Managing Your Career

by Barbara Buffton

Where are you now?

OK – so you’ve made the decision to manage your career. This does not necessarily mean making huge changes in your life. It might simply mean having a plan of action so you know what to do and when to do it: for example, ensuring you seek out opportunities for your continuous professional development.

On the other hand, once you take responsibility for your own development, you might just find there are things you have to do right now, some of which might involve changes, big or small.

Three steps to knowledge

Before you decide to make any changes in your life, it’s a good idea to establish exactly where you are now. It then becomes easier to see where any changes can be made and when or whether they need to be made.

Step 1

Ask yourself ‘How happy/unhappy am I in my work?’ This will help you decide the extent and timing of any change you might consider.

  • If you’re basically happy, maybe managing your career is about future planning to ensure you continue to grow and develop as is appropriate for your motivation.
  • If you’re basically unhappy, you might want to consider doing something about it as soon as possible! This is likely to lead to you making some changes in your life.
  • If you’re somewhere in the middle – maybe mildly dissatisfied or fairly content – then it is definitely worth taking the time to explore opportunities. See the quote below, by Mark Twain.

Why waste time?

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain

Step 2

Determine your current strengths and weaknesses. Knowing these will help you decide what you might need in order to progress your career. For instance, do you need to develop your communication skills or your ability to delegate? Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will also help you decide whether you’re in the right job. If your key strength is presenting to clients and yet you spend your day doing paperwork, maybe there’s a clue there as to why you’re unhappy?

You might want to find out what other people consider to be your strengths and weaknesses, because each of us sees the world through our own lens. In other words, we don’t always have sufficient self-awareness to be honest with ourselves – we have blind spots. Colleagues, friends, family and our line manager are often better judges of our character.

Key action

Ask three people inside or outside your organisation to give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.

(Note: if you don’t want to do this or can’t do it, simply imagine asking three people – what would they say?)

Step 3

Where are you at this stage of your career development? Are your values (what’s important to you) being met? If not, that might explain why you feel like the proverbial square peg in a round hole.

What do you need to feel good in your job? What makes – or would make – your job satisfaction levels high?

Make a list of your most important work values:

  • Location
  • Travel opportunities
  • Challenge
  • Teamwork
  • Achievement
  • Satisfaction
  • Autonomy
  • Responsibility
  • Making a difference
  • Helping others
  • Power
  • Fun
  • Variety.

This is not an exhaustive list. You may immediately be able to think of other values which matter more to you.

Once you have an idea of your main values (between six and eight is a good number), list them in order of priority.

You are now in a position to work out whether there is a disconnect between your values and your career. Is doing what you’re doing now and being where you are getting/giving you what you really want in life?

If not, then you have to decide how important this is to you? Important enough to make some changes? And if so, which ones will make the difference to you? For example, if one of your key values is variety and you are doing a job that is totally repetitive, you are not going to be happy, are you? The answer may be either to change your job to one where you do get some variety or to introduce variety into your current job.

You can use your list of values whenever you want to make career decisions. People are happiest when their work corresponds with their values and challenges them to fulfil their potential.

If you have worked through the steps suggested above, you may now have a greater understanding about what’s important to you and a bit more self-awareness as to your strengths and weaknesses. From here, you might want to keep up the momentum of managing your own career by moving on to What do you want? and/or What are your options?.

You have to have confidence in your ability and then be tough enough to follow through.

Rosalynn Carter