Anton van Rossum 

11 February

K.R. asks:

Just over a year ago, after a career of more than 10 years doing chip design at semiconductor companies, I switched to a customer-interfacing technical position in the industry. Although the technology hasn’t stopped fascinating me, I find that my qualities aren’t sufficiently utilized when I’m only sitting in front of a screen.

Being in contact with other people is always very inspiring to me, especially with people in high tech. However, such roles are rare in the part of the country where I live. I was therefore very enthusiastic when I got the opportunity at a renowned international company. The position seemed to fit me perfectly.

For a year, I did the job with great pleasure – I learned something new every day. I got along with my boss, although I didn’t see him often because he spent a lot of time abroad. I also had a great working relationship with my colleagues.

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A few months ago, my manager was given a new position at the head office and I got a new supervisor. Initially, my rapport with him was also excellent: we spoke only once, but the contact was good. A few weeks later, however, I was told that my contract wouldn’t be renewed because I wasn’t suitable for the position.

This was a real slap in the face for me. In the year that I’d been working for the company, I’d never heard a word of criticism about my performance. Not that it matters much – the decision is irrevocable.

How to proceed? I no longer want a purely technical function; I want my job to be more about people and technology. Do you know companies where I can find such a position?

The headhunter answers:

You were unlucky to get a new manager right before securing a permanent contract. While your previous supervisor was very content with you, the new guy has doubts. He asked you about your achievements in the past year and wasn’t satisfied with the answer. You haven’t really done anything wrong, but I’m guessing you didn’t show enough initiative towards customers. You should have asked him how he assessed your performance and how you could improve it.

When you have a commercial position, it’s advisable to always get feedback from your colleagues and your manager. By failing to do this, you planted a seed of doubt in your manager over your abilities to grow in your position. That finally killed you.

Looking for a position with a focus on people and technology in your field, you have the choice between organizational technical functions (such as project management) and commercial technical functions (such as sales and marketing or field application engineering). All of these roles put greater demands on your social and contact skills and – in case of a commercial position – on your commercial skills as well.

In my view, you have the potential to grow in such a role, but you need guidance. Appropriate training also seems useful. Your previous employer has really missed an opportunity here. Especially since there are so few candidates in your field who meet the profile, it would have been beneficial to everyone if you’d been given a better chance of succeeding.