Should I start looking for another job?

Q: I am a mechanical engineer working in operations for an early-stage medical diagnostic company.

Th Mchang

Q:I am a mechanical engineer working in operations for an early-stage medical diagnostic company. The company is encountering delays in getting the next round of financing and I am unable to work collaboratively with the key technologists. I wonder if I should be looking for another job.

A: Getting VC funding at this time is difficult, if not impossible, unless the company and the technology are really outstanding and the management is willing to take a big hit in valuation. You should not hesitate to broach the subject with senior management to get a feel for whether funding is likely to occur.

It is possible that you and the people in development are not getting along because the company was a bit ahead of itself in hiring you. As you know, operations people are needed in a medical diagnostic company only when the product is getting close to FDA submission and in preparation for product launch. The information you need from the development engineers may feel like a bother to them when they are knee deep in “fighting alligators.”

There is inherent job instability working for medical start-up companies. A lot of people are needed during the product development phase, and then comes the arduous FDA approval cycle. Layoffs become inevitable because the company can’t afford to have people idle while waiting for the approval. So you may still have one more crisis to face.

Work diligently to get to the bottom of this issue because the conflict could also be due to a lack of effective communication. If the problem is communication, you may want to find out why there are differences of opinion and learn to be assertive without being aggressive. I highly recommend the book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher et al. to help refine your communication skills.

I am also a firm believer of “fit” in an organization. If all else fails, it is time to move on; there’s no point in banging your head against the wall. You don’t want to leave your job precipitously at this time because the job market is tough out there. Give yourself plenty time to explore options and go through a strategic planning exercise to optimize your career. You may just be able to turn the problem into an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Q:I am two years out of college and unable to land a job after being laid off almost three months ago. Any suggestions would be appreciated.It is obvious that you have to intensify the search by looking at all the options. Now that you have worked a couple of years and know your real interests this could also be an opportunity to reinvent yourself to get you there.

A: Consider going back to school to gain a specialization. It is difficult for a generalist to compete in a tough job market. At times like these, you are competing at a disadvantage with specialists and people with more experience, no matter which job you apply for. It is a fact of life that we have to constantly evolve in this rapidly changing world.

Getting an advanced degree is not the only way to become a specialist, but it is the most direct way, and getting into a school is more directly under your control than landing a job that would provide on-the-job training.

Consider also take on a less glamorous or a job that enables you to “compete down.” For example, you can excel in manufacturing, whereas you may be competing with a lot of smart folks in R&D with impressive credentials. If all else fails, you may want to take on a voluntee job to dress up your resume so it won’t have a big gap, which may make you look like “damaged goods.” Volunteering at one of our professional societies may also allow you to network with leaders of our industry and further your career.


Th Mchang
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MILTON CHANG is managing director of Incubic Venture Fund, which invests in photonics applications. He was CEO/president of Newport and New Focus, and currently sits on the boards of Precision Photonics and OpVista. He holds a B.S. degree from the U. of Illinois and a Ph.D. from Caltech. He is a Fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA, a former president of LEOS and LIA, recipient of Distinguished Alumni Awards from both universities, serves on the board of trustees of Caltech, and is a member of the Committee of 100. Visit www.incubic.com for other articles he has written.

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