Knowing What You Want In Your Career Can Make All The Difference

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

– Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865

In both my roles as a former recruiter and now as an executive career coach, I meet a lot of professionals like Alice. When I ask them “What do you want to do?” or “Where do you want to go?” here are just some of the responses I get:

• “Something a little like what I am doing now.”

• “A challenging opportunity.”

• “I want to make a difference.”

• “I’m open.”

• “My associates told me I should …”

• “It depends on what is available.”

• “On the one hand …”

• “On the other hand …”

All of these answers can be translated into one simple response: “I don’t know.”

So why the vague responses?

Here are two possible scenarios. The first is that they’ve been recruited by someone they know to fill a position simply because they can do it. It may be the fifth time in a row that they have “done it.”

Another reason is that it’s often easier to present a resume and let companies choose what services they think will add value. This says, “I am for rent. Choose what you need and I will provide value.”

So the question is, do you let others manage your career based on their agenda?

Look back on job changes you have made. Was there a time that the company hired you because you had a great track record and you simply could? Were you reticent to say what you really wanted out of fear of losing the opportunity and the offer?

It’s OK to open up your career path to your closest friends and associates. This helps them help you. It’s also OK to share your career path in an interview. Demonstrating your career development not only helps you grow and flourish but it shows how you can help the company meet its goals.

But if your career plan is out of sync with a company’s, it may not be a good fit.

Employees are motivated when they learn and develop as professionals. In my view, this is the most important methodology to retain talent. Employees who are forthcoming about their career plan and what they want contribute more to themselves and their organization. Others who are mainly hired for what they can do well become unmotivated and difficult to manage.

I check in with my employed clients periodically. They have to answer two questions:

1. What did you do for your organization in the last two to three weeks?

2. Aside from a paycheck, what did your organization do for you?

You can see how easy it is to get lulled into not knowing what you want after a while because you have been focusing on what they want. Of course, you are doing a great job hitting deadlines, getting results, etc. The question is, has meeting expectations helped your career development? How much attention are you giving to your own development?

I have always believed with mastery of a skill, job burnout can’t be far behind. Does Ben E. King’s song “The Thrill Is Gone” ever haunt you? If so, you have not been nurturing and taking care of yourself. You only have yourself to blame.

Being confident about what you want is critical, and the responsibility for clarity rests entirely on your shoulders. There needs to be alignment between your career plan and the organization’s goals, and you need to make the case for it. From my experience, most organizations will support your development (tuition reimbursement, classes, etc.) if your future aligns with their goals and objectives.

Start with a self-assessment (after all, who knows you best?). Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

• What do I really enjoy doing currently?

• What part of the work day do I look forward to?

• What learning will enrich me?

• What challenges interest me?

• What duties/work do I need to jettison now and in the near future?

• What am I tolerating on the job now?

If you don’t ask the question, the answer will always be no.

There is no time better than the present.


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