Career Transitioning 101: FMC Senior VP Shares Tips on Making the Move

Throughout the course of one’s career, it’s fair to assume that a transition will occur in some shape, form or fashion. This is especially true for those in the oil and gas industry and possibly more common during times of slowdowns, like the one the industry is currently experiencing.

But there’s a strategy involved in career transitioning, and Dianne Ralston, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary for FMC Technologies, Inc. provided the playbook to attendees of the Women’s Energy Network downtown luncheon Wednesday.

“I’ve been an executive with three different companies in the last 13 months,” Ralston addressed attendees. “Yes, you can do it that way, and no, I don’t recommend it.”

While all of Ralston’s transitions were by choice, she maintains that transitions are difficult. The workforce reductions that have been executed due to low oil prices are a testament to the difficulty.   

Ralston’s first job out of college was a purchasing analyst with Royal Dutch Shell plc. She planned her first career transition when she made the decision to leave Shell and attend law school.

“Planned transitions can include moving to another industry, moving to another company within the same industry or moving up the ladder within your own organization,” she said. “The key misconception about a planned transition is that it is going to be easy.”

A misconception about unplanned transitions, she added, is that they are out of our control. But Ralston said that’s not the case. At times, employees can make lemonade out of lemons. She uses the industry downturn as an example.

The downturn “can be used as a catalyst to help you make a change or transition you didn’t have the guts to do before or something that you planned on doing anyway,” she said.

Ralston had always planned to go to law school, so when she felt strongly that Shell would be cutting jobs [at the time, the industry was experiencing a downturn], she didn’t hesitate to tell her supervisor of her plans.

“I didn’t want somebody else to be negatively impacted by a reduction in workforce, then subsequently find out that I was [voluntarily] leaving,” she said. “So, I decided to go to my supervisor and say, ‘look, this is my plan.’ I told him my plans to leave in a couple of months and he was thankful because it’s a difficult thing when you have to look at an organization and make those tough decisions.”

Ralston saved somebody else their job, and she was still able to get her severance pay, which she used to cover some of the costs for her first year in law school.

For the “left behind” individuals, that is, those employees who remain at a company after layoffs and are often expected to more with less, Ralston identified opportunities for them to flourish as well, by gaining skills or demonstrating skills that are fundamental in their development.

“Many people start shutting down and wondering if it’s going to happen to them next, where the organization is going or how they can do all the work that’s expected of them,” she said. “That’s not helpful for you or your organization.”

Instead, left behind individuals should take the opportunity to demonstrate their emotional intelligence.

“Get back to work, do what you need to do and it will be noticed and rewarded,” she said. “It’s a difficult time and not everybody has the same level of emotional maturity to deal with this kind of negative trend in the industry. If you have it, show it. If you don’t, develop it.”

Ralston offered the following tips for those who are planning a transition:

  • Round out your knowledge base. “You have to be comfortable stepping out and not being the subject matter expert.”
  • Be flexible. “Take the opportunity to jump in different roles in different parts of the organization because those opportunities are infrequent.”
  • Learn what’s important in the other parts of the company. “Sometimes, people stay so isolated, they only want to learn about what they’re doing, but they don’t know how it fits into the greater landscape.”
  • Build a brand. “What is it that you stand for? Decide what you stand for and then protect that throughout your career.”


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