Need a Career or Job Change? The Keys to Change Are In Your Hands

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“You are so right! I do own the keys to my career! Love it!”

One of my most pleasurable activities is following up with people who have read a blog post that caused them to send a note. This response was from a Chief HR Officer who is striving to be a new style senior level HR person.

The problem is her leadership team is stuck in the old ways of HR and can’t see the forest for the trees.

In our email exchange, I used the expression “you own the keys to your career; no company ever owns that.”

That is a statement that I have always believed in. When I hear of people discussing their situations, while valid, they should always remember who is in charge. That is something that no one can take away from you.

Get in and move up is an old concept

The strategy at one time was to get into a major company and build your career there. Over the years, theoretically, you would climb the proverbial ladder to more responsibilities, title, and the accompanying benefits that result.

But that picture has changed dramatically for all parties involved. There is no long-term strategy in getting in and moving up. With change as the new constant, those days are of a bygone era.

What that means is that people must realize they need to take control of their career so that they can reach their goal — which may not include a “corporate job.” Let’s face it; you can’t depend on organization’s today, and not only that, but the more experience you bring to the table, the more valuable you are.

The problem with most careers is that so many people just let it all happen. They get caught up with going through the motions, and when they look up, they see no way out.

Work hard, keep your head down is a flawed concept

I had a friend that made it to C-Level after working at his firm for 20 plus years. One day he came in and he was told they were “moving in a different direction.” Just like that, all those years went down the drain.

As my friend reflected back on his career, he could see the missed opportunities. Headhunters were constantly calling. Although he had Board access, he never built relationships. As he said, he simply kept his head down and did good work

When all of this hit, he realized that his resume was dated, and, he did not know how to navigate in the social era of finding a job. Since he had not interviewed in years, he did not know how to prepare for today’s environment. He had few contacts on LinkedIn, and his profile was abysmal compared to other C-Level people in his profession.

To say he was lost is an understatement. I actually felt sorry for him, because he could have gotten in but never took the keys.

My friend reflected on how he could have been so blind to how things had changed. When I gave him my key analogy, he admitted he gave his company the keys, figuring that they would be on the lookout for him. The problem with that scenario is that they were on the lookout, but for a new level of expertise.

Stay in shape

People go to the gym to exercise so they can stay in shape. In our jobs today, we must also stay in shape, but from a career perspective.

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We do not want to look up and realize we are out of synch with the climate of today, either in the marketplace or in your company. There are no quick solutions, but you must realize that your career is in your hands.

Career bliss is a constant journey and there are not five easy steps to getting it right. It took a while for you to get into your current career position, and it will take longer to get out of it.

My friend got into a comfort zone until that pivotal moment when he faced a wake-up call. Whether it’s an increasing sense of unhappiness about your work or life, a clear signal about the impending death of your industry [like publishing], or an actual layoff, it can be disorienting. He had not developed the survival instincts even though he saw all these symptoms in his friends and figured they did not apply to him.

All the prescriptions for the symptoms were ignored: resume review, polish up your LinkedIn profile, craft a value proposition, and work your network. More importantly, you need to create a personal brand.

Waking up

You can (and should) never be lulled into a sense of calm concerning your job. At any given time, that can be disrupted.

I read so many announcements of companies laying off people, and the first thing I think of  is “how many were ready for this opportunity to re-adjust? How many were in great career shape to seize the next opportunity?”

If your job changed tomorrow, what would you do? If you finally came to the realization that this current role was not for me, what would you do?

It’s pretty straightforward: Get in shape when your mind is clear, and your future self will appreciate you for it.

Always remember — you own the keys.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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1 Comment on “Need a Career or Job Change? The Keys to Change Are In Your Hands

  1. Great article Ron, it’s important to keep pushing this message. The story of the C-level executive you shared is unfortunately quite common, and it’s an issue for both employers and employees. If employees aren’t continually developing their skills and ‘keeping with the times’, it’s at the expense of the A) company given a loss in productivity and B) employee given it impacts career progression and career satisfaction. We suggest employers and employees work together to define what near and long-term success looks like to ensure continued growth and development.

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