Are You Happy? Or Are You Really Just Scared?

Are You Happy? Or Are You Really Just Scared?

What I love about my job as “headhunter” is the daily interaction I have with civil engineering professionals across the United States discussing their careers.  I love learning about the projects they are working on, all they have accomplished, and what motivates them. I love hearing about their kids or activities they enjoy outside of work.  I also enjoy “the chase.” That is, networking my way through local civil engineering communities in order to uncover the right candidates for my clients.  When people ask me about my job as a recruiter, I tell them it is a tough job…in fact, it’s really hard!  On a daily basis, I navigate the waters of rejection regularly getting smacked in the face by the waves, but I keep paddling until a great candidate rises to the surface, and that makes all the rejection worthwhile.

As I engage with civil engineers over the phone, often times the conversations are concluded (for the time being, anyway 🙂 ) because the candidate who I am dangling the carrot in front of informs me that he is “happy” where he is right now, and as a result, not interested in exploring anything new at this time.  The conversation carries on and we share contact information and I move along to the next call, but often times I wonder to myself,  ‘is that lady/gentleman really happy, or are they really just scared? ‘ 

Let’s take a look at some of the fears that may be masked as happiness, and quickly address them:

  • The fear of disappointing / letting down one’s boss/team
    No one likes disappointing people, but please don’t think that if your boss, one of your peers, or one of the younger engineers that you are mentoring was presented an opportunity that would advance his/her career that they would not pounce on it, or at the very least consider it.


  • The fear of walking away in the middle of a project / letting a client down
    I get it.  You are in the midst of a project and you believe that walking away will adversely affect your relationship with a client or may cause a delay in the completion of the project, or at the very least inconvenience your boss.  Valid concerns.  If the project is one that you believe is a major “resume builder” or “feather in your cap” from a career perspective it may be worthwhile to stick around.  But the reality is, if your company is humming along, you will ALWAYS be in the middle of a project, so there is never a perfect time to leave.  And if you have a good relationship with your client and talk to them about your decision, they should be happy/excited for you that you are advancing your career.  At the end of the day, your departure will likely be nothing more than a bump in the road; your employer will replace you, or until they do they will find a way to manage.   They are not going to go out of business, nor will they lose the project.  As long as you commit yourself to fully transitioning the project, or your tasks, to those who will be taking over everything will be just fine.  Really.


  • The fear of failing
    In the face of fear, it is amazing what one can accomplish. Think about it.


  • The fear of a new work environment/culture
    You don’t know what you don’t know, right?  I’ve spoken to many civil engineers who have been with just one employer, and they believe their “way” is the best way.  Their “way” may be a good way, but if you have nothing to compare it to you really just don’t know.  So make like Dora and explore!  Go through the interview process from time-to-time, ask the poignant questions, talk to other people about their experiences with their employer and keep an open mind…you may just like what you hear!


  • The “last-one-in-is-the-first-one-out” fear
    I would like to debunk this myth right off the bat.  If you come in, do a bang-up job, exceed expectations by generating new revenue, or achieving high utilization, or consistently producing a high-quality product, as a business owner I’m keeping you.  Loyalty is tough to overcome, yes, but good business leaders make good business decisions, and if your efforts and contributions are outpacing your peers you should feel comfortable and confident that if there is an impending RIF your employer would be crazy to let you go.  Not to say that from time-to-time really good employees do not get the short-end-of-the-stick, but if you regularly perform at levels that outpace your peers you should not fret.


I realize you may get approached a few times a month by colleagues, clients, or recruiters, and obviously you cannot respond affirmatively to each and every overture, but from time-to-time be sure to take a step back and take a hard look at where you are with your career and where you want to be, and don’t mistake fear for happiness.


Matt Barcus
President :: Precision Executive Search, Inc.


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