How Executives Are Embracing Career Change During COVID

How Executives Are Embracing Career Change During COVID

From the Great Resignation to the Great Reset: Insights from BlueSteps Director of Executive Career Services Simeon Wong

Simeon Wong

The ‘great resignation’ of lower and mid-level workers leaving their jobs at unprecedented rates is a startling event for employers worldwide. C-suites and the VP ranks are not immune from the trend—executives are reevaluating what they want to do going forward and a not insignificant number are considering a career change. AESC discussed possible drivers and outcomes for today’s executives considering a career change with executive coach Simeon Wong, who leads executive career services for AESC’s BlueSteps.


AESC: Is the ‘great resignation’ affecting employees at the highest levels? What trends do you see among your clients?

SIMEON WONG: Out of more than 500 conversations with executive coaching clients, I’d estimate that about 30-40% are looking for a career change or more precisely, a ‘career reset.’ These are established leaders at the VP executive-level or above who want to do something new, something different.

AESC: What do you mean by ‘career reset?’

WONG: The reset happens when executives look over their careers and their lives and want to ensure that they have been able to provide value. It isn't just about good products and services and making the company more money. That's all externally-based success; that's what the world tells you about value. The mindset shift in a reset is not so much about building a career as it is about building a legacy, leaving behind something that's meaningful—that can get wrapped up in their career journey on a resume, that can be expressed in a biography. If I were to summarize it, it's not so much resetting their careers or reinventing themselves as an entrepreneur; it’s this: whatever they need to do next, they want to make sure that it taps into something that means a lot to them beyond the technical aspects of their work. When you're north of 55, the next thing you’d normally do is do more of the same, lead a more senior team, get a better title, get better pay. If that’s not what means a lot to you, maybe you need to invest some time thinking about what does, and that may lead to a career change.

AESC: By what measure are these executives evaluating their impact? What are their expectations, later in their careers?

WONG: Imagine your whole life has been assessed by performance indicators that are all related to a bottom line, but nothing about the real stuff, the ‘people around your bed when you're about to die,’ stuff. One can only do so much in a career. You can’t take your degrees to your grave, and leaders are asking themselves what have they accomplished? How will they be remembered? Everyone wants to be great, but now it's different. Executives who have achieved their goals on the corporate ladder have shown some degree of greatness. Now, they are asking is there something more that I can do? They fundamentally have to shift their definition of success.

AESC: What’s driving so many executives to consider a career change, or a career reset?

WONG: In most cases it has nothing to do with the company. These executives are just simply reflecting on what have they done with their lives. Either there was something they always wanted to do but never got around to doing it, or they intrinsically want to do something with deep, personal meaning. COVID has been an opportunity to reflect on that. It could be focusing on one part of their careers that they love—innovation, leadership, strategy, for example. Sometimes that means changing companies or changing industries or becoming an entrepreneur. COVID has afforded them the time to think about that, as well as the difficult questions about the risks of a career change—will I have to give up my lifestyle? What are the implications? When a client asks, ‘where do I go from here?,’ that sounds like a reset question. If they come in and say, ‘I just want to get up the corporate ladder and become an EVP and do more of the same and get paid more,’ we can definitely help them, but that’s not a career reset.

AESC: How do you begin to advise executives thinking about a career change?

WONG: It’s a process. To begin, we dig into their skills, passion, and impact. What are you good at? What makes you happy, excited or fulfilled in that work, and why? And where can your skills make a difference? Another conversation is about conviction—a person’s non-negotiables. All these things are much harder conversations than they might appear. They can lead to some serious and very constructive reflection. That forms a foundation, and from there the client can start setting goals.

AESC: What is the role of an Executive Coach?

WONG: There are two pieces of executive coaching. As a BlueSteps advisor, we help with the resume, the cover letter, positioning executive candidates for a role, and refining their digital presence, for example on LinkedIn. We talk about how to look into the camera in a virtual interview, how to acknowledge every person who is there; all very tactical stuff, which helps candidates tremendously. At BlueSteps we also help executives identify what they really want and chart their unique course to get there. What we as executive coaches can do better is remind people that it's okay to reset, to change careers. There is an opportunity for leaders right now to reconsider their value, reconsider what they love to do, reconsider whether they are having the impact that they want to have. BlueSteps supports executives in realigning their goals with their values and building a compelling professional brand that supports achieving them. Everyone wants to know they've made a difference, that they belong somewhere, that they've had value. The key to coaching people looking for a reset, or a career change is identifying what it is that matters most to them, what contribution they want to make, and then helping them achieve their aspirations.

For executives looking for help navigating their own career change, or who just want to be more visible for executive & board-level opportunities, AESC’s BlueSteps service can help.