By Sylvia Sun


Rose Alley, January 2016 — As a seasoned career consultant working closely with finance and consulting professionals all over the country, I frequently see people get ecstatic about a new job offer. The moment of being accepted by a dream company always feels like floating on cloud nine. However, It’s not uncommon to see that euphoria mutate into frustration and chaos within just a few years of time.

How is the ecstasy three years before associated with the chaos three years later? A good choice creates results; a bad choice yields turbulence. After all, making a career choice requires dedicated and in-depth information gathering, thinking and planning. It’s by no means about following the unfolding, and a karma mindset will not lead you anywhere.

Let me illustrate this statement with a real-life example:

A friend of mine, Helen, has been struggling over a few years of career downfall. Helen used to be one of the proud Audit consultants at a Big Four company. About 3 years ago, under escalating family planning pressure, she decided to move to an in-house HR role at one of her clients, in hope of obtaining a stable career while ensuring more time for her family. Helen was also promised a generous compensation and benefit package, which included almost twice of her original salary, bonuses, stock options and others.

Even though she was perfectly comfortable handling this more relaxing role, it was still a new area to her and she soon has lost a series of promotion opportunities to colleagues who had less competent experience but more consistent experience in the HR area. Her career then was in crisis and was challenged by a firm growth ceiling. Recently, she has moved to a small start-up company and her stellar educational experience and advantages of being a high-caliber result driver didn’t generate the equivalent results.

What did Helen do wrong? In retrospect, apparently it’s the job switch that has caused the whirlwind of career downfall; apparently she made the best possible choice available when switching to that new job; and apparently the trade-off between work-life balance and career opportunities was ultimately unavoidable. This trade-off, after all, is considered by many a career woman’s inevitable deadlock – a deadlock that feels like a natural outcome, almost unstoppable. We talked about planning at the beginning of this article, but how can some planning ever make a difference when everything looks predetermined?

It really can feel that way. But the real fallacy in Helen’s case is her lack of understanding – from the very beginning – on the importance of building a steadily growing career path with expertise, knowledge and skills developed around one speciality area. In the later career stage, it is really the experience, consistency, professional reputation and the personal brand image that are most valued by future employers. And a big four’s name, in addition to elevating a candidate’s resume, does not ensure his long-run compatibility with the new company and new role. In Helen’s case, her jumping into HR from auditing, regardless of her potential over-qualification on her capability to deliver work and navigate high level complexities, did not equip her with many advantages in the new company.

What could have Helen done right, then? Before jumping into her audit consulting role, she should have taken a proactive approach and learned the role’s future limits and risks; she should also have taken a consolidated approach to plan her long-run career path instead of taking remedy for what is needed at one particular moment; and with the foresight that her audit consulting role would finally be challenged by family needs (a highly predictable event), she should have picked a route that would later allow her to build a steadily growing career and a consistent set of expertise.

These are the basic career planning practices that have always been overlooked by junior professionals. If Helen did them right, throughout years of development, she would have become an established professional with a strong brand name in her speciality area, and her career path would have been a straight line, not a zigzag.


Contributor Intro: Sylvia Sun, experienced career coach and executive recruiter working with talents and clients at global leading companies, is now partner at, a cross-continental executive search firm serving US and China markets. Sylvia works closely with individuals in Finance, Accounting and Technology industries. For career inquiries, please contact