About making Career Choices

In the last couple of weeks, I have had opportunity to discuss and guide two people on their career choices. Although I had done innumerable such discussions in my corporate career, the recent discussions reminded me once again of how hard making a career choice can be — the decision is complex because there are way too many variables to consider. This gets confounded when the current goings on for the candidate is not necessarily bad and further challenging if s/he is being sought after by the prospective employer (or a different group within the same firm).

I have made a few rank stupid mistakes in my career and had suffered their consequences. I have come a long way from then on and also, having counseled 100s of candidates in my career later on, I learnt a significant amount about careers from vicarious experience as well as my direct experience. In today’s job seekers’ market, where multiple job offers and 50%+ salary hikes have become common, I think career focus could be an easy casualty and hence even more critical to focus on it.

I believe that in the long run, title and salary grow in proportion to the value one creates. This value is not proportional to effort or time spent on the job. A CEO does not spend significantly more time per day on work (definitely not more than 1.5–2 times) than an average employee in the firm but gets paid much more than 2 times the pay. Career progress tends to be non-linear and it typically compounds with time. So, it is critical that career choices result in enhancing chances to create disproportional value later on.

Here are few thoughts on this subject

  • If one is stuck in a bad job situation, clearly a change is required. But many times, one ends up exchanging one bad situation with another. This is because one’s decision is heavily influenced by wanting to get away from the current suffering and not so much by suitability of the next opportunity. Wishful thinking (grass is greener on the other side) and confirmation bias further confound these decisions
  • Just because an opportunity knocks at your door does not mean that it is a good opportunity. If a prospective employer sought you out, it may give a good boost to your ego. It feels good to know that someone values your skills and capabilities. This could give you just the right kind of break but it could as easily lead you to dead-ends
  • Salary is the price organizations pay for the value you create. There are periods when price lags value and then there are periods when value lags price but ultimately price and value follow each other. From what I hear and what I see, it seems like price is running ahead of value these days, so it would be good to focus on increasing value proportionally so that eventually there are no threats to employment itself
  • Passion is overrated and value creation (making progress) is underrated. Efforts are overrated and results are underrated. “what” is overrated and “how” is underrated
  • Being in comfort zone is a clear indicator that you are not growing. Seek discomfort but the right kind
  • Don’t confuse job/work and career. There are things you do for getting good appraisal ratings and there are things you do to build your career. While there may be an overlap between these things, it is important to understand the difference and invest one’s efforts accordingly. Delivering on a project by working overtime is an example of things you do for good appraisal rating. Networking is an example of a thing you do for building your career
  • Education and certification programs have limited value in career growth however they may be needed to maintain employment in certain fields
  • I believe one should consider “inside” and “outside” views of the opportunity before making the decision to take it up. By “inside view”, I mean the features and characteristics of the opportunity in the context of one’s career growth. “Outside view” refers to the non-career aspects that have significant bearing on career choices (e.g., impact on family)

Inside View

  • Does the new role align with your strengths. As in, does performance in new role require leveraging your strengths and does not depend on executing on your weak areas. Converting weakness into strengths is a fool’s errand. It is always better to be able to leverage your strengths and work around weaknesses
  • Does the new role provide visibility with senior management (in the minimum, visibility to boss’s boss and her/his peers)
  • Does the role fall into the domain and function of your interest
  • Does it have good learning potential
  • Will it challenge you
  • What is the networking potential
  • Will you get to work with colleagues who are better than you? The value of working with folks better than you, is often ignored
  • Is that organization guided by a clear vision and purpose? Does it operate with growth mindset? Do your personal values align with the organization’s values. Ecosystem has a disproportional impact on your personal growth

Outside factors

  • What is the impact on your spouse
  • What about impact on your children
  • Impact on close relatives and friends
  • Impact on your societal set-up
  • Impact on commute time
  • If moving cities, impact from climate and traffic
  • Would there be any impact on your hobbies (eg., running culture)

In early stages of career, “inside factors” tend to dominate one’s thinking but in later stages, “outside” priorities my take equal or more priority

Context

  • Is the change a conscious choice or has it defaulted to you? Does it align with your long term vision for your career
  • How do you perceive career in the context of your life — do you live for your career or does your career help you live? Is your self-worth derived from your career positioning?
  • Does the career choice help you with getting you closer to your life goals?

When in doubt it is worth remember the following quotation ascribed to Einstein:

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein

….for, value leads to success

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Thanks for your time. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that can help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experimented with. To this extent, this is not traditional “self-help” advice.

If you wish to reach out or want to know more about me, follow these links:

Rama on Linkedin (CV and Blogs)

Rama on Instagram (my workouts)

Making Better Decisions Newsletter on LinkedIn

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