Critical career decisions.

OK, so we’re all back at work after the Christmas break, wondering whether we can do another year of the same thing. Our thoughts may turn to throwing it all in and starting somewhere else. Surely, we think, that new employer will solve all our problems…


In fact, starting elsewhere is just one of SEVEN valid career options to choose from, and it may not be the best one.

At any one time in our career, we can:

  1. Look for an internal promotion
  2. Move down to a more junior role where we are
  3. Jump sideways to a different internal department
  4. Stay in our job exactly as it is
  5. Stay in our job and tweak it
  6. Explore possibilities both inside and outside our organisation OR
  7. Leave our organisation and try somewhere else

As I constantly preach, it’s important to forensically examine your key motivators and drivers. If you find that the source of your dissatisfaction is with your actual work tasks rather than a disconnect with your career values or the workplace culture, why not explore your ‘in-house’ options first?

Option #1In-house: A New Broom Sweeps Clean!

Many people feel powerless to make changes to a job they’re not happy with. However, it can be done in most instances.

A starting point is to imagine you’ve just won your current job and to take a ‘new broom’ to it. What changes would you make?

It’s easiest to tackle changes that don’t need the approval of others. If you need the cooperation of your boss, you’ll need to present a compelling business case. For example, if you want to learn a new skill, you’re more likely to win approval if you can identify a strategic linkage between the new skill and your current job responsibilities.

What if you aren’t sure of what changes to make to the job? Tap into the knowledge and advice of work mates and even expand your network of contacts to explore possibilities.

Once you have clarified your thoughts, you can go to your manager with clear ideas and a pathway. You’re presenting solutions, not problems.

Option #2 – In-house: Climb that ladder

Not that long ago I worked with someone who was very well regarded by her organisation.  She was the ‘go-to’ person, someone who would manage the latest project, take on a new product development plan, sort out a problem. Let’s call her Linda.

Trouble was, Linda was bored. She loved the culture at her organisation and wanted to stay but it wasn’t going to happen unless some significant changes happened.  Because Linda was valued by her employer, she was given the opportunity to complete our five-hour Career Compass program. 

This is my absolute favourite work. During our sessions, we went back to the basics: we assessed Linda’s skills/interests, career values and personality profile.  We looked at current work trends.  And, because this program is personalised, we explored little career offshoots according to Linda’s personal circumstances.

It turned out that Linda wanted to move up to the next level of seniority in her company but had never been successful in winning an internal role. 

There can be a range of reasons for this.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of better managing your work persona so that you come across as ‘management material’ (see Mastering In-House Job Applications).

In this instance, Linda suspected she wasn’t very good at selling herself in interviews/résumés but she wasn’t sure. To help work out where the ‘problem’ lay, I suggested she conduct a Gap Analysis.

There are three steps involved here. First, Linda identified 15 or so ‘things’ that were critical to be successful at the next level up e.g. qualifications, personal attributes or technical/soft skills.

Once Linda had her list, she proceeded to Step 2; she weighted each item on the list for importance. Items that were critical scored a ‘10’ – less important items received a lower score.

Linda then asked some of her colleagues at work to rate her on each item.  Here, it’s important to get the technique correct.  Linda received a low score for areas that she was strong in and a high score for areas where she needed development/improvement.

Step three is to multiply the numbers.  For example, one item ‘ability to influence others’ received an Importance score of 10.  Linda’s personal score in this area was “8” i.e. it was not rated as being one of her strengths.  Multiplying these two numbers gave a total of ‘80’. 

Once all items were multiplied out, Linda was able to single out the 3-4 items with the highest score.  This allowed her to focus on three significant issues that were clearly holding her back.

After our final session, Linda walked out with three key tools that would give her a clear career pathway.  But I suspect the most important ‘take-away’ was the good ol’ Gap Analysis.

Option #3 – In-house: Reduce hours without losing seniority

Many people ruin their chances to make a move to part-time work by confronting their boss with an immediate request to change their role.

A key to success here can be to see the world from the boss’ perspective. What is it that he/she needs to feel comfortable about giving the go-ahead for the change? Your request is more likely to win over your boss if it’s accompanied by a well thought-out transition plan e.g. identifying another employee who could be trained in your job.

