This is the second article in a three-part series about choosing your career direction, often one of the hardest tasks of adult life. Most of us can work effectively toward our goals, if only we know what they are. The first article in the series dealt with likes and dislikes. It involved reviewing past jobs in order to predict future satisfiers. The key is to incorporate your likes into the new job, and to eliminate your dislikes. The third and final article in the series is called Picture The Ideal First Month on Your Next Job. If you complete all three exercises, you'll have a good blueprint or strategic vision for your future. Look here for instructions about how to complete this three-part exercise.
How Is A Career Like A Custom Home?
Building an ideal career is like building a custom home, one you've designed that fits you perfectly. Almost everyone who builds a custom home is wild about it. They love the style, size, layout, and interior finishes.
Likewise, in the perfect career you like everything involved: the company, product line, people, customers, and location. Naturally, this is only an ideal. Few homes or careers achieve 100% perfection. But many are 95% perfect, and that's much better than a 40% fit. The first and most important step in planning your career is to create a blueprint of what the ideal looks like.
How Should I Start?
Divide a sheet of paper into five columns, or create a 5-column spreadsheet in your word processor. Then fill in the blanks like this:
|The Company||Less formal environment of small company||Mammoth bureaucracy||At least 100 employees||Yahoo!
|The Industry||Hi-Tech, Internet,|
|Manufacturing of a mundane product Stagnant or shrinking industry||Technology product or service|
Innovation and risk-taking are
Fun, casual environment
Silly bureaucratic rules Crisis management
|Team-oriented Fast-paced||Four ten-hour workdays|
|The People||Bright, well-educated|
High intellect and motivation
|Long periods with no customer contact To depend on others who fail to perform||Ethical people|
I can trust
|Sense of Humor|
Invent the rules as I go
Work with consultants
of six to eight
Detailed complex problems with no apparent solutions
|To become a specialist in a specific discipline Too
narrow a job|
M&A job with no direct reports Detailed,
|A big impact|
An important role
A significant contribution
Exposure to upper management
Delegate execution of details
5% Int'l Travel
|The Boss||Fair Self-confident Knowledgeable Mentoring||Insecure Autocratic||Gives objective feedback on a timely basis|
|Geography||Suburban campus||Downtown or industrial park||D.C. Location within 30-minute commute|
|Values||Noble Cause Making a difference||Ethics Integrity|
|Travel||20% International||Weekend Travel||5% International|
|Intangible||Work from home|
one day per week Mentor who is father figure
|Work 60+ hours|
per week ongoing
|High degree of freedom|
|The Office||Work at home two days per week|
|Politics||Collegial collaborative team||Bickering among senior managers Worry about being politically correct||Company where I can say what I mean and not offend everybody in the room|
|Fun Stuff||Country Club Membership||450 Mhz laptop
Window view of the ocean
|Emotional||Calm, serene environment Uniform, fair
a job well done
Environment supports introversion
|Too many people who can torpedo my project Cold
calls or high rejection|
|Quick feedback High degree of autonomy and control over my projects|
|Reduction in pay To pay for parking||$100K base +bonus +stock Employment Contract One
|Signing bonus Sabbatical after five years Expense account|
Four-week vacation 401-K Disability Insurance
|$500K Life Insurance Major Medical Equal to Current Policy Three-week paid vacation|
The words you see above are only examples. Don't copy them verbatim or use them as a checklist. Search your soul and invent your own phrases. You might even add some new categories down the left side of your chart. Remember, you are writing about your future life, not just your career. So include items to protect your family and personal interests. "Five hours per week for leisure reading" is a valid entry. "Limit work week to 50 hours" is also valid.
As you see, this list is fanciful, not 100% realistic. To say "I want to invent the rules as I go" is a stretch. No job gives 100% freedom to invent one's own path-not even self-employment. But it's the concept that's important. What the author is saying is that she wants more freedom rather than less. And corporations vary widely in their ability to tolerate mavericks. This person may belong in a small, entrepreneurial, free-wheeling company.
Must-haves are very important. They are absolute requirements. While you may give up some of your "wants," must-haves are essential and cannot be compromised.
Think about column five: "Things that would be FUN, but possibly frivolous." This is where your creativity should kick in. Don't let this "Career Decision Matrix" become boring, or one-dimensional. Pick some fun stuff. Go ahead, give 7yourself a raise, or high-speed Internet access, a screamer-of-a-laptop, a health club membership, a window view of the ocean, or frequent international travel.
It's important to make every entry specific, not vague. "WANT more time with my children" is not as useful as "WANT 2 hours per week to play softball with teenage son." "$85,000 per year" is better than "a high salary." Avoid phrases like, "I DON'T WANT a long commute." Instead, say "DON'T WANT to drive more than 30 minutes each way." Think of the Architect and the Custom Home analogy: "Lots of windows," is much less useful than "four 3x4' arched windows in the den."
You'll notice that some entries are one word, others are lengthy phrases. Be spontaneous. Write whatever comes to mind without judging or second-guessing yourself, even if some entries seem stupid, odd, or inconsistent. Attempt to turn off your self-critic.
This is not a 15-minute project. It's a refrigerator exercise, one you tape onto the refrigerator and revisit from time to time, over the course of several days or weeks. This process is important because it helps you focus. It's also important while interviewing, because job opportunities tend to look like apples, oranges, and bananas-very different. That's what sometimes makes choosing the best of several offers so hard. Accepting one offer and rejecting the rest can be one of the most painful experiences of a career. Because what if you choose wrong?
Use this chart to compare and contrast every potential opportunity and job offer, both inside and outside your present employer. You'll be surprised how helpful it is. If you use this grid carefully, difficult choices will be easier, and your next job offer could easily be 95% perfect.
Next step: go to Part 3 of this three-part series, Picture the Ideal First Month on Your Next Job