The Best Step For Your Career Right Now

When it comes to your career, the way you want your professional life to look, the pilot in charge is you. When we were kids, one of the things you might remember is how parents pushed us to go to school, learn things, and the importance of a “good job”. Back then, though, without being informed exactly why we should do that, or how we’d recognize it, it seemed like nothing more than a far-away dream (or nightmare) without connections to our own life.

I don’t think there are many people who didn’t dread some form of counselor or teacher with the heavily loaded question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “Where do you want to be in 10 years from now”. That last specter still manages to rise from the grave even in our job interviews!

With some exceptions, young people were pushed to grow up into workers, and sometimes this neglected the notion of growing into a profession, or potentially finding a calling that was more important than going to college or getting that good job. This was followed up with the college push; everybody had to get into college, to get a good job you had to have the highest education. Sometimes this meant people getting into college that shouldn’t have, or didn’t want to.


Every one of us sees the world slightly differently, and we’ve not grown up nor were we wired similarly either. Now children receive a lot more attention in terms of their emotional growth, broadening experience and understanding, and finding out what their strengths are and how they can best be put to use in growing a professional life. That’s an amazing change, and it’s one that is now also happening in our own professional lives.

We can see what the requirements are for jobs in digital job adds globally. We can see what the average salaries and job satisfaction ratings are on Glassdoor. We can connect with people in that job right now on Linkedin and ask them what it’s like and what their challenges are. Before our application emails contain a single word, we can prepare so much better now for the questions we need to ask and the discussions we need to hold.

But it means nothing without agency.

Agency is more than being “allowed” to do what you should be doing. It also involves feeling empowered to do so. It means that when you become curious about something, you feel free to research it, reach out, decide for yourself if you like it and whether to go for that new job or not.

Agency is not about making a choice, it is about being willing and able to make that choice.

Modern Efforts At Development

Career development right now is a bit of a one-way street. Companies invest in global vacancy platforms but have no options for internal recruitment. Young Talent programs and college-level recruitment efforts leave the established employees feeling neglected and bitter. Training programs are set up to bring everyone up to the minimum required skills for their job, as seen by the company, without an eye on the capabilities of the people that will be trained by those.

The field of HR Development is changing rapidly, with new technologies, methods of analysis and shiny easy-to-implement tools coming out every year. But it leaves the HR field in danger of being blinded by “the next best thing” and try to maximize return on investment by focusing efforts on the new and young employees, while leaving the established or senior employees hanging.

Thanks to the changes in the gig economy, schooling, and the plethora of crises that the millennial generation has witnessed (and will in the future) you don’t need to tell them that they are in control of their future. They are intimately aware of it and, while I am saddened that apparently this needed to come this far, it means a new generation moves ahead faster, smarter and sustainably. They know their schooling should be more than the sum of its part, that life experiences in the end trump a signed piece of paper and that doing what gives you energy in the long run allows you to grow a long and healthy life rather than burning up at retirement.

Cheap, Fast or Well-Done

But this sentiment is now also lump-sum delivered by companies. People are in charge of their own development, so that means they have to signal what they want to achieve, set up the plan how to achieve it, and then when that plan is executed you have a shot at achieving the role or position you wanted to have.

Notice how this has become a triple burden?

As you are in charge of your own development and career, you need to signal what you want to achieve. This means you need to know what you want, from your life and from your career. You then need to translate this into a shared language between you and your supervisor/HR so that all people involved understand exactly what it is that you want, and what weight each of these values has.

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Then you discuss these inputs with your supervisor and/or HR and then comes a negotiation phase. You may have decided on what you want, but the company wants things too. They have a record of your performance, (presumably) a measure of your personality and capability, and they have needs that must be met. This means that from the company’s view, your development must in some way benefit the company, or else there would be little interest for them to spend money on it. Even if you could show a study that says that playing the violin reduces stress and this in turn improves your performance, they are very unlikely to invest in violin lessons for you. (*Some companies might, and those are awesome companies, but they are rare*)

This means that you may need to promise things in return for support in your development. Often, trainings and job-related development is covered by the company. This makes sense, I am talking about what goes beyond your job. If you want to become a manager, that management training may come with a contract stating you have to pay some or all of it back if you leave the company before five years passed. Or you might be allowed to shadow a manager, on the condition that your performance does not drop. Or you might be able to follow in with some other team’s work to learn the ropes, but you’d have to do it in your own time.

You have to be your own push factor in this plan. This is a negotiation phase just as tough as a job interview. Your company wants to guide your development to what is of benefit to them, you want what benefits yourself. How much can you achieve in your development without frustrating the goals you have set for yourself?

And then there is no guarantee. Even if you’d want to develop further into the company, there is no promise or certainty of being able to use the skills and talents you’ve honed in that way. A manager position might open up, but it’s given to an outside hire because “we need a fresh management perspective” or “you are not ready yet for assuming that responsibility”. Perhaps you could fill up an open spot in another team but your manager “needs your skills here to achieve the performance targets” or “that is a junior position and we’re not paying a senior to do a junior’s job”.

Sound familiar? This is the part of the career development cycle inside a company that is currently developing into its new form.

With the burden of deciding, planning and executing a career plan squarely on the shoulders of an employee, it makes sense that the next step also becomes increasingly guided by the employees themselves. They either make a role for themselves, or they find one that fits them better.

This means that highly motivated and talented individuals, who have been frustrated in their efforts to put their newfound skills to use and make a change in their lives, will try and grow their current role into the one they are looking for, or will be on the lookout for a vacancy that satisfies their needs. The former is not great for the company, because it will muddle up their role system and make processes a lot less transparent, while the latter option will deprive the company of the skill and talent of that employee as well as any investments made into that person.

What Can You Do?

In the end, yes, the way your career will develop is in your own hands. When a company says it, it means that you need to be clear in communicating your needs and show a passion to achieve them. For yourself, it means letting go of the notion that your career is set inside a single job, a single company or a single industry.

The first step of having a career is deciding you will have one.

Simple but true, decide that you will be controlling the flow of your career, rather than accepting positions in your reach as they come along. This means starting the journey of mapping your wants and needs, cataloguing your skills and talents, and contemplating what it is you want to get out of your profession and what jobs fit those results.

Next I will write four blog posts, each with one of the four steps of gaining control of your career:

  1. Deciding what you want and need in life
  2. Awareness of what you can do and your own value
  3. How your job can energize your life and vice versa
  4. Learning the language to describe your career

This is an ambitious plan, because in my opinion you could probably start a blog proper for each individual topic, but my aim is to get you started, not write the be-all and end-all on those steps. So stick with me, and let’s get to setting your career in motion!


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