5 lessons about leaving your employer of more than 20 years – Graeme Plenderleith

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Graeme Plenderleith

Deciding to leave Rolls-Royce was not an easy undertaking. I’ve spent 20 years learning how to be an engine performance specialist, and it’s fair to say I have a deep affection for the company. I’ve had some amazing experiences as an employee and had the opportunity to work with many talented people. I also have three children, two dogs, a wife who works full-time and a mortgage to pay – did I really want to jump ship? In the end I took the plunge because I wanted to test myself, I wanted to explore other opportunities and didn’t want to be sitting at my desk in five years’ time saying “If only…”

So here’s my 5 lessons:

Lesson 1: I didn’t know everything and the more I talked to people I trusted, the more confidence I had in the decision I took. To help me make the decision I relied upon the support of many people: family, friends, and both current and former colleagues. I had many chats on walks, on Zoom and on bike rides. The necessity and value of these conversations is fully apparent to me with hindsight: I needed to talk my options through to make sure I didn’t miss something, knowing that at the end of the day the decision was mine to make.

Lesson 2: be prepared for rejection or being ignored. Before I came to the decision to leave, I updated my CV and sent it out to apply for about a dozen jobs. I wanted to get a sense of availability in the jobs market, how my CV would go down and also minimise the gap between leaving the company and starting somewhere new. To my surprise and irritation, the few companies that did respond were all negative. I thought I was prepared but the first few emails that arrived saying: “Sorry but we’re not taking your application further” still felt like a kick in the guts.

Lesson 3: sell what you can do, not what you know. So then, how do you persuade companies that someone who knows an awful lot about large gas turbines, can add value their projects, such as designing drones, or hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft or even rockets? To answer this, I turned to the RR Alumni LinkedIn community and I am eternally grateful to the group and those who helped me find the answer: sell what you can do not what you know, in other words make the most of the skills learned in Rolls-Royce that any company would want. In my case I know a lot about applying the first and second law, but the programming skills I have acquired to exploit that knowledge are generally applicable.

So the old CV was binned and a new CV penned. I poured over all the responses I received on my post on the RR Alumni Community group, picked up some great tips for what I needed to do, and got positive and constructive feedback from Keith Howells and Paul Cotton on the new first draft.

Lesson 4: choose your market and explore it thoroughly, using contacts who know what is out there. I also decided that I needed to be smarter in who I applied to. I recognised that many large companies sift CVs by algorithm, so I reached out to Gary Cutts at UKRI, a former manager of mine, with a myriad of contacts in the wider aviation sector. Crucially many of these contacts were smaller companies, those who employ real people to read CVs. I hoped that they would recognise my value and give me a that first foot in the door.

So, with a better starting point, a focus on the market I was interested in and a refreshed CV, I dove in, and received positive responses and interview requests within days of sending out my applications.

Lesson 5: trust your instincts. There were other paths I could have taken – the one I have chosen feels right and ticks my boxes. In the space of two weeks, I was interviewed by four companies. A small, agile company in Bedford that specialises in drones and autonomous systems became a strong frontrunner. Whilst the nature of the work sounded amazing, for me the deciding factor was the people I spoke to. Over the course of a week I had interviews with several people from across the company including the CEO and owner. Each of the interviews quickly became more like conversations and I got the gut feeling that this was the place I wanted to be.

Success for me in the jobs market came when I learned to trust that I am much more than someone who knows a lot about gas turbine thermodynamics, in the same way that anyone leaving Rolls-Royce is much more than a stress specialist, compressor blade manufacturer, wax pattern die designer or transmissions development engineer. Our experiences in our day jobs make us analysts, problem solvers, computer programmers, planners, systems engineers, statisticians, influencers, report writers, presenters, data plotters: skills that are highly valued across every sector.

There are many companies in this country desperate for what I, you and we can do – and with perseverance and support, they can be found.

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