Avoid Life in a Rut

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Avoid Life in a Rut

Mid-life crisis is real. Many of us think it’s just a popular urban legend, yet its popularity rise arises from the fact that the legend rests on some truths, especially one which hits hardest and truest at our all important “careers”.

Showing Life’s Reality

We often see cases of committed professionals and managers, who after 15 or 20 ¬†years on the job, suddenly stop and ask themselves ‘I’ve been doing this for so long; what’s next?’” says Adrian Choo (BBA (Hons) 1997), Principal at Boyden, a top global executive search firm. According to him, the question comes too late for such people. “At that stage, they would already be in their forties, used to certain ways and organizational structures, stuck in a comfort zone, and their skills restricted and relevant to specific kinds of jobs or specialists areas only. The irony is that they have spent all this time managing their business and departments, but not their careers. As a result, they become redundant in the job market.

Adrian gave the true-to-life example of an outstanding professional who had been with his Fortune 100 company for eighteen years, turning down several other job offers along the way, because he was contented with his position and prospects in the company. When he was finally retrenched, he found that other companies were no long willing to take him on. “They believed he would be too steeped in the corporate culture of his former company which has such a strong identity, and not be able to fit into a new environment,” Adrian reveals.

Painful as it may be to think that commitment to one’s job and loyalty to the company might result in professional redundancy, Adrian says the truth cannot be ignored, “that is why we give talks to senior executives to get them thinking about a career strategy“.

If the gentleman in the example had a career strategy, he would have left his company by the eighth year – after chalking up the requisite experience, industry knowledge and management skills, before becoming set in a particular mould.

Think Career Strategy

To avoid a similar fate, it appears that one must have a career strategy at the beginning of one’s working life; and keep refining it along the way, especially in today’s fast-changing world.

In the old days, being in the same job was a good thing; it spelt stability, commitment, loyalty. But now, if someone has been in a company for a considerable time, potential employers ask “Why didn’t he move? Is there something wrong with him?” Adrian further explained that staying too long in one place has several disadvantages. “It is bad for one’s positioning in the market, their salaries would not commensurate with market rates, and employers would question their ability to adapt to a new company. And remember, the timeframe defining ‘deadwood’ is constantly getting shorter.

Adrian says one hits a ‘career ceiling’ if one is unable to move further in a job or organization because one lacks skills or qualifications, or if such a move requires a commitment one is not prepared to make. It is then time to strategize – fast.

Leading Career Advancement

Adrian shares his personal findings in his seminars to help people strategize their careers. “There is a tried-and-tested methodology to strategizing your career. I formulated it after six years in the headhunting business, speaking to hundreds of senior professionals on how they successfully managed their careers. I saw a common thread running through all their stories, and common denominators in their styles. I compiled all that into my system,” Adrian recalls.

The first thing one must do is “to find an anchor that will help you swing from your current position into a new one. This may be relevant skill sets or domain knowledge that can be applied across industries or corporations; or people you know and contacts you have who can open a way into the new company“. Adds Adrian, “Another step is to position yourself in a way that is relevant to the new job by focusing on the three most appropriate talents you have, and then selling those attributes.

Many would find it hard to take the time to strategize their career while caught up in the demands of work. But Adrian says that is no excuse. “If you have the time to plan a vacation, or your investment strategy, then you have time to strategize your career. Just take an afternoon off, go to the beach and sit with a clean sheet of paper. List your strengths, your passions, and what you want or do not want in your next job – is it more or less sales, more or less travel? Then act on it. that is all it takes,” Adrian reassures.

Adrian is currently writing a book called “What Is Your Career Strategy”, a step-by-step guide to finding career satisfaction, targeted at senior business leaders. It is expected to be launched in late 2009.

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