Protagonists of our history
In coaching processes, it is common to find people who, upon reaching the middle stages of their careers, are assailed by the disturbing impression that their story has been written by others. They analyse their professional progress and conclude that they started working in a job and in a company determined more by fortuitous factors than by fully conscious design. The opportunity arose and they seized it. Later, the passage of time and acceptable or very satisfactory performance levels set the pace for their career progress. In stable circumstances, it was common for these successive steps to be taken within the same organization. Such thriving career development is defined by fairly standardized career paths and in which the intensity of the jumps depends mostly on the company’s needs and decisions made by its managers.
At this point, some become aware that they can outsource all kinds of tasks, but that the core of their “business”, the decisions on their own career plan preferably should not be left in the hands of others.
Defining the strategy for career changes
When we take the reins of our career, we face successive crossroads. These are the moments when we must make decisions. Do I settle in this job or do I seek a change? Do I continue my relationship with this company, or do I look for opportunities elsewhere? The usual method for making such decisions is to compare the characteristics of each available option. We choose a series of indicators, determine how to weight each one, and chose the top-scoring job. Among these criteria, the most common are remuneration, professional category, working conditions (flexibility, proximity to the workplace, other benefits), etc.
In my experience, the quality of a career decision depends on a prior, and more important, variable than the straightforward cost/benefit calculation of each of the available options. As it is a strategic decision, it must be made with a well-defined view of my own career. The question is not only what benefits a change brings me now, but what sense does this change make within the framework of my future career development plan.
Three viewpoints for change
There are three possible viewpoints that in practice guide our change decisions. It is worth thinking about which one actually inspires us when we are confronting situations affecting our careers.
- Hindsight. This is about changing simply because we look back at our experience from the job we now hold, and feel that it is unsatisfactory, or takes place in a toxic work environment, or that we are under the supervision by a boss with whom we do not get along. In those cases, we change not because the alternative we value makes sense for our career development, but because we no longer want to spend another day in a frustrating environment. Changing for this reason is not reprehensible. Possibly many people find in their biographies this feeling spurs such decisions. In fact, we call it the viewpoint for leavers.
- Insight. These are changes that come from observing what is happening all around our sides. We don’t just look back at the satisfying or unsatisfying experiences of our current job, but we glean insights from the trends among the people in our surroundings. This is a very typical stance for the initial career decisions. We find boys and girls who chose a career or studies because they are in vogue, because it is a family tradition, or because their friends are mostly inclined towards that career. We are all influenced by the most-impacting models at any given time. That is why we call it the viewpoint of mimics or copycats.
- Foresight. This is defined by the identification of an ambitious and realistic career plan, based on our legitimate aspirations and awareness of our strengths and weaknesses. Before making a decision, the prime question is: does this career option bring me closer to fulfilling my mid- and long-term goals, and is it consistent with my development plan? This viewpoint is characterised by looking ahead, by analysing each of the crossroads that we encounter along the way, depending on whether or not they lead us to the goal that we set ourselves. We call it the GPS viewpoint. Just like when we use this technology, the first thing we do is to enter the coordinates of our goal into the system. The device then recalculates the optimum route for each incident. The system is flexible because it adapts to the circumstances. What does not change is the goal.
Hopefully, most of our career decisions are taken with the GPS viewpoint.