Think about this, if you work 40 hrs a week and about 50 weeks a year, in a working life of 40 years you would have worked for over 75,000 hrs in all. Most of us are likely to be working more than 40 hrs a week. So, it’s pretty certain that you are looking at way more than 75,000 hrs of working in your lifetime. That’s a lot of time spent working and more importantly a very substantial part of your entire life.
Hold that thought and now think about this: Either you yourself or someone you know closely has either experienced the feeling of being perpetually unhappy in their job. How many times have you heard someone you know start a new job or role in all enthusiasm only to say they lost their mojo a few months into the game?
Put those two thoughts together and you are looking at a whole lot of people being unhappy and disengaged with what they are doing most of the time for a very large duration of their life!
That’s not a very uplifting scenario! I have been in the situation of being unhappy and disengaged in my career too. The prospect of spending my entire working life in that manner was obviously not attractive at all. I am pretty sure that you would feel the same way too.
Before we dig deeper and start looking for Career Development Advice on how to find both success and fulfilment, let us first understand how this problem came to be. Like every problem in life finding a solution has to start with understanding its genesis. Well at least that’s my approach to solving problems and I have found it works pretty well.
IN THIS POST
Context Setting: Understanding Disengagement at Work
Each generation of people in the workforce have their own unique set of problems. Disengagement, it would seem is the problem of the Millennials. When I say millennials, I refer to those of us born between 1980 & 2000 and so being anywhere from a fresher to a mid-career professional with some 10-15 years below your belt. So, what is unique about us Millennials that has caused this situation? It all started with our Gen X parents who chose to be hyper involved in our lives (in a good way of course). Nurturing the family was their top priority and every single aspect of their child’s life was given 100% attention. Every enabler of success was provided to us and we grew up with no doubt in our mind that we could “have it all”. The effect of this kind of parenting is that we became optimistic, goal oriented and over prepared to conquer life’s challenges. The not so positive side effects were that we became structure dependent, in constant need of approval and/or feedback and we are forever striving for more and better! What did this result in? More and more college graduates, with larger and larger student loans in an economic landscape that was changing for the worse.
The millennials have seen to major upheavals in the last 2 decades. The recession of 2008 and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This recession changed the economic landscape at a fundamental level forever. What used to work didn’t work anymore and what was easy became nearly impossible. Employers have changed, the way we look for jobs has changed, the duration of a job search has changed, the length of time in any job has changed and finding middle class salary (between 40,000 & 80,000 USD) jobs has become harder. More things including job search and even just working started moving online. When the COVID 19 pandemic hit us, all these changes that were already in motion got expedited. The thought frameworks that we grew up with are becoming irrelevant. More and more people are working outside the familiar structure of office and work life than ever before.
As you can see these changes are in direct conflict with the upbringing us millennials have had. We crave structure but there is more and more disruptive change happening. We crave constant feedback when the nature of work is demanding more and more independent thinkers. We believed that we should strive to “have it all” when the entire definition of “all” is changing like never before. To add to this the success, we had aimed to achieve is becoming harder and harder to get. All this is in the backdrop of substantially large student loan debt that most millennials carry.
That if you ask me is the making of a perfect storm, a storm the end result of which is unhappiness and disengagement in the workplace, or I should say work context.
Top Career Development Insights for Success
I started this post with the intention of providing solutions and not just stating a problem to get you psyched about. The whole point of the above section was to give the context for what I have to say next.
I have thought long and hard about this multi-faceted problem. Over the years of my own career and that of others which I have watched closely, I have experimented with various interventions and measures. Distilled from that are 9 pieces of career advice that work both independently and together. I believe used properly they can set you firmly on the course for career success and fulfilment:
1. Overcome dysfunctional thought processes
Of the 9 pieces of career development advice this first one is the MOST IMPORTANT as well as most intangible. Any other piece of career development advice will come to naught if you are unable to implement this .
Before you start reinventing your work life, you need to learn to start thinking differently about the problems you face.
With that in mind lets dig deeper with a story. When I was a little girl, on one of my summer breaks we planned a holiday to the beach which was a 5-6 hrs beautiful train journey from where we lived. I sat in the window seat next to my mum and from the very next minute after the train departed from our home station, I kept asking “have we reached yet?” There was no joy in the journey for me. I find that this mindset of “have we reached yet?” is true for a lot of life/work life situations as well. Many of us go through life as if we were in a waiting room. We convince ourselves that we will become fulfilled and happy only when we reach a particular goal or destination. For example, I will be happy when I reach the position of Vice President and so on.
