I was recently invited to address the Interdepartmental Government Accounting Group Conference.
The topic of my speech was ‘Making Tough Career Decisions’. This is part 1 of my speech.
As a recruiter I continually meet people who chose not to make the tough career decisions, and instead let the decisions be made for them. This often leads to unhappiness and frustration, with the person blaming everyone else but themselves. They then approach the employment market, to look for a new job, often without clarity of mind or clear direction.
So even by reading this blog you have taken that first step towards taking responsibility for analysing your career and arming yourself with some tactics.
So, typical recruiter style, I’m going to ask you a few questions….
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Remember when you were a kid and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? At a recent family gathering I was reminded that my answer, at age 5, was that when I grew up I wanted to be a swinger!
Let me put some context around that. At the time I was on a swing, focused on getting that thing as high and as fast as I could.
Many years later happily married, I can report that whilst not a swinger, I’m still working as hard as I can to get as high up as I can as fast as I can.
Here are some of my tough decisions so far. What are yours?
It seems these days, between work, family and hobbies that I don’t have the luxury of time that I had at 5 to reflect on what I want to be when I grow up.
When it comes to making the tough career decisions, mine are those key turning points in my life such as starting my accounting degree, getting into recruitment and later starting my own business.
Who are you really? Who do you want to be?
I have always known that I wanted a career, that I wanted to excel at my chosen profession and that I wanted to be well paid.
I wanted the independence that comes with earning a good living. Just somewhere in between all of that I wanted to fit in kids, but that is another story!
My life’s mantra is “abundance” – and I seek it in every aspect.
To help me put this into context for the audience, I used some real life case studies!
I decided to talk to some leaders in the public sector to get their thoughts on making the tough career decisions and successfully managing their career to support my conclusions.
I met with an Auditor General, the Managing Director of a large Government IT company, and a Department CFO. People I’ve known for a long time, who I knew would be honest with me.
It’s an interesting point that two of the executives I spoke to aren’t technical specialists in relation to their field of business. One is an ex accountant, not a techo – but successfully leads a Government IT company; and another is not a career auditor but leads that function within his Department
You don’t need to be a technical specialist to be a leader – many senior executive roles are focused around leadership, relationships, building capability, vision and strategy.
What do you want to be?
A technical specialist or a leader? Of course you could choose to be a processor, but I think you run the risk of being replaced by technology!
Depending on your answer, your strategy would be to either build a core set of technical competencies and happily accept that you may not reach the highest levels of Government executive ranks.
Or you constantly seek out new challenges and gain broad exposure in relation to people, business and strategy and move up into the executive ranks.
I’m not suggesting that you have to be a leader, or that you have to narrowly classify yourself,
I’m saying that regardless of where you want to be, you must take the time to understand what that is.
It’s that notion of emotional intelligence that includes attributes such as honesty self reflection, taking responsibility and being resilient despite set backs, that is critical here.
Can you handle the consequences? What are you prepared to sacrifice?
It’s one thing to be able to make the tough decision – but are you prepared to accept the consequences? If at this point you are still unsure about where it is you want to be, ask yourself, what am I prepared to sacrifice?
All the responses I got back to this question, was that often work life balance was sacrificed due to demands placed on their time.
So if you want certainty, predictability and routine, you need to accept that perhaps a leadership role is not for you.
Where are you?
Ask yourself, where are you in your career lifecycle – mid way, starting out, nearing retirement? As the answer will also impact on the decisions you make.
Can you overcome setbacks?
All of the people I spoke to had, on more than one occasion been unsuccessful in interviews, or overlooked for a promotion.
Some having acted in roles were not appointed. Despite this, and naturally disappointed at first, they were able to pick themselves up, refocus and recast.
One of the executives I spoke to set a goal to move up a level every year. He achieved this, but had to overcome set backs along the way.
Finding himself blocked in a corporate role, he moved out and up, into a District role to keep his career progression on track.
Many years later he is the newly appointed CFO for one of the largest Queensland Departments.
Another of the executives wasn’t initially appointed into the MD role. Once he accepted that set back he refocused his mind, set the course for his future success and his subsequent appointment. He stresses the need for adaptability in situations like this.
Stuck in your comfort zone?
Finding his career stalled and locked in his comfort zone, one Executive elected to move out of the public sector for a period to kick-start his career and hone his experience and skills.
Earlier on in his career he states that he was very specific in what he was looking for, primarily focused only on the role, learning later that he needed to be more open to opportunities, looking more at the career path and the opportunity to gain exposure to a range of people.
How prepared are you? Do you know where you want to be in 3 to 5 years?
This question got some interesting responses. One executive told me that he is always planning and asking himself this question. Another commented that he asks himself what he wants to be doing at 50, his resume is always up to date and his referees are in place.
How humble are you?
When I called one of the executives I interviewed – he answered his own phone!
Another commented that his favourite mantra is “they put rubbers on pencils because everyone makes mistakes”, but he believes that you must learn from your mistakes and be open to learning.
Throughout his career this executive has asked the people around him what he could do better. He has also worked to surround himself with people who think differently to him.
Accept that you are not perfect and don’t have to be. Make a decision but be able to support that with a rationale.
Finally, a bit of old fashioned luck and timing helped another to get to where he has got to.