Do you have a clear picture of where your career is headed? You know – career clarity? Or do you just keep showing up, hoping “this is it”?
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Career Clarity – some background
Are you one of those (few) people that has a clear picture of your career, where it’s going and what you expect? Or would you be prepared to admit that you find yourself in the masses, that spend more time planning an annual holiday, than you’ve ever spent planning your career? That “fell into” their career via their first job? And that probably also “fell into” their last 3 roles, right?
That’s not a criticism. It’s an observation that I have found to be true for most. One I also discuss from a different angle in career control.
As a career coach, I am finding that a great many such people arrive at a “fork in their road” around age 40. And this is also when I find a lot of people then reaching out to work with a coach. To help find that clarity of purpose and direction for their career. Often based on a few decades of career “trial and error”.
And I’ve also found many here around age 50. Often when they find themselves having been made redundant. And replaced with one or two younger and less costly versions of the “price” they commanded.
Career questions to coaches have been the most common ones in recent times. Particularly in our current COVID-19 pandemic situation. Maybe because we’ve had more time to reflect in lock-downs? Or maybe the company we work(ed) for (or the industry they worked in) could no longer sustain our employment? Or perhaps it has just been “time to move on”?
And so today I’d like to share an idea we’ve applied countless times to help with these often vexing career clarity and career direction questions. Whether you know what you want to look for (yet) or not:
The SWOT Analysis
First, I recommend the exercise in the blog “What does your personal SWOT look like”. I’ve adapted it to have:
• the top left quadrant to capture your strengths
• the bottom left quadrant your “loves” (that is those things you love doing best)
• the top right quadrant what challenges you, whether you’re good at that or not
• and the bottom right quadrant your “hates”, that is the things you really dislike. These two right hand quadrant attributes are usually the ones we’ll try and minimize the presence of in future roles. Or to find ways you can be sure to be able to either outsource or delegate them.
And be absolutely sure that any next or future role maximizes the leverage of your strengths and loves.
It’s important to capture real skills and real professional attributes, like “acknowledged as an active listener”. Or some technical strengths in stuff you really love doing like “leading technical specialists to above average commercial outcomes”, etc. Not just generic points like “hard working”, or “having integrity”. Attributes you’ll probably find in the kind of job ads that would be of interest to you.
Find some relevant ads
Next, we find up to say, 10 ads advertising the a kind of role you’re looking for, if you already know what those are. Or as many ads as necessary for a few of the kind of roles that might best help you define what you’re looking for.
From all those ads, extract the key attributes that each ad says you need to bring to the party (knowing that nobody could ever have all of them). And capture the common attributes in a spreadsheet. There will probably be about 20+ or so such recurring attributes across all the ads.
Then, rank yourself on a scale of 1 – 10 for each, so we have a starting point. The high-scoring ones will probably (hopefully) coincide with your strengths and loves in the above SWOT. And the lower scoring ones may well often be found in the right-hand two quadrants, right?
Now we have something to work with. A bunch of attributes reasonably representing your eligibility for different possible roles. And a bunch of attributes that you’ll try to minimize. Or get coached on to be able to at least speak confidently about. Even if you acknowledge that these aren’t your strongest points.
Let the Career Clarity begin
I’d like to just add another dimension to the conversation at this point. This exercise has also proven to be most useful in assisting clients to map out which pieces of the overall professional or business leadership mosaic they’re still missing. That is to discuss different career steps probably relevant to a particular type of role they want to grow into. Or aim for longer term.
For instance, if someone is a GM and wants to land a CEO role in an small to medium size organization (SME) say, in the next 5 to 10 years. What we usually do, depending on their background, professional expertise, experience, orientation and interests, is to explore the kind of roles that will provide a range of the right, logical stepping stones to and for each of the next role(s).
What obvious gaps exist? For example Sales. There is hardly anyone that can land a commercial business CEO role without any sales experience. And your career capital will want to show that you have also been sufficiently exposed to operations, logistics, policy, leadership, administration etc, albeit not having had to have been in all such roles. But above all, that you have led a bunch of people to some great outcomes over time.
These “gaps and steps” are so valuable, because they give us signposts what the client will need to be developing their abilities in. Why? For the right roles to go after next, to round off their picture. Which we can then use to specifically plan, explore and find their “stepping stone roles”. Ones that will guide them into the CEO role they might want over the expected time frame. In their own or someone else’s company.
A Great Interview Tactic
And so we’ve also been known to prepare for an interview along the lines of my client approaching the interviewers as follows:
• “would I be right in assuming these to be the primary attributes this role will need to be successful?
• If so, across these (showing your ranked list) I’m rated a 7+/10 with my coach, which I think will enable me to comfortably drive most of the outcomes you seek. (Oh wow, he/she has actually engaged a coach to be successful in this role…)
• But these here, I’m only a 4 or 5, and the reason I want this job is because I believe you’re the best organization right now to help me learn how to excel in those”.
I’d be impressed if a candidate approached things that way, wouldn’t you?
Career Clarity – so what?
So let’s finish with the “so what” question.
What if you had a go at the above excercises and found greater career clarity in terms of pursuing what you love doing best?
Gaining some confidence that you don’t have to “settle for what you can get”?
Particularly after a redundancy.
But rather that you first mapped out what it is that bounces you out of bed every morning?
And then found the kind of roles (and companies) that best offered you leveraging those attributes?
Enabling you to “fetch” what you want, rather than accepting what you can get away with?
And if you are really serious about “getting this right” for you, what if you engaged a coach to help guide you through the process and then hold you accountable to doing what it takes? I’ve lost count how many clients I’ve guided through this, to landing just the role(s) that they aspired to, but that had eluded them thus far.
What if you could?