Own Your Career, Don’t Let Your Career Own You

A career isn’t just something that happens TO us. It’s something that you influence on a daily basis, and there are intentional actions you can take and practical strategies you can utilize to keep you moving in the direction you want to go. However, so many of my coaching clients and people I’ve interacted with over the years believe their career is largely out of their hands! While you may not be able to magically influence the hiring authority or interview panel to see the true depths of your awesomeness and hand you the job for which you are applying, there are plenty of things you can do — starting today — to build the career you want.

It starts with being intentional. Without a clear starting point and a reasonably clear ending point, it will be pretty darn difficult to get to where you want to go! Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll is commonly misattributed as saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” This is actually a paraphrase of an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat that goes like this:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

How can you get “there” if you don’t have a clear idea of where “there” is or what it might look like when you arrive? Furthermore, if you don’t have a solid understanding of where you are starting from, it’s going to be that much more difficult to map out a route.

I’m not personally a fan of having a super strict 5-year plan, so when I say you should have an idea of where you’re heading, I don’t mean a minute-by-minute tactical plan that outlines every breath you’ll take for the next 5 years. However, you do need to have some clarity so that you can optimize opportunities as they come along. This might look like building a list of all the characteristics of a position or organization that you definitely don’t want. It could also be an outline of your “floor” requirements – what are your minimum requirements in terms of salary or hourly pay amount, full or part-time hours, virtual or in-person work, travel/no travel, supervisory/non-supervisory responsibilities, benefits/no benefits, title, etc? These are the things that absolutely must be in place for you to even consider the position. Also consider the aspects of a position or team that are most desirable – what are those characteristics, opportunities, or responsibilities that would make that position feel even dreamier to you? Outlining all of these and getting clear on what you really want will help build an accurate scorecard for you to use when you are evaluating opportunities.

Equally as important is having the courage to get really, really, ridiculously real about your starting point. For some of you, this means an extra dose of humility and realizing that *just perhaps* your winning personality and desire to do good work might need some additional experience or polish to boost your competitiveness for that gig you’re eyeing. For some of you, this means easing up on the self-criticism and giving yourself permission to embrace how awesome, talented, experienced, and capable you really are. To help gain some clarity, here are 5 suggestions to consider to help you find your accurate starting point:

1. Pull a copy of your dream job description (or the job you want next) and do a line-by-line self-assessment to see how your actual experience and skillset compares to the identified minimum qualifications. Be realistic here – include where you have actual experience (or not) along with where you have the aptitude. This is a critical difference that often leads to confusion for a lot of candidates.

2. After you’ve completed your self-assesment comparison to the minimum qualifications, have someone ELSE (who knows you well in the workplace) do the same assessment – grading your experience, skillset, and aptitude against the written minimum qualifications. This often leads to some really powerful insight and can give you clear action items to work on.

3. Make sure you have a clear understanding of how you present yourself to other people. Grab your phone or the nearest camera, and record yourself answering a few basic networking and interview questions. Then, watch your own recording to see if you have any opportunities to polish up your presentation! (I did this once and realized I have a nervous habit of tucking my hair behind my ear repetitively – SUPER distracting!) If you’re not sure what to ask yourself, try a few of these:

  • Tell us about yourself
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Nice to meet you! What brings you to this networking event?
  • Why do you think you have been successful in your career so far?
  • Talk about a time when you learned something from a challenging situation at work

4. Take that same recording and share it with a trusted mentor or career advisor. Get their feedback on how you come across, what works well, and what could use a tune-up.

5. Solicit 360 degree feedback from team members at work. (NOTE: If you’re not comfortable letting coworkers know you are looking to take your next step, consider asking this of former teams with whom you’ve worked.) Ask them what they think your strengths are, where are areas you could improve upon, how you are to work with as a team member, and what else they could see you doing beyond the position you currently have. If you have a specific position in mind, you can get really bold and ask them to assess your readiness, aptitude or competitiveness for that role. Be sure to receive all feedback graciously. A mayor I worked with used to say, “Feedback is a gift.” I agree, so treat it as such, even if it’s something you ultimately discard.

- Nicole



free: 5 Steps to finding clarity worksheet