Listen to your heart if you want to have career success.
What does your heart want? I asked this question to two people this past week who were at a career crossroads, and it is one that most job seekers need to ask themselves. I find that many people are not strategic about their career and therefore find themselves in a job, organization or career path that does not sit right with them. From my conversations, these people often know something may feel wrong but often cannot articulate the reason. This is not uncommon. In 2017, The Gallup Organization found that 85% of employees worldwide were not engaged in their jobs. In the US, that number was slightly better with 70% of employees not feeling engaged at work. Why is this happening? It happens, I believe, because very few of us are strategic about our careers. But you can be if you get honest with yourself.
As an HR Director, I had an employee who I will call “Karen.” “Karen” never seemed to be happy. Her work was okay, but when I would walk by her, she never smiled, and I rarely saw her interacting with others. Her manager was concerned because she did not seem to really like what she was doing. One day she decided to give her notice. I conducted an exit interview with her. I found out that she had quit with no other job. I probed a bit about this, as I wanted to see her motivation, as I knew she was a single woman living on her own, so a risky move. It turned out that she had given her career a lot of thought and decided she was in the wrong field. She said that she needed to be in a more creative field which was completely opposite to the analytical work she was doing. She said she was going to pursue this. I was surprised but very pleased for her. Fast forward to today where she is working in a creative area she loves and reports to be very happy with her decision.
For career happiness, get honest with yourself in these areas.
Why am I doing what I do?
There are some lucky young adults who get good guidance in high school, maybe take some job fit tests and then have a good sense of what they want to do. Most of us are not as lucky. We go through high school having a vague idea of our next immediate goal (college, trade school, military) and look to pursue this. Often, though, there is not a big exploration as to “why” one path is best. It may be just a parental expectation, a way to escape a situation or there is nothing else that sparks interest. This is often the start of what I call the “floating syndrome” which is not having a plan based on your own desires and dreams. You just float from one job to another, one career to another, without rhyme or reason. It can result in a college degree, perhaps in a major that is pleasing to a parent or a career path in which you are not passionate about. It can result in certification in an area that may be in high demand but which leaves you yawning. It can result in getting a job, any job, no matter what it is, just so you can pay the rent.
I started my career path as an Economist. Why? Simply because that was my major. I wanted a “business-type” degree but did not want a true business degree, so I could take liberal arts courses that really interested me. Then as I was looking for my first job, what could I do with this degree? Why, of course, be an Economist. Which I did for three years. The problem was that I did not like the job. The work was only mildly interesting. Truth be told, I wasn’t that interested in economics when I was studying it in college. Being good at something and being interested in it can be two different things. I did well in my classes, but I wasn’t passionate about it.
After three years, I decided that I could not do this type of work for the rest of my life. I actually did some deep thinking about what did hold an interest for me; what in my life made me happy. I loved the catering and hospitality jobs that I had. The environment and the ability to serve others and bring joy was of interest. That led me to want a career in the hospitality industry. I went back to school to pursue a degree in this, as I knew I wanted to not just be in the industry, but I wanted to have a career at a higher level in this field.
Am I being continuously challenged and growing?
For many, not feeling growth and continual challenge causes a lack of engagement. This can be within the same job, where the person does the same thing day in and out, or the lack of upward progression in one’s career with increasing responsibilities. With many organizations having a flat hierarchy, getting a promotion is often tough. Are you feeling you are being left behind because you have had the same title for years? If you continue to grow and have interesting work, then this may not be an issue. But if you are getting all the extra work and challenges but not the title (or pay), this might not sit well with you.
After having been in talent acquisition for over a decade, I was ready for a change. I felt like the days started to get very repetitive - source candidates, interview candidate, rinse and repeat. I wanted more. I was fortunate that I had an employer that heard me and moved me into a role that had talent acquisition but also other parts of HR. It was ideal. I kept recruiting, which I did and do still love, but also got a bit more variety in my day. I launched my career on a new path, one that has given me great joy and satisfaction.
What type of organization/manager do I work best with?
I cannot emphasize enough how important knowing this can be to your engagement and happiness. In my career as a recruiter, an important part of my job was to match the personal and work characteristics of the person to the organization and team dynamics. I have even used something called the Predictive Index to help assess fit. If the fit is not there, it will be hard to have true success in a role. As an example, one of the drivers of behavior that the Predictive Index looks at is Patience. This is called the driver for consistency and stability. Some people need a lot of this, others don’t. If you need this and the organization/job does not provide this, there is a mismatch.
How do you feel about authority? Are you okay to go by what your boss says or are you a person that questions everything? Are you a person that likes to do what you want when you want? There is a place for everyone, but a specific organization or boss may not be the right place or person for you.
I once took a job because I was about to be laid off and was desperate to not be unemployed. I knew that this job was not the right place, but I told myself I could make it work. My boss was a joy, but the organization itself was a mess. I tend to be a rule follower, and this organization liked to make up rules as it went, especially at the whim of the owner. Also, being in HR, I should have seen that the lack of money put into the facility would also equate to lack of money put to support employee compensation, benefits, and development. The signs were all there, but I chose to ignore them. I lasted there all of one year, the shortest tenure at any employer in my career.
Maybe at the beginning of your career, it is tough to assess this type of fit. You just do not know enough about how organizations and bosses work. Yet, I see mid-career professionals make the same mistake. You do know what works best for you; you just need to get clear about it.
Those other important things like pay, benefits and commute
Jobs and careers provide extrinsic and intrinsic benefits. I have discussed many of the intrinsic benefits of work, such as feelings of satisfaction, alignment, and purpose. There are some extrinsic or outside the individual benefits, that should not be overlooked. The biggest one in this category is compensation. If you do not feel that you are being paid what is consistent for the market, you can feel ill feelings toward your boss and employer and become disengaged. The important thing here is to get a true picture of your marketability. Use information from salary.com or glassdoor.com as guides, not as absolutes of your worth in the marketplace. If there is a disparity, also evaluate the other benefits as well as the intrinsic value you get from your work. A lower paying job with good benefits and a great mission may be more valuable to you than a higher paying job where your work style is not a good fit for the organization. Benefits offered also fall into the same category as compensation. If something is lacking, this may be a cause to reevaluate if your employer fits your needs. I once left a position because, among other things, the company did not provide a match to their 401 (k). It would not have been my sole reason for leaving, but this one thing did not sit well with me and was the tipping point when other intrinsic benefits seem to be going away.
A word about commutes. I have had two jobs within five miles of each other. I lived rather far away from each of them. One commute was in stop and go traffic and would take 60-70 minutes one way. Another commute was 55 minutes on country roads with little traffic but slower speed limits. I had no problem with the second commute, but I did the first one. I would come to work frazzled and it would take a good 30-45 minutes to unwind. Commutes do have an impact on your quality of life. Do not underestimate it. I good job in a career you love can compensate for this, a bad job cannot. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do on a daily basis.
So what will the two people I asked to listen to their heart decide? I don’t know. I am excited to hear, though. One said that she was already asking herself hard questions to try to understand her feelings about a career opportunity that on paper would appear good but which she seems to have brought some feelings of trepidation. The other said she needs to make a career switch from a career that is exhausting her, but she does not know what that next career path should be. I know without a doubt, though, that this exercise will mean that the next step, whatever it is, will be the right one for each.