The start of a new year should bring promise, purpose, planning, and reflection. It feels like anything is possible. The Buffalo Bills could win the Super Bowl, or the Buffalo Sabres might win the Stanley Cup. Maybe not! But you can take that next step in your career. Win the job search and land the job you need. Start a new side hustle and run your own business. Or maybe pivot, take a sharp right turn and start an entirely new career. You can’t control the destiny of your favorite sports teams. But you do have the power to make a difference in your career.
So, this first week of the new year seems like a logical time to reflect on the steps that we take in our career paths. I have recently seen individuals sharing “How It Started. How It’s Going” memes on various social media platforms. The majority of these posts centered on a singular year, specifically 2020, given the nature of what was, for many, a particularly challenging twelve months. I like the sentiment but want to take a longer view. Not one year but more like 42 years. In other words, what have I learned about how my career started and where it has taken me to as we begin 2021.
That young lad on the left side of the photo (the one with the full head of hair!) knew exactly what career path he would follow. He may have only been 17 years old, but he was determined to be an architect. That dream died on the floor of the Cornell University College of Architecture admission’s office. When asked to share a portfolio of his drawings, the kid with the long hair answered the question with one of his own. “What’s a portfolio,” he asked. Apparently, knowing how to draw is a prerequisite for becoming an architect. Time for a career pivot.
Thus began a career with as many twists and turns as the infamous Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii. My path meandered from manual work digging ditches to work as a professional recruiter, a compensation analyst, a less than successful financial analyst, a highly successful software sales rep and manager, and finally, a sales enablement leader. Now I spend my days running my career coaching business and helping others land that next job along their career path.
Not exactly a textbook career path. But there was one common theme across all the jobs that I held over the last 40+ years. I found value in each one of those positions and organizations. I do not just mean economic value. I am referring to transferable skills acquired, powerful (and sometimes painful) lessons learned, experience accumulated, and lifelong network contacts established. I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, “The Station” by Robert Hastings. It may sound trite to say, but it is true. The value is in the journey and not the final destination.
Digging ditches in the hot midwestern summer sun, I learned the value of a job well done and the simple pleasure of sharing a cold beer and bonding with your team members at the end of a long day. Sourcing and interviewing hundreds of applicants each month and calculating best fit benchmark pay scales helped me appreciate the integral role HR plays in a successful organization. Failing as a financial analyst? I learned that you could make a mistake, get knocked down, but still get back on your feet. Sales taught me the most, and I use the skills even to this day. And the list goes on.
I see too many job seekers focused on finding the perfect job. But what if perfect really is the enemy of good? We can spend all our lives trying to map out and execute the ideal career path. Instead, try to focus some of your energy on what you can learn at each step along the way. I do not believe there is such a thing as a standard career path. I suppose if you choose a licensed profession, such as becoming a doctor or a lawyer, the path to your profession is predetermined. Undergraduate degree, medical school or law school, residency, or the bar exam, and then you are a full-fledged practicing physician or attorney. But, for most of us who choose to work in business or non-profit, at any number of occupations, the path to our chosen profession will be full of unexpected twists and turns.
As you start (or continue) your job search here in the early weeks of 2021, be sure you know yourself. I advocate (and coach) approaching your job search like a sales rep. You need to understand that the product you are selling is yourself. To win in sales, you need to know and understand your product better than anyone else. Before you start your search process, you need to look yourself in the mirror and do an honest self-assessment. You need to understand your personality traits, sources for motivation, strengths, and weaknesses. Before starting the job search process, you should complete this self-assessment and use it as a checkpoint before every step. It can be challenging to answer questions about “you” if you do not first know yourself.
To complete the self-assessment process, you must answer some difficult questions. Below is a sampling of the initial self-assessment questions that I use with my clients.
What is your target job or position title?
What motivates you?
What are your top 3 strengths?
Can you identify an area of opportunity for your personal improvement?
List the top 3 things in your work life of which you are the proudest?
What sets you apart from others who are seeking the same type of job as you?
List the top 5 most valuable professional skills you have developed?
Alignment is the operative word for this activity. Take the time to understand if your answers align with what a hiring manager would be seeking in a candidate for your target position. If there is no or a limited amount of alignment, you should reconsider the target position or invest in additional skills training or activities to acquire the required experience.
Resolve in 2021 to focus on what you can learn from every step you take. Don’t hold back waiting to only take the perfect action at the ideal time. Reasonable steps, one after the other, will get you much further down the path. And when you get to your destination, you can look back on all that you have learned and accomplished along the way. And if your lucky, you may still have most of your hair when you get there!
Here’s to your job search success in 2021!
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Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.