A few years ago I worked very closely with a recent graduate (Michelle) to develop a personalised career and job searching strategy. Michelle had finished her degree with no idea what she wanted to do next. Because she wanted to figure this out and because I can’t resist a great career story, the two of us sat down with a blank piece of paper and a mission to create some new career certainty where there was none.
Michelle and I were both enormously ambitious. Instead of just thinking about jobs and what she could do next, we started thinking about a journey that was probably going to last 30+ years. To think of anything less seemed narrow or limited. As our career dreaming continued, we set ourselves the goal of providing every possibility and opportunity for satisfaction, success, reward and fulfilment along the way. There would be no unnecessary limits of job titles, career paths or anything else that might hold her back. In this respect Michelle was absolutely determined to be a pioneer.
There’s no denying we set ourselves a hugely ambitious task. Perhaps we would always fall short of such a high aim but we came up with something. Maybe it was lesser, and of course, it was flawed (as all plans & strategies are), but there’s no denying that what we ended up with captured the spirit and positivity of our lofty goals, of Michelle herself and the career she most wanted, despite struggling to define exactly what this would be. The other thing we I achieved was a good solid start. A start that helped Michelle focus on the future as well as her next step, and to go forward with her courage, enthusiasm and experience there for all to see.
As a self-confessed career geek, I couldn’t think of a better place than here to share two things that came out of the work Michelle and I completed together. The first is a set of questions. Although your head is full of questions when you’re uncertain, framing these questions strategically starts to deliver answers and suggests actions/steps that make sense. The second is a kind of career manifesto. A set of guidelines Michelle committed herself to, and revisited whenever she needed to, whenever the going got tough or she was uncertain (which can happen on a job search, as most of us know).
Whether you are a student, a recent graduate or just a curious mind, maybe you will see something that resonates with the journey you are about to take or have started recently. You won’t find all of the answers to your questions here, but maybe you will discover a few new questions of your own and a way to use them effectively in your career.
1. Testing Empirically (What Industry/Company Do I Want to Work in?)
What interests me about this job/industry? What excites me about my future in this kind of business? Is there anyone with first-hand experience I could talk to/ask questions? What skills/experiences will get me noticed or help me to stand out? What do I know about the daily routine? Are entry-level salaries enough for my needs? What does career progression look like in this industry? Who are the leading brands/businesses/opinion formers in this sector? What are the most popular blogs and what are they saying? Has learning more about this industry/job/company made me want to learn more? Where can I go/Who can I write or speak to in order to learn more?
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2. Competing for My Job (Applying to & Interviewing with Companies and Their Agents)
How does this company/industry talk about its people? (e.g. on their website) What do their job ads reveal about their priorities? ∙ Who am I likely to be competing with to win this position? Am I well qualified for this job or an outside bet? How do my personal strengths/ambitions apply to this job? Can I convince myself I am a great hire for this role? What areas do I have less experience in? What makes me different from other candidates? What’s the best application/interview advice I’ve received so far? Am I getting the support I need? What support would I find most helpful here? What have I learnt along the way?
3. Training for Success (Acquiring New Skills & Experience)
What specific skills will I need to master to succeed in this job/at this company? Will my new employer support and train me for the job? Is there an induction process and how long does it take? Will I be able to work closely with experienced members of staff? Will someone be responsible for my training and development? Will I have targets for learning & development beyond initial induction? How will my role in the company/team be different after a year in the job? How have recent hires/inductees progressed? What have the biggest lessons been in terms of attracting and developing new talent in people?
4. Diversifying My Influences & Experiences (Understanding How I Fit with People & within the Company Environment)
What new experiences will this job/company offer me? Who/what will be the main influences on this team? What am I encountering for the first time? How will my perspective/experience be the same as/different to my co-workers’/customers’/suppliers’? Does this company’s location interest/excite me? What do people around the business find motivational? Are initiative, problem solving and teamwork prized as assets? Are there opportunities for me to work across groups? (forums/trade associations/international groups/etc.)
5. My Personal Relationship with Work (The Future I Want for My Career)
What elements do I really like about this job/company/industry? What do I dislike? How have my experiences changed the way I see my future? What achievement/success/reward would I like to see more of? What have been the biggest lessons learned? Who have I enjoyed meeting the most? What were the pleasant surprises? What excites me most when I think about the future? What skill/experience do I now think are most important to my success in the future? What do I know about my relationship with work that I didn’t know 3/6/9 months ago?
Guidelines for Career Development & Job Searching
1. My aim is to start with an open agenda and explore options/alternatives from there.
2. I believe work exists primarily to deliver and protect the things I value (and don’t expect this belief to change).
3. Whether they result in initial success or disappointment, all of my decisions and experiences ultimately enhance my knowledge and experience of work.
4. The first career step/job I take is only the first of many choices I will need to make, I choose to make this choice confidently and in the knowledge that whatever the experience/outcome, it will help me to make better choices as time goes by.
5. No matter how difficult things get, there will always be someone I can find to trust and talk to on the subject of work and careers.
About Author: Paul Diamond, he is the host of ExploreYourCareer.com and author of The Career Explorer’s Journal. Published in 2010 and the book has gone on to top the career bestseller charts in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK.