Many years ago I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to understand where I was going was to encounter as many people and opportunities as I could. Through some very hard lessons from my mentors and through life itself, I realized that I was in charge of my career path and choices. And more important, that my career path would neither be linear or sector centric. These revelations took my blinders off and I was able to see so many new opportunities that were not tethered to my past, my education, or what I preferred. Are you following me? In other words, once I realized I had to get out of my own way, my options and opportunities multiplied.
Last week I met with a graduate class in public policy to talk about their impending graduation and their career choices. We discussed many things but I tried to impress upon them two basic ideas:
- It's the Boss–Other than mission alignment, your personal belief in the vision/goals of the employer, the number one factor in choosing a job is who your boss will be. Do you have a sense of chemistry with her? Do you see her helping you and providing counsel and advice? Have you done any due diligence on her? Your progression and future are tied more to her than the company's reputation.
- Your Toolbox is Transferable–Don't make the mistake I did early in my career by trying to find an elevator, escalator or a plain ole ladder to advance my career in a single silo sector. Your skills are applicable to other working worlds. Each one of you has so many other skills and abilities, in addition to your newly minted degrees. Pursue your curiosities and passions not just a rational career path.
Literally an hour after my invigorating session with the students, I was waiting at my doctor's office to have my annual physical. Dr P. comes in with a big smile and greets me warmly. I have been going to see him for almost 20 years. There are few who know you better than your MD! Since I have been having these annual checkups I have had 8 jobs in arguably five different fields. From for-profit to non-profit. Start-up to publicly traded company. Higher education to online education. Grantee to grantor. Anyway, Dr P has heard my various job stories and received a small collection of business cards over the years. He looks at me with a wry smirk and says,"Where we working now?" I have become pretty defensive about this question and find it less and less humorous. After all I have been at CCF for more than 3 years! The point is I have a bit of a reputation for making job and career moves, moves that are not intuitive to some, especially those wearing handcuffs of semi-precious metals.
Early in my career, I got occasional calls from recruiters. I found them uncomfortable conversations. I felt like I was cheating on my employer. I had a good job, a good boss and I was not looking. Some job prospects didn't make any sense in terms of mission, geography and fit. Others were intriguing. But I rarely did more than just try to be civil and discrete. I learned quickly that headhunters should become part of my network.
A mentor said to me that you have to inteview for things that interest you. And don't dismiss any opportunity until you KNOW you are not interested. Here was the the kicker for me: When you get out there and explore other opportunities you grow and so does your brand! He advised me to "interview" for information and inspiration on a regular basis. I later interpreted that to be every other month. That's right, I will respond to at least 6 real and interesting opportunities that are presented to me each year. My record since 1993 is fully intact! These have been interesting opportunities to meet people, executive search firms, and think about something new. Had one such conversation on Friday, so I am good for another 8 weeks. 🙂 I seriously do not have any interest in leaving my current employer, but the practice continues to yield so many benefits for me. I told my former boss about my "interview" goals and he said he wholeheartedly agreed on the concept of "interviewing". In fact he told me he expects 8 "job offers" a year!
Let me be clear, this is not about leaving, this is about learning. Being asked to interview is much different than seeking an interview. This is about staying fresh. This is about staying sharp. This is about strengthening your network. This is about finding yourself, advancing your brand and clarifying your path.
At the end of the week, I agreed to have an informational interview with this very accomplished gentleman referred by a close friend. He was just "exploring possible options" for his future. He was looking and had decided to leave his current job! We both knew what was going on. He told me this was his first "interview" in the last 12 years. Big mistake. Hard to move when your brand is stale and you are unaware of the landscape and frankly your own personal interests and your value in the marketplace. We discussed my "philosophy" and he said he had never heard of such a thing. But wished he had adopted the diet of 6 interviews a year, long before.
Thanks for reading. John