Your career & ‘the big picture’

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February 1, 2018

Your career & ‘the big picture’

So your career is likely an important aspect of your life in a day and age where pretty much everyone has to work. In fact, your career is likely ‘up there’ with family, health and maybe religion as the 3 or 4 ‘big-ticket’ items that can keep people awake at night (either through fear or excitement).

Yet, what I have observed during my 15+ years in recruitment, is that whilst most people acknowledge that their career is an important issue, few will think strategically about their career and plan accordingly. Most people will think about their next job and that will be about it. Therefore the primary objective of this blog is to encourage people to spend some time thinking about their career from a longer range perspective, plus it will give a few pointers on breaking this down into long-term strategic objectives, and short-term tactical plans. Don’t be put off by the ‘management speak’ we are just talking about the simple questions: Where am I going? and then: How will I get there? I find even in my own career that too much time and effort has been wasted running full pelt in the wrong direction! 🙂

With this kind of big questions, I think it is most helpful to start with ‘the big picture’ and gradually work down into the detail. So to begin with it’s worth considering, and maybe this starts by brainstorming what your over-arching priorities are, or to be more specific, what your life goals are. This may be in terms of finances, family, hobbies, education, fame, property ownership, retirement plans or whatever really, it’s your list. It may seem silly to account for things like fulfilment or weird to consider your ‘legacy’ (what you leave behind). BUT is that really silly? Is that really weird? I would say not, it’s just unusual for people, especially younger people to think at that level that’s all! I say don’t ignore the non-financial or even non-quantifiable aspects such as enjoyment, work-life balance, relationships etc. You can’t put them in a spreadsheet but they have immense value and should be considered. Nobody says on their deathbed they wish they would have spent more time in the office (maybe someone did say this, but you get the point). 🙂

Once you have some specific goals in mind or ideally documented, you can then assess if your current career or career plan is in line with these goals or not. If not you can start to look at education, training, self-improvement, job search or just attitude change that will help you meet those goals or at least start heading more in the right direction. Goal setting is a massive subject for another time, but setting them is like a magic formula whereby, once set, your mind (and some say the universe), automatically start to work towards their accomplishment!

It is a useful exercise to undertake a personal SWOT analysis, as companies do. You may well have heard of this management consulting tool which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You will take a large sheet of paper, split it into to four quadrants and jot down your honest assessment of where you stand in each of these areas career wise. The next step is to work out how you can maximise and play to your strengths, minimise and mitigate your weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities and avoid or neutralise the threats. This exercise may seem a little abstract. However if employees, never mind the owners, of say blockbuster or Kodak had paid more attention to the threat of technological change then maybe they would have worked out an exit strategy before being laid off!

Money isn’t everything but let’s be honest it is important to the achievement of many life goals and probably comes as a natural by-product of achieving most career goals. So do aim towards an attractive salary but more importantly work towards financial freedom. There are some great books on this subject such as rich dad poor dad by Robert Kiyosaki dad & the millionaire next door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

Salary/Income level is a major factor and the aspect that most people focus on. However spending less than you earn, getting out of debt, opening up multiple income streams, generating passive income and considering entrepreneurship are all strategic ways of making sure the asset column is bigger than the liabilities one in the financial accounts for your career!

It may sound obvious but the way to earn more money is to become more valuable i.e. you can’t really expect to carry on doing the same job and expect to keep getting more money. As covered in the ‘Salary Guide’ blog, this is a recipe for disaster as being ‘overpaid’ for a role in a dynamic employment market likely means being made redundant sooner rather than later. Adding value comes in many shapes and sizes but here’re the thing, it pretty much always means more effort … you only get out what you put in and all that! Can you gain additional academic qualifications or industry certifications, take on additional responsibilities, undertake training and development, learn new technologies or new languages etc. etc. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result! If you are looking for more money you have to provide leverage through the ‘value’ you bring.

Keep in mind your ‘value’ may be different to your current employer, generally in the market or to a specific target company. So be strategic in what value adding items you focus on / pursue. If you are a mechanic looking to emigrate to the US to pick a random example, experience with petrol engines is going to be more valuable whereas diesel experience is arguably more valuable in the UK. In either case gaining experience with electric cars is likely going to be most sought after in future!

Self-improvement and lifelong learning is something which I think all successful entrepreneurs would certainly advocate. If you are not moving forward you are moving backwards (relative to the competition). Highly successful people, in general, tend to be huge bookworms. I have a bunch of favourite authors; it’s down to personal taste and what you are aiming to achieve of course, however, I certainly recommend Steven Covey, Tony Robbins & Robin Sharma for starters! If you’re not a reader then a great alternative is to get into vlogs and podcasts e.g TED talks. Just keep learning!

In all things consider the bigger picture. When in a job-search, as discussed in the “prepare to nail your job-search” blog. Don’t just consider the job, consider the company (what’s their SWOT), consider the industry (what’s its SWOT), consider potential technological, economic and political change. You can’t control all or really any of these aspects but you can at least try and avoid some pitfalls in your route to those ‘all-important’ life and career goals. Think more ladders, fewer snakes and you’re on the right track!

Think outside the (career) box. Take the blinkers off. At one time it was often the case that people had a job for life with a carriage clock on retirement, then it was more like one career with several companies & jobs within it, then it was more like several careers in one lifetime with likely more than one job in each. These days the contemporary phrase is the ‘gig economy’ with more independent workers, working freelance or self-employed and potentially fulfilling several functions according to what value they can bring and enjoy more flexibility/autonomy in their work/life. So don’t think of what you do now and look for something similar, think of where you want to be, what you want to do, and how to achieve this. If this gap is too much of a leap for one go you may need one or more ‘stepping-stones’.

This is easier said than done and many people feel stuck in a job they don’t enjoy or with a ‘bad employer’ because of lack of transferable skills or just good old fear of the unknown! I’m not a psychologist but I know that it is psychologically bad to feel stuck. Lack of control over your situation in general terms and same for a career is one of the biggest triggers of stress.
Making break may involve literally going back to school, or University and mean time out and significant investment. Therefore this typically requires support from family/partner, (both financial and moral support). This may well involve debt, financial hardship and certainly putting other goals on hold. However, it could well be worth it, some of the happiest people I know have retrained later in life for something entirely different e.g my friend that was a producer that is now an osteopath and my wife’s friend that was a lawyer and is now a medical doctor. Ultimately you are in control, if you don’t like your situation, change your situation … move you are not a tree!

In reality, you may not have a detailed plan which you diligently follow your whole career, and you know how it is, plans often have to be torn up and re-done from scratch. ‘Stuff’ happens, and you have to react to unexpected events. As Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face”!!!

HOWEVER, I hope these few thoughts and strategies help you with an overall context for career planning, I hope you can apply some of the rationales for setting career goals and making choices on things like target industries, jobs and training. I hope you are empowered and motivated to look a little further ahead, think that little bit bigger or better still a little bit clearer about work-life and that elusive balance.

So in conclusion, life is short, live it and make each day count!

If you are looking for information or advice on career planning or any recruitment subject, feel free to give me a shout. Likewise if you are looking for ‘first-class’ representation as a client or candidate.

All the best, Anthony
01275 331307 / 07983255399
TW @MacstaffUK