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HR career management: Taking control

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Best-selling careers author John Lees shows you how to become your own career coach in this exclusive feature for HR Zone.


Who’s in charge?
Most of us navigating the 21st century workplace are using career thinking at least a generation out of date. Since very few students take careers advice before graduation (or find it less than helpful), what most of us do is draw on models from our parents.

This picture is inherently passive: we trust that someone is going to take control for us: our managers, our training department, HR, a headhunter for example. The passive approach worked well enough when employers were more paternalistic but many are now discovering the hard way that employers no longer shape careers for us.

Having a career plan and career path seems like hard work, so we don’t do it. We give more time in a year to home decoration decisions than our careers. The result? Our job changes are guided mainly by chance. Creating your own career revolution requires three steps.

Step 1: Career awareness
Career Awareness is focused on what we can do now. It begins by asking ‘How can I fix the job I’m in?’, only moving to ‘How can I find a better job?’ when you know the answers to three basic questions:

  • 1. What kind of work do I find stimulating, even inspiring … ?
  • 2. What, deep down, are my employer’s biggest problems and aspirations?
  • 3. How can I exploit the overlap, or create one?

Question two, looking at your employer’s drivers is often the missing link. In an age of coaching we’re attuned to personal goals, but often without setting them in the context of organisational success. Research your own organisation as if it were a vital customer you were trying to win.

Invest time into the process of understanding and communicating your strengths: spend at least one day a quarter cataloguing your skills, your successes and your learning. You become able to communicate a concise ‘message’ conveying what you want to bring to your job within the next 12 months. This doesn’t have to mean changing jobs, but it’s healthy to stock your lifeboat for when it’s time to jump ship.

Career awareness is also about finding the right work/life balance. No one should impose the ‘right’ formula on you. The best way of looking at what works for you is to look at all the unfulfilled promises you make to yourself and to those who are important to you. The ones that get trashed are usually about time and people. So real career awareness needs to look honestly at what you say is important to you, what you do about it, and how many times you write a rain cheque.

Step 2: Using creative business thinking
We can’t rely on the career planning tools we learned from the previous generation. If you want an above-average career, you need a better toolkit.

Lateral thinking in career development is about choice and strategy: what you can do next, and how you will get there and not accepting limitations before you’ve started.

If you were an organisation, you might be holding a board meeting today. Your company will only thrive if you develop new products and services. Soon. If your planning meeting shoots down every new idea, the chances are that you’re going down the tubes. Businesses know the value of ‘what if’ thinking, and how important it is to push the benefits of new ideas.

Sadly our mindset for career choice is locked in logical, A-Z thinking. Lateral thinking has far more chance of coming up with an action plan which is truly original and differentiates you from the pack.

Step 3: Open the exploration box
To fully explore ideas about your career future, avoid the temptation of yes/no thinking. See how quickly you find a reason to say ‘no’ to a job idea: we’re eager to find a reason why challenging ideas won’t work. We put decision-making too early in the process and don’t spend enough time really exploring options.

Recruit supporters who will actively help you explore and research options and will push you to see the benefits of doing things differently.

Exploration requires you to deal with what’s out there, which means talking to real people about real jobs. Whether you’re after: promotion or the next career move, think research before job search.

Career revolution – the result
If you want an average career with average career satisfaction, continue the passive route. Promotion, a new balance, or a better job may well mean not just a new CV, but a new way of thinking.

John Lees is the author of the best-selling How To Get A Job You’ll Love (McGraw-Hill). His latest book, Take Control of Your Career (also McGraw-Hill) was published in September 2005. See www.jobyoulove.co.uk

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Annie Hayes

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