Adaptability in the Workplace: The Key to a Successful Career Journey

By Robert Half March 6, 2019 at 12:30pm

By Diane Domeyer

Throughout your career, you won’t have one single “career path.” As your goals, ambitions and priorities change over time, new paths will form and wind together into what I like to call your career journey. These paths can be a result of organizational change (your company reorganized or was acquired), professional change (you gained valuable new skills or earned a promotion), unexpected change (you faced a layoff) or a change in your personal life (you relocated or had to attend to family priorities). From my own experiences, I’ve learned that adaptability in the workplace is one of the best things you can embrace to build a successful and engaging career journey.

Over the 25-plus years I’ve been with Robert Half, my role within the organization has changed more times than I can count. When I first started, I was a finance and accounting recruiter in Iowa. I have been able to work in five different divisions at Robert Half, both facing customers and a part of corporate strategy, and I’m currently the executive director of The Creative Group, our creative and marketing staffing business. 

Many of the detours on my career journey were motivated by personal life changes and emerging opportunities in the business. The net result has been a very fulfilling career that didn’t follow a traditional “career path,” but has allowed me to respond to personal changes while continuing to grow and make meaningful contributions.

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Trying to do it all at once

As both a company leader and a mother of five, one of my goals has been to help other female professionals develop and grow in their careers, while responding to unique challenges we face in our lives. I remember one colleague I mentored, who was going to be a first-time mom. When she and I met, her first question was, "How do you find work-life balance and both develop your career and focus on motherhood?" I wanted to smile and share a secret formula, but I was honest with her – I didn’t have one. 

So many times, it feels like something is giving and “off balance.” It wasn’t until I realized that you must let go of the idea of a 50/50 balance and make constant adjustments based on your current priorities to feel like you’re succeeding. Instead of trying to do it all at once, focus on adaptability in the workplace and in your personal life, too. As your career develops, so will your priorities and goals, and it’s important to adjust to those shifts. 

As a professional, especially one with children, work may take priority at certain points and you'll have to dedicate your time there, while at other times, family life will take precedence. I've experienced this myself many times. 

Early in my career and when I was pregnant with my first child, I was presented an offer to lead and expand one of the company’s newer business lines. The position required relocation and significant travel, but it was a great opportunity. While it was a difficult decision to make, it aligned with my professional goals at the time. My husband and support system were able to help make it a reality, and I accepted the position. Although we made personal sacrifices, we gained new experiences along the way, too.

Recognizing your opportunities and taking a risk

I have always prescribed to a “see a need, fill a need” philosophy, even when the dynamics of my personal life changed. Over the next decade, my journey and priorities shifted as my family was growing. Although my career was still important to me, I needed to swing the balance back toward more time with my family and reduce travel.

At that time, the organization was facing a significant business transformation. So, I wrote a job description and pitched the idea of heading up the company’s new Technology and Digital Strategy division. The role filled a need and required less time traveling. As a result, I was able to pursue internal opportunities and develop my professional skills in a new area, while focusing more on my family.

An important part of focusing on adaptability in the workplace is being okay with where you're dedicating your time and energy. And if you're not okay with it, you need to find a way to change what you're doing. Maybe that means you need to find a new path – or even a pause – in your career to accommodate those changes, and it's time to have a discussion with your manager.

Is there a need at your company, where you can help expand the business, your skills or earn a promotion, all while creating more adaptability in your personal life, too? If you can find an existing opportunity for yourself, that’s great. And if not, don’t hesitate to work with your boss to try to create a new one. Seeing a need and filling that need within your organization shows determination, leadership skills and creativity – and it could make your work and personal life that much more enjoyable. If neither of these options are available to you, maybe it’s time to consider making a move outside your company.

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Adapting and reprioritizing your goals

In hindsight, I can say with confidence that you have to negotiate those pivot points with a leap of faith, recognizing that there are opportunities where you can do meaningful work or pause completely for personal reasons. In the scheme of your whole career, a few years isn’t a lot of time. So focus on what decision is best for you now, because in a few years, you’ll likely have different opportunities arise and priorities will shift again, like they did for me.

When my children were older and I could afford to travel more often again, I wanted to take on a new challenge. Due to an increased need for talent in the creative industry, The Creative Group was growing and had opportunities to expand its service offerings, and I raised my hand to lead that business for Robert Half. Since that time, I have been able to ignite and feed a passion for creativity and design both personally and with those that we serve, while also expanding my impact on the company and the community at large.  

While many may relate to my story, you don't need to be a mother or a parent to experience these shifts in your career. Everyone has personal priorities that will require adaptability in the workplace; a move to a new city, a partner’s career changes, an aging parent or an illness can all cause a pause or reprioritization of your goals and ambitions. No matter where your priorities shift, if you access your personal compass of what’s important to you and have a view toward where you can contribute and adapt accordingly, trust that you'll make smart career decisions that will pay off in the long run.

Diane Domeyer is executive director of The Creative Group. When she’s not managing operations for TCG’s locations across North America, you can find her on a bike or spending time with her husband, five kids and grandchildren. 

As a 25-year veteran in the staffing industry, Domeyer is a noted career and workplace expert. She has spoken at events such as Adobe MAX and HOW Design Live and has been interviewed by publications such as Adweek, Business News Daily and Fast Company. Domeyer was recently named to Staffing Industry Analysts’ 2018 “Global Power 150 – Women In Staffing” list and was awarded “Forever Influential” status on the San Francisco Business Times’ “Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business” list.

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