The first task in career management is not to consider what job you want. Instead of looking outward you need to look inward… at least at the start.
The five steps are in order; they step-by-step take you toward career contentment and job satisfaction. Enjoy the read and I welcome feedback.
Five steps to career contentment
1. Quickly learn why you work, what you’re great at doing and how you need to work to be at your best
This step is often skipped as it involves doing something that does not come naturally; introspection. Taking stock of the things that drive your life, behaviour, attitudes, opinions is like a fish examining the water it swims in. These things are often invisible to us and influence us without our awareness. And that is the whole point of this first step, self-awareness.
To do this you need specific tools and where possible a person to help (mentor, coach, trained manager or other professional trained in psychology or a similar discipline).
You can of course do-it-yourself by sitting down and going through what’s important to you, what you want (don’t want) from a job but the problem is you won’t be able to see your blind spots. Solution; take a psych test or two. There are a few around but I use the DISC assessment and a motivators test. Let me know if you want to take these tests and I’ll send you a link. They are quite well priced at $90 for the two tests and give you some juicy insights into what you are best suited to be doing and what your motivators are. Or you can Google around and find some freebies (they’re out there).
2. Career MoSCoW, direction not details
Once you’ve got a handle on what drives/motivates you the next step is to assemble a list of MUST have, SHOULD have, COULD have and WON’T have career attributes.
Doing this allows you to see the elements that are not negotiable for your career. For example some people MUST have a steady and predictable work environment whilst others enjoy change and new challenges. Sometimes knowing what you WON’T have in your career plan is easier as a starting point, so start there if that works for you.
Once you know what you need from a career I encourage you to hold your goal lightly. By that I mean take it as a guiding direction as opposed to an absolute definate specific job or role. Now this may go against good goal setting principles but start with the direction then narrow in on the specifics. Be prepared to adjust the specifics but rarely should the overall direction change. I’ll elaborate on this in a minute.
3. How to make room for new; first steps
Say you know what you want to do but are not able to change. Often this is because you have filled up your life to the brim. There is no room or space for anything new to come into your life. I use the analogy of a house with all your stuff inside it. To re-plan your career you need to take everything out and then only put back in the essential things, leaving room for the new change that you want to see in your life.
I firmly believe that you cannot have it all, making choices is part of making a great career for yourself. It works the other way too; if you want to be there for your children and be a global consulting partner at a top-tier firm… maybe there is a choice there?
So make a choice about what you are going to go for, but do so fully aware of what you have to give up in pursuing that goal.
4. Action learning, experimentation; persevere or pivot
PLAN-ACT-REVIEW. Treating a career like a series of experiments rather than a fixed decision is a healthier and more realistic approach. Make a plan, do something, then review the results. This is the approach I adopt with all my coaching clients, it works and is proven to provide feedback as you learn, zeroing in on what is right for you in work/life. You will not get it right first time and for some people the journey is longer than others in finding work that suits them best, but by experimenting you will get there faster.
I like to use the persevere of pivot approach. Create an experiment to test what you assume to be true (your hypothesis) about your career path. Collect data as you conduct the experiment. Once the experiment is over (best to limit it to a few weeks at the most) sit down and consciously decide do I persevere with this track or pivot to another trajectory. Use the data you have collected to support your decision. This helps sort out the facts from the feelings (both are inputs into your decision). Then repeat until you are on track and in the right place/job/career. Simple but effective. Here is an example…
Say you assume that you want the job of a Project Manager. Your hypothesis is that you are suited to the pressure and responsibility of delivering outcomes for project sponsors.
By conducting a mini-experiment to commit to a small project you discover that you thrive on and perform well under pressure. BUT the “down-side” is you need to be onsite and lose your ability to work from home. Both pieces of data are then used for you to make an informed decision re your suitability to be a PM.
5. Enjoying the journey, adapting your style, self-management
Now as you move toward you career objective you do not have to delay satisfaction until you arrive. It is important to learn to enjoy the journey (as most of the time you will be in transition). To do this you need to learn to adapt your style in the short term. In the DISC psych assessment you are provided with how much you are currently adapting your natural work style and if it is sustainable (too much adaption for too long drains you = burnout).
The other aspect is self-management; by getting to know yourself you will be better equipped to deal with any short term stress caused by your job not being the best fit for you. There are many elements to self management (emotional control etc.), have a browse at some previous posts that will help you enjoy the journey towards your ideal career.