Success is also more likely to go to a valued employee – the more critical you are to the business and the more you are valued as a person, the more likely it is that your boss agrees to the change. So, it’s worth reviewing your current contribution and how you are perceived at work. Make any necessary changes in your behaviour well in advance of the request.

Option #4: Time to Leave: Start over again without starting at the bottom

If you are toying with the thought of ‘reinventing’ yourself, take heart. People do it successfully all the time!

Step 1: Ensure the proposed career change suits the essence of who you are. For example, does it match your skills/interests and is there a good fit with your personality?

Step 2: Master the Job Search process. As an example, a basic rule of thumb is that “Networking is King” and 65% of new positions are generally picked up using this strategy.

Step 3: Launch a determined and strategic Job Search campaign – whatever it takes, do the hard yards, keep on track and persist.

Option #5 – Time to Leave: Forge your own pathway in life

It’s been many years since I vowed that I’d never put my fate in the hands of someone else again and started the consulting life.

I can still remember my shock, back then, when I read an article stating that the average consultant earned about $30,000 a year i.e. they had a very high hourly charge out rate but not much paid work.  That galvanised me into much more vigorous sales activity, I can tell you!  I was determined not to be one of THOSE types of consultants.

Since I started as a career specialist, I’ve met many people who’ve decided, after losing their job, to take their package and start life as a consultant. I jokingly say that my role is to try to scare the living daylights out of them and then, if that doesn’t work, switch to providing them with support to maximise the likelihood of it all working.

More seriously, over that time, there are two key lessons that I have learned:

     1. Specialise, specialise, specialise

     2. Be prepared to DRIVE your consulting practice as a BUSINESS


When I started my consulting life, I was a generalist HR operator.  I was no better or worse than many other consultants, which meant that my success directly correlated with my SALES ability.  A prospective client sitting opposite me would have many others to choose from.  So why would they choose me?

And they generally didn’t because I wasn’t very good at direct selling and because there were plenty of other people out there more charming, more persistent, better at maintaining those sorts of relationships than I was.

After I accidently fell into the careers area, life became easier.  I worked on a diverse range of projects early on, from a large voluntary redundancy project in downtown Port Augusta to huge factory shut-downs at Black & Decker and Mattel in Malaysia. (Anyone who visits our office will notice the Barbie dolls scattered around.)

As a specialist, I was able to deepen my knowledge and expertise and more easily differentiate myself from other consultants. It doesn’t mean that I don’t stretch myself if a client asks me to undertake related work, but I do not sell that message to the general marketplace.

So, I repeat and stress, find a technical niche to hang your hat on and don’t stray too far from it.

View yourself as the CEO of your practice

In the early days of consulting, you often pick up work from current contacts.  This generally lasts 18 months at the most and then you will likely be like the rest of us: you will need to prospect for more work.

And, you’ll be performing all the roles initially, from buying stationery to setting the vision for your business.  It’s a mixture of getting the practicalities down pat, having a skilled, active and ongoing marketing/selling campaign – working ON the business as well as in the business.

There’s also the key issue of power.  If you were a Line Manager in your former life, it can be quite disconcerting to realise that you have no power as a Consultant, only influence. Yes, I know that current leaders are supposed to achieve through influencing others, but there’s still a key difference.  I love the collegiate atmosphere of the consulting world but you need to carefully assess whether it’s for you.

If you think that you will get a GREAT deal of satisfaction forging your own pathway in life and endlessly striving and driving and planning and scheming (in the good sense of the word), then do it.  Otherwise, stick with being an employee – you might even be happier.

Switch from passive discontent to soaring like a bird

A few weeks ago, one of my clients uttered a cry of despair: “I just want to be in a job where I’m happy!” And boy did that resonate with me. When I first selected our company logo, I was a bit hesitant. It felt just the teeniest bit corny – a soaring creature reaching for the stars. But, I’m so glad I stuck with it.

Most of us spend a minimum of 8 hours a day at work and its importance goes far beyond merely providing us with an income. There is endless information and support available to help you manage your career.

Critical career decisions…If you can tap into this knowledge and then implement it, you too can soar and attain your ‘career’ stars.

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