Several months ago, a senior leader suddenly asked to have a quick coffee chat with me. First thoughts that crossed my mind: Am I getting fired? Did someone in the office catch me on Facebook? Is my skirt too short?
Instead, the senior leader asked about my career plans. “Where do you see yourself in the next 2 to 3 and 5 to 10 years?” After my job interviews, I pretty much stopped thinking about my career plans. As dread was overcoming me, I gave the most eloquent answer I could muster up: “I…um…*cough*…I think…I like…um…marketing??” More chunks of verbal vomit spewed out of my mouth as I completely soiled myself in front of someone who has great influence over my career success.
However, I’m not alone.
It turns out that many of my peers, who some are highly intelligent and articulate, transform into the same babbling idiot when confronted with career conversations. We talk in vague terms without being able to succinctly sum up: what do I want to achieve in the next X years? This wonderful Fast Company article confirms the pattern. My generation of professionals not only have a poor career vocabulary but we also feel uncomfortable articulating our career goals. (Think preaching abstinence in rural mid-America in front of pregnant teenagers.)
The consequences of not being prepared and / or having these conversations can be quite serious. As shown in my instance, the senior leader may not recommend me for a position I would be excited about because (1) I sounded like a fool, and (2) I couldn’t communicate my career goals. For many of my peers, it means going into “limbo” jobs. These are positions that they are not excited about but that keep their options open. However, if you spend many years in “limbo” jobs without figuring out your career objectives, choices will be made for you. Naturally as you get more experience in one area, other doors will be closed. Therefore, if you don’t figure out what you want in the first place, then you’ll naturally just get stuck.
After this embarrassing experience, I decided to have the “career talk” with myself and people that know me the best, figuring out the following questions.
- Where do I want to be in 10 years? Why?
- What am I currently good at? Do I want to continue to hone these skills? How do these skills fit into my long-term objectives?
- What other skills and / or experiences do I need to achieve my career objectives?
- What are types of positions would enable me to gain these skills and experiences?
Dejavu. This past week, the same senior leader asked me the same question, and I was more than prepared. I painted a clear long-term career vision and proposed specific next steps to get there. At the end of our conversation, the senior leader offered to look for opportunities that matched my interests and that fit into my objectives. REDEMPTION!!!
And here you go, a small but true example of how a career talks could really help.