The only thing that thinking like this will achieve is putting you on the ‘hedonistic treadmill’ of seeking more money, a better job in a fancier organisation, a few more promotions and so on. While we are stressing about not having reached there yet, we are also comparing ourselves with others and convincing ourselves that they have got there while we have not. As most of us are well aware by now, social media only amplifies this comparison. The end result is that you are in a negative loop that can only spiral downwards and sap all constructive thought out of you and make you disengaged from your work.
You see how unproductive this mindset is? So, what is the alternative? You might be wondering if I am suggesting that you should give up on ambition and be satisfied with where you are. Nope, that isn’t what I am trying to say. It is very important to realise the difference between always wanting more and convincing yourself that where you are is good for now and using your current position to propel yourself forward. While the former will only make you profoundly unhappy the later will help you cultivate a growth mindset. The later will help you to focus your mental energies on figuring out what you need to do to get to your goals and then how to go about implementing those actionable steps.
Before we move on, one last and important point: getting out of a dysfunctional mindset does not mean that you should convince yourself that a bad situation is good. It is about differentiating what is really a bad situation and what is a hedonistic treadmill and then calibrating your approach accordingly.
The rest of this post is dedicated to the other steps that you can take to achieve your career development goals.
2. Understand whose responsibility it is
Now that we have the dysfunctional mindset bit sorted out, lets dive right into the other steps you can take to become more fulfilled in your career. So, where do we start? Right at the beginning!
So, the first obvious question that comes to mind is who does the career development planning for you? Understand that it’s your job to navigate your career and decide where you want to go. The organisation you work for or if you are just starting out the educational institution you are in may have resources to aid your planning and decision making.
But importantly the process of planning and the decision making are your responsibility. Don’t let chance or someone else decide your career moves for you. Have a plan for everything you do.
3. Make a Career Plan
If planning for your career development is your job, then how do we get started?
- Your career plan starts with first figuring out where you are. You do that by doing a self-assessment of your values, interests, personality and aptitude. There are several assessment tests available to aid you in assessing each of these aspects. The end result of this self-assessment process is a Personal SWOT which can become the basis of several things in your career plan.
- Next do some exploration about career options. Look at options that pique your interest and seem like a good match to your self-assessment. Remember career options at the intersection of your strengths and interest are the one in which you will flourish most. Do not get blinkered. Think laterally and explore. You can refine this list later. For now widen your horizon and look at all possible options. Use both online and print resources to gather information about the labour market, average salaries and outlook for your job/industry. Talk to people in your network who are pursuing the career you want to be in.
- Now it’s time to match. Based on the previous 2 steps, it’s time to zero in on a few options that are of most interest, play to your strengths and meet your requirements of salary, position and other tangibles. At this stage it is best to have more than one option. Preferably two to three.
- Once you have your options shortlisted, it time to write your career plan. This should serve as a guide for achieving career fulfilment in the long term. Your career plan should break down your goal into smaller milestones for both the short and long term. It should also lay down the additional skills you may need and a plan for how you will acquire those skills.
4. Implementing your Career Development Plan
It is excellent that you have made yourself a plan in the most scientific way possible. But the crux of your success lies in the implementation of this plan. This is the part where you actually start rebooting your career. Basically, you have two choices at this stage:
- Look for a new job that matches your career plan better or
- Reinvent yourself in the current job to better match your career plan
Have you downloaded our CAREER REBOOT ROADMAP that lays down how to successfully achieve either of the options along with a complete set of tools to aid you in doing whatever you choose.
5. What to do if you are in a job and can’t implement your career plan immediately
That’s a million-dollar question and something that has a high probability of occurring. While it’s all well to have a career plan, it’s very much possible that you are not in a position to implement the plan immediately. That apart it is anyhow worthwhile to pay heed to the next section as it may open up additional possibilities.
Most of us think that if one isn’t feeling fulfilled in their current job, then looking for options outside is the only way to have a better chance of feeling fulfilled. This way of thinking is a myth! Always remember two things: First, it is a harder route to find satisfaction in a new place of work. Second, it is very much possible to create satisfaction for yourself in your current role. It makes a lot of sense for you to consider this option before you try anything more drastic.
The heart of job satisfaction is your attitude and expectations. It is about how you approach your job rather than the actual duties you perform. Keeping that in mind, there are several simple things you can do to improve your job satisfaction:
- Remember that Personal SWOT you did earlier? Take out the strengths list and do something every day that plays to your strengths.
- Even in the dreariest jobs there are little things that bring us happiness. List these out and make sure to do one of those every day.
- Find positive energetic co-workers and spend more time with them. Positivity begets positivity and creates momentum.
- If the situation allows then develop a supportive relationship with your boss. We will delve deeper into the subject of managing your boss later.
- Get over procrastinating and set yourself the target of achieving one little part of your goal every week. Slowly chipping away at your long-term goals will soon add up and you will see how much closer you have moved towards achieving your dreams.
- As basic and simple as this sounds take small breaks, eat healthy and get some exercise in. This can make a huge difference to how you are feeling through your workday and in turn how fulfilled you feel.
- Last but not the least work-life balance plays a very vital role in how much job satisfaction you have. Pay attention to this and see how best you can keep things balanced.
We have sorted out the basics now and move on to the next level. Once your career development plan is in place and you have figured out how to go about the same, there are several things that you can do that will take your game to the next level. The next few sections touch upon the areas that you must be paying attention to as you go along implementing your career plan.
6. The power of effective working relationships
In the workplace there are several relationships that we build consciously or otherwise. These relationships if built properly can enable and expedite your progress towards fulfilment. On the other hand, poor relationships can make your work life miserable and drag you down. So, what are the key areas in the work-place relationship department that you should be looking at? Here’s a list of the most important aspects in this area that you must definitely bear in mind:
- Managing your Boss is possibly the trickiest subject pertaining to your career development. While a good boss with whom you have a good relationship can take your career far the converse situation can take you downhill very fast. As you undertake the journey towards career fulfilment, managing the relationship with your boss is one of the most important areas that you will need to work on. Remember that irrespective of whether you think your boss is good or bad, you have to have a plan on how you will nurture this relationship and make it a career enabler.
- Collaborating remotely: The last decade has seen the rapid adoption of internet connectivity in every walk of life. This has meant that things that needed us to be physically present can now be done remotely. The Covid-19 pandemic has only fast tracked the use of technology for remote working. Given that this means more efficiency at lower cost, this trend is here to stay. As a result of this, the nuances of collaboration and teamwork is shifting markedly. This is an area on which you should keep a close tab so that you are ahead of the curve and not behind!
- Cross cultural communication: The other outcome of connectivity is that the world has shrunk. I am certain that each one of you who is reading this has worked with or at least interacted with at least one person from another country in the last 3 months. Large swaths of the spectrum of communication are deeply influenced by cultural factors. Understanding these cultural aspects of the people you work with has therefore never been more important.
- Global Careers: Another impact of the world getting smaller is that movement across the globe has never been higher than it is today. An overseas posting was a novelty 15 years ago. It isn’t so anymore. Equip yourself well to move countries with ease. Things like relocation, international salaries and taxation are still unchartered territory for many. Research and understand this area better should you have to move.
- Teamwork: There are very few of us who work alone in silos. Most of us are part of a team in the capacity of team member or a leader. Teamwork is an integral part of work-life for most of us. It therefore becomes very important that you pay specific attention to the following area of teamwork and figure out how you address them:
- Managing and/or navigating the dynamics within a team environment
- Managing or being part of different types of teams
- Coaching your team or seeking coaching in a team context
- Rewarding & engaging your team if you are leading one
- Improving team effectiveness and/or improving your effectiveness in a team
- It is but inevitable that there will be some difficult situations in the workplace. Typically, not handling these appropriately can cause endless amount of trouble and disruption. It is only logical that you work out what are the 2-3 most likely difficult situations you might have to handle in your role and what is your broad/general game plan for managing these difficult situations.
- Working at a client location is a very likely scenario for anyone in the service industry. Of all the dynamics in the workplace this is the trickiest. That being said, this is also an area of your work with high potential for gain and recognition. If you happen to work at your client’s location, equip yourself well for how to manage yourself and the client properly.
- Giving & Receiving Feedback both formally and informally is another activity that is inevitable in work life. Used well it can become a great tool for career success. Master this art and it will serve you well.
- Working with powerful people is something that most of us both look forward to and dread. If things go well then there is plenty to gain. But if they don’t, you are in serious trouble. If you are getting into a situation where you will have to work closely with someone who is very powerful in the organisation, make sure that you are well prepared on how you will handle this person and the assignment.
“Organisation politics is a reality that won’t go away. You may hate it. But you have to live with it. So, find a way to handle it and/or navigate around it!”
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7. What are the other ‘must have’ skills that no one tells you about?
After reading the earlier sections you may be wondering whether implementing all of it will guarantee career success. I’ll be the first to say that it will get you most of the way but not right up to the end. So, what is the magic sauce for the last bit of career development success?
- Get rid of Legacy thinking! You are “legacy thinking” whenever the answer to a question is “we have always done it that way.” What you are doing is 20th century thinking in the 21st century. We are living in a period of rapid change. So, keep an open mind and learn.
- Pay heed to organisation culture. Yes, that is still a thing! If you don’t pay heed to those little things that make an organisation’s culture you will be swimming against the tide and wasting precious energy.
- Working in a matrix organisation is another reality of our times. Most organisations have this kind of a structure these days. Figure it out and get adept at navigating it.
- God is in the details. Always remember that and pay attention to details. It is this that leaves a mark of excellence and distinguishes you from the others.
- Ethics are a big thing in any organisation worth its salt. It is not old fashioned. Remember that reputations are built and lost because of this.
- Delegation is an art. Remember that and cultivate it if you have a team. Your outcomes can be maximised through this route.
- Being flexible. We live in a time of rapid change. Being flexible and adaptable is what will make you the first among equals.
- Maintain the highest degree of professionalism in everything you do. Even when you disagree or downright fight, keep it professional. Never make it personal.
- Customer centric mindset. Gandhiji said “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work – he is the purpose of it.” Never forget that.
- Sales skills is for everyone. No matter what role you do, you have to know how to sell. Cultivate that skill.
- Being aware of financial impact. This is another vital skill to have. It is after all money that makes the world go round. Cultivate the skill of thinking in money terms no matter what your role.
- Organisation politics is a reality and won’t go away. You may hate it. But you have to live with it. So, find a way to handle it and/or navigating around it.
8. Master communication skills like your life depends on it. Because it does!
Before you say that communication is the art of talking, let me tell you that its far more than just that. It’s a very vast area that you absolutely must focus on if you are serious about your career development. So, what exactly should you be paying attention to here:
- All forms of communication that happen in person:
- How to master giving an interview
- How to shine in telephonic & video Interviews
- How to make the best first impressions
- How to become a master at networking
- How to be the best impromptu speaker
- Mastering the art of small talk
- Cultivating listening skills
- What can transform you from boring to engaging Speaker
- How to be tactful and assertive
- How to make sure that your body language is right
- How to dress up to posture appropriately
- The advantage of having positive restlessness
- Exhibiting competency and command over a topic
- Personal hygiene. Yes, as weird as it sounds, that’s something to be conscious of
- All the forms of communicating that happens in in writing
- Master email writing
- Master how to create an exceptional resume & cover letter
- How to create an outstanding linkedIn presence
- How to gain mastery over other business English that you use.
- How to conduct and participate in meetings effectively
- How to make memorable presentations
- How to excel at negotiation, persuasion and influence
- What to do in difficult communication situations
9. Until you can master time you can master nothing else. Max out your productivity
All the talk about productivity isn’t just a fad. There is so much talk about it in the context of career development advice for a reason. The people who seem to do it all are the ones who have mastered time and are super productive. Make it your goal to get better at this every day. If you have to address this aspect of your work life you may be wondering what the specific areas are that you need to look at. Here’s a brief list of the most important aspects to consider:
- Time management
- Goal setting
So we have covered the 9 steps that if done well will surely lead you to career fulfilment. We have delved deeper into each of these 9 steps in the Career Section of this blog. I know that this was a lot of information in one go. If you want to come back to this post later, pin the image below to Pinterest so that you can find this post easily.