We rush through our day to day lives with little time to contemplate our careers, their trajectories, our evolving goals, development needs, and the next chapters in that narrative. This is why job loss, though unsettling, can be a very useful forced stop, an ‘inflection point’ that provides time and licence to take stock, reflect, plan and, if necessary, course correct. These activities are important if only because learning and growing are more than the product of simple trial and error, they come from reflecting on the doing. And this is why viewing down time as dreaded dead time is a wasted opportunity.
Reflecting on one’s career enroute to confirming or resetting the course going forward contributes to one’s overall self-awareness. Executives lacking in the self-awareness that introspection begets, are less prepared, less clear, respectfully less impressive and far more prone to make poor decisions in finding and selecting subsequent jobs and employers.
For most people however, ‘reflection’ and ‘introspection’ are mere fancy words unless accompanied by instructions on where and how to begin. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions…
– Take a hard look at your career to date and its trajectory. If you had a plan, are you on course? If not, why not? What are you learning about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, the types of roles, companies, cultures and contexts you thrive in? What has become clear does not work for you?
– Think about the feedback you have received regarding skills gaps and development needs and be able to talk about how you have or are working on them.
– Look at your resume …… what does the narrative say about you to date, the path you are on, the decisions you have made, your accomplishments and capabilities? Does it make sense?
– Ask yourself what do you really want to do next and why? Note that the question is not what you are open to considering but rather desire. How do you get there from where you are? Get advice. Make sure your resume is appropriately aligned.
As you look in the mirror consider simple things such as ….
– Money – to what extent is money going to be a key driver in your next job decision? If it matters a great deal this will inform the jobs, industries and companies you should be contemplating. If compensation optimization is not a key driver this opens up sectors such as not-for-profits, public sector and all manner of other areas.
– Meaning – People will often fatigue of the sector they have worked in for many years or long for something more meaningful to them. Where does ‘meaning’ figure into your decision-making at this stage in your career? Are you attracted to certain sectors (eg. healthcare, environment) or products that seem more interesting or exciting? Is there a path for you to transition? Does meaning even matter to you?
– Security – Some people are attracted to large enterprises because they are relatively secure. It could be a risk aversion personality trait or tied to life circumstances related to kids and mortgages. Meanwhile others love high risk start-ups where security is not a consideration. Where do you fit right now?
– Leisure – Some jobs and companies are all consuming and others have you home by 4:30pm every day. In cities such as Toronto, commuting from one end to the other every day can add hours to your schedule. The issue of work-life balance also evolves with circumstances such as children and age. Make sure you know what you are prepared to do for what you want.
– Talk to people whose opinion you value and ask them what they think you should do next. Don’t ask them what they think of you because they are less likely to be forthright tell you. Their comments will provide insight and should be calibrated against what you have been thinking. These are likely people who will serve as references so getting a sense of what they will say is important.
– Find a book or find a coach that can help you organize your thoughts around your career and its ensuing chapters. Give yourself a break…few people are good at this.
The benefits of taking time to ponder the road taken, lessons learned and how to apply that knowledge moving forward will far outweigh the costs. From better self-awareness to a more focused search strategy the odds will increase that you will find a role better suited to you and in a quicker timeframe.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.