How to leave corporate life – and still have a career – Part one

Woman communicating at work featuredOne of the most surprising things that female former colleagues said to me after I left corporate life to go freelance was, “You’re so brave, what’s it like?”.

I had thought, incorrectly, that the reason they still worked for the global corporation I left was because they enjoyed it. Not so.

There’s all manner of reasons that we stay in a corporate even after it’s lost its shine: being financially geared thanks to large mortgages, expensive cars and school fees; lack of confidence; a fear of the unknown. While male colleagues seemed to flit with ease between organisations (a classic technique being to leave the business to work for a competitor before being rehired at a much higher grade), the women who spoke to me – so it seemed – were more cautious and perhaps a little bit ‘stuck’.

So how can we take greater control when we want to exit corporate life, but still want a fulfilling, well-paid career? Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing what’s worked for me. Let’s start with:

Five things to do before you resign

1.    Do your numbers

Sitting on a fat salary completely divorces you from reality. Go through your bank statements and give yourself a wake-up call on what you really spend. This will help you establish what you need to earn and what’s non-negotiable. I didn’t need to spend £600 per month on a car. I did need to earn enough to cover the nursery fees.

2.    Speak to someone you trust and admire

For me it was an interim manager who had successfully run a few businesses and did an incredible job of being highly effective without fitting the ‘corporate mould’. He talked me through the types of freelance consultants he’d hired in the past, talked honestly about day rates and helped me consider how to position the value I had to offer. And then he gave me this piece of advice:

3.    Ask people external to the business if they would hire you

This is not about saying “have you got a job for me?”, this is a grown up, no pressure conversation where you can explore what the market’s like and begin to alert people to the fact that you might become available. My positioning was “I’m considering making a move, if I were available on a freelance basis, would you hire me?” It’s through conversations like these that you’ll get honest feedback, nuggets of information and access to opportunities.

4.    Make sure your LinkedIn profile is working for you

It goes without saying that you need to have a professional headshot and an up to date bio. Assuming that you’re not planning on leaving your job in the next week, use LinkedIn’s incredible ability to build your presence for free. Write articles, post updates, make a conscious effort to engage with people. Unlike Facebook, I have found LinkedIn to be a pretty decent place to join or create a conversation without histrionics, trolls or scams.

5.    Calculate your worth

The hierarchy present in many corporates can make it difficult to understand your value in an individual context. How you feel about what you have to offer can depend upon the opinion or quality of your manager and corporate culture may well dampen some of the values you’d naturally bring to the fore. Think about the knowledge you hold, the projects you’ve delivered, the reasons you were hired in the first place. All of these things make you valuable. My realisation was that the knowledge I took for granted and the speed at which I naturally operate was highly valuable to others.

There’s never a ‘right time’

Like with a lot of things in life, if you wait for the ‘right time’, it will probably never come. I was extremely nervous about leaving a career I’d worked so hard to build and an organisation I had wanted so desperately to work for. But a series of wake up calls pointed me towards the hard fact that not only can life be very short, it can also be long and desperately unhappy. I took a conscious decision that whether I was here for another 20 days or 20 years I owed it to myself to find out what life was like outside the corporate walls – and if you’ve got the itch to get out, then so do you.

In my next post I’ll be talking about how to resign well.

About the author

Toni KentToni Kent is an experienced writer and performer who is trusted by large corporate IT organisations to represent their business leaders and brands through a mixture of ghost writing, coaching and motivational speaking.

With twenty years of experience in technology and as an advocate for women supporting women, Toni is frequently booked by Women in Business networks and organisations that want to promote gender parity. With lived experience of how work transforms the life prospects of women from disadvantaged backgrounds, she is proud to be the official event compere for Smart Works Reading – an organisation that helps women return to the workplace via free interview coaching and work-appropriate clothing.

Toni is also a columnist for Berkshire Life and has written three books of humorous reflections on what it means to be a woman: Reasons to be Cheerful Parts One and Two and I Need a Wife. Her books are all available via Amazon.

You can follow Toni on Twitter and LinkedIn at @tonijkent


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