, personal-finance, and work and family issues for more than a decade at Newsday/New York Newsday and the Minneapolis Star Tribune