Who’s making your career decisions?

I’d expect that most of you who mentally answered that question said “Me!” And, I’ll go along with you if your response to these 3 statements is “agree”:

1. I’m not worried about the economy, because I’ve planned my career and the learning I need to drive it, and I’m on that path;
2. I know that my work is aligned with my foundation—who I am and what I’m about;
3. I have consciously aligned my strengths and work results with my organization’s direction, and my commitment means I know I make contributions every day.

If you can’t agree with all 3 statements, then other people are making your career decisions for you: you’re depending upon your boss to like you; you’re depending upon someone else to keep you current; you’re depending upon your tenure with your organization to work in your favor; you’re depending upon someone else seeing your value for your next career move. And, if you’re currently looking for your next job, you’re depending upon someone else to recognize your value, match that value to their needs, give you the opportunity to show your stuff, and pay you before you ever make a contribution.

walking a tightrope

walking a tightrope

And, if you’re thinking, “Well, that’s their job,” then you’re wrong! That used to be how it worked, but it doesn’t any longer. If you’re still trusting someone else—current or former or next employer—then you’re walking a slippery tightrope and it’s only a matter of time.

So it’s time for you to ‘man up’ because there’s a new game in town. [‘Man up’ as used here applies equally to men and women.]

When you can agree with the 3 statements above, you have taken responsibility for your own security, and have chosen to no longer be dependent upon an employer. In today’s economy, with business after business either in melt-down mode or in a place where the mantra is “the sky is falling,” the only intelligent career decision is to take care of your own. This doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own business, but it does mean looking at your work in a different light and taking responsibility for your career security.

1. When you consciously look at your most satisfying work direction—the work you do that aligns with your strengths, skills, interests, and engagers—you can define your best direction, the training and education that will ensure your value, and then plan how you’ll get there.

Yes, I’m saying that you need to pay for your own training, education, and learning opportunities, but, really, how is that different from preparing for home ownership, or parenthood, or any other significant life event? The long-term payback of a sound, well-crafted learning plan is returned to you at least ten-fold over the course of your career. [Not only does it keep you current in your technical/professional specialty, it also impacts your change-agility.] Yet, most of you reading this wouldn’t even consider paying for a seminar or an e-learning course—you’re still counting on your manager to tell you what you need to “fix” and when they will send you to training to get it “fixed.”

career roulette?

career roulette?

Consider this: we’ll go through a number of $20K to $40K vehicles in a lifetime (maybe 6 to be conservative?) but it’s an appalling thought to put anywhere near that amount into ourselves and our development—our livelihood. Strange view—to not take the best care of the #1 item in our financial portfolios. We take responsibility for other financial assets, but not for the very thing that makes those assets possible.

2. When you consciously go after work that is aligned with your foundation, you do the best work you can possibly do–by any measure. You’re using your strength themes, you’re energized and engaged, you’re making contributions, and you provide consistent value. When you’re working at a job, any job, you can shrink or stretch your capabilities to fit it. Desperation and fear convince you that you have to stay put because the economy is so bad, or because you’re too old, or because you don’t interview well, or because…lots of reasons…all of which are excuses that keep you trapped in places you call comfortable but that are really deadening and high-risk. High-risk because it’s in these very jobs where you are most dependent upon someone else’s good will to stay. It’s not your contributions, not your value, not your results that keeps you there, but someone else’s generosity. Don’t fool yourself: in this position, you have no work security.

3. There’s little that has more value than a worker aligned with the organization’s direction and mission. You know, all brains on deck. Everyone marching in the same direction. Yet, most of you reading this are not…most of you go to work expecting others to make the effort. You go to work. You warm the seat. You put in your 40 hours. You fulfill your minimal job duties, not stepping on toes, not thinking beyond your cubicle, and never questioning. It’s your manager’s job, you rationalize, to get you aligned and motivated.

Once again, no it’s not!

It’s your responsibility to show your value, to define your contributions and continually look for ways to create more and better value for your customers, whether they are internal or external. If you’re not motivated to do so, why not? And what can you do, how can you change things to become committed to your work? It’s the emotional connection, the engagement of people with their work that makes for the most valuable business outcomes, including loyal customers who get the connection and pass it on to others. If you’re putting the responsibility for your engagement onto someone or something else (your boss, the work environment, dumb policies, etc.), you have it all wrong. Your job is to be engaged and to make top notch contributions. You can’t have one without the other and you can’t fake it either.

