We’ve all likely watched too many movies involving a maze where the hapless characters find themselves meandering aimlessly through the many zigs and zags in hopes they might miraculously find their way out. These poor souls are often portrayed as fumbling along, panicking at times, and relying mostly on luck in hopes that they might reach the other side. Some make it through and some don’t, some are lucky and others unlucky. But what if those same characters entering the maze knew exactly where they wanted to go? Imagine what a little strategy might accomplish and what effect it would have on the outcome. What if they actually planned their route prior to entering the labyrinth? It might make for dull movies, lacking the requisite drama, risk and intrigue to keep our attention, but for those entering the maze, their odds of success would drastically improve, avoiding the wrong turns and unnecessary pitfalls befitting less prepared participants.
Managing one’s career is a lot like a maze. Do you turn left, turn right or go straight ahead? What if you made a wrong turn, do you course correct and turnaround or do you stubbornly plow ahead in hopes an alternative route might emerge?
It had been my experience that far too often people make random career changes, attracted to something shiny, while lacking any foresight into how any specific move will influence their career or how it fits into any long-term career plan. One example I’ve seen far too often are former leaders bringing their direct reports to their next employment environment. It’s fine that the boss made the move, but just because she or he would like to you to follow, it doesn’t mean it’s in your best interest! As flattering as it might seem, does that person have your best interest at heart or is your exiting boss merely attempting to surround him or herself in the recently abandoned safety net. Does this move help you or your former boss? Maybe it’s the right move for you, but be sure, otherwise it’s a random choice with no consideration for your personal career goals. At worst it might be a wrong turn leading to a dead end. In places like Atlantic Canada these random moves are far too prevalent. We know someone and that makes the move seem more comfortable. Your first day will be less awkward and you’ll settle in more easily. But was the move a strategic one for your career? Despite the flattery and comfort, joining a new employer simply because you know people there, be it a former boss or colleague, might be among the single dumbest reasons to uproot your career.
As recruiters we often get asked what makes a good career and what distinguishes one career from the next. In my experience one of the most significant determinants is how individuals direct their careers. Rather than relying on luck or fate, successful people generally make deliberate choices that shape their careers with each change, be it an internal promotion, lateral move, or departure from one company to the next. The common denominator in all cases is these moves are not done randomly or in isolation, but rather in a series of smart decisions that lead to a desired outcome. Here at KBRS we have used the tag line, “Thinking Moves Ahead”, and although I can’t profess to be proficient at chess, the meaning is fairly obvious. Career moves, when done correctly, are intended to have a lasting positive effect and are rarely done in isolation, rather as part of a chain with each link stronger than the last. I’ll often advise candidates when considering a career change to not think about this year or even next, but rather several years into the future. Try to predict whether or not this move will serve your long-term interests. Will this move ultimately allow you to navigate the maze and achieve your career goals? If the answer is no or you’re not sure it’s likely best not to do it! Even when the change would result in higher pay or better benefits in the short to medium term, if it does not enhance your ability to achieve your careers goals, then the best move might not involve moving at all.
In my experience, those people who have done the best job managing their careers are those who have been planful with every move they have made. Their CV’s read like a set of stairs, with every move showing advancement and an upwards trajectory, not always a more senior role, but one that is strategic and well thought out and that advances them in some way. The very best of whom show professional development in parallel to career advancement. The professional development, be it formal or less formal, is focused on the same career goals as the career choices, both in lockstep towards one’s ultimate professional objective. None of these choices are random, rather they are carefully considered and evaluated against other options. We’ve all met these people, those that don’t allow chance to interfere with their success. These are people who truly think moves aheadand don’t allow random occurrences to sway them from their chosen path. Not surprisingly, they also tend to stay in jobs longer because they are less likely to whimsically choose to try something new. These résumés read like blueprints, a set of carefully choreographed decisions that all meld together to show a track record of success, culminating in individuals achieving long-term success and reaching their career potential.
Of course mistakes are made and even the best laid plans encounter obstacles, like the wrong turn in that maze, but despite any temporary set-back, those who make a career plan and go about executing on it will course correct if necessary and still achieve their goals, ultimately emerging from the maze and leaving their unplanned counterparts still wandering around.