So take a look at who’s making your career decisions and determine if you’re OK with it. If you’re consciously not making the decisions, and you want to let someone else determine your fate, then don’t play the victim when a layoff comes, or when the choice position goes to someone else. ‘Man up,’ and take responsibility for your [lack of] actions.

But if you’re not consciously making the decisions, when will you start? It’s the only way to avoid the victim-thinking and victim behaviors that so often drive us, especially when the economy is described every day as “bad” or “never been seen before in the history of the world.” A few people make the decision every day to become responsible for their own career direction: when will you ‘man up,’ and take responsibility for yours?

Chasing your tail?

So how’s that job search going?

Chasing your tail?

Chasing your tail?

I facilitate a monthly networking group–Execunet–for those who are in job search mode and/or who recognize that connecting, developing and maintaining a lifelong network is critical in today’s work world. Some people don’t get it: when they leave, they say “Nice to be here, but I hope I don’t see you next month!” Others do get it, and use the meeting as a beginning step in expanding their lifelong network.

We’re creatures of habit, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that so many folks looking for their next job use the same old approaches and tactics that worked the last time around–back in the 20th century… way back, actually. So, when you’re looking, just know that hanging your job search on these things is really ineffective…a lot like a dog chasing its tail!

“I’m an executive”

What you were called then doesn’t mean a whole lot, except to you, obviously, as you continue to define who you are by your former title.

It's about value, not title

It's about value, not title

So making it a point of dropping “executive” and “C-level” and “Cxx” into your conversation and expecting people to treat you special (and be honest here, if you didn’t think it did, why would you use it in the first place?) isn’t effective or helpful. It dates you. It says you’re still living in the past. Emphasizing what your title was as opposed to what your value is says “I paid my dues and deserve to be at the top of the heap” or “I’m important, so know who you’re talking to.”

Other executives may be interested in hearing this…most likely for mirroring or measurement purposes. Otherwise, it’s really irrelevant. While there was a time when you were defined by your title, that’s no longer the case: you are defined by what you bring to the workplace, by your skills and talents and characteristics and contributions.

Hiring managers (C-level included) want to know what you can do for them…not how great you used to be, or how high up the ladder you climbed. When you tell your stories about results, outcomes, growth and value you can make it very plain that you bring strategic-level results and visionary leadership. And that’s what translates to “what you can do for them.”

POINT: Talk your value, not your (former) title.

“I have an MBA”

That’s great. An MBA has value in and of itself. But what have you learned since you got that degree?

Work is driven by information and ideas. The amount of information–new information–available to us every 30 days is staggering: it’s about as much as two Washington Monuments. We can’t even measure it linearly, only exponentially. Look at it this way: in 1980, the information available to us as a world was about the size of the Washington Monument. Now, every 30 days we have double that available.** Not all good probably, not all valuable maybe, but available nonetheless. So an MBA, as the end-all-and-be-all statement of business knowledge has a life span of, say, the time it takes you to walk across the stage as you collect your degree.

Of course your MBA is valuable…just don’t think you can stop there. It may be most useful today to get you through the paper sort of resumes, but it says nothing about how current you are. So, use your MBA as a distinction, yes, but more importantly as a jumping-off-point for your agility and ongoing learning around business, building teams and leading change.

POINT: Talk your currency, not your degree.

“My resume tells the story!”

Where is your resume in the haystack?

Where is your resume in the haystack?

To you, maybe, but it’s your story that gets lost in the pile of paper collected for a job posting.

The best use of a resume is to follow you…not precede you! Because when it follows you, the person who reads it has already met you and so begun the process of knowing, liking and trusting you.

If you must send your resume to become part of a stack of paper, then you also must recognize that how it tells your story is the key to getting you to the other stack, the “interview” pile. Effective resumes summarize, highlight, spotlight, accentuate and underscore your value in concise, carefully chosen and customized language, and do so in the first third of the first page. On average, your resume, might get a seven-second read; your goal is to have your paper-description fit the job description like a glove…so you get a longer read and make it into that more desirable stack of paper!

POINT: Talk your fit, not your life story.

Little shifts can make for big impacts.  Be intentional in your approach, stop chasing your tail, and get more effective results:  focusing on your value, not your persona makes you memorable!

**from the video, Shift Happens!, by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod