Who is controlling your career?

Our working motto is: “Helping you to take control of your career.” It’s got a nice buzz to it, and certainly it’s true that most people want to feel that they are in control of their own career. It does beg the larger question, however — how much control you really have over your own career…?

What do we mean by “taking control” of your career, anyway? Certainly you must already be in control of it, since it is your career, right? While some percentage of the population may generally feel this way, I believe the vast majority of workers have felt at some point in their working lives that they have little or no control over important factors — the work they are doing, how they do it, who they work with, their decision-making authority, and a host of other things. I certainly know that at specific times in my own career, I’ve felt more like I was being “played” than I was a “player”… and while probably we can all agree that sometimes there are rough patches we have to get through, our own perception of our overall level of control is probably a function of the size, roughness, and frequency of the “rough patches” vs. the smooth-sailing times. If you generally haven’t had too many rough patches to date, congratulations are in order.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of employees, the nature of today’s business environment is that you will most assuredly have an increasing number of rough patches ahead of you — competition is heating up, technology is obsoleting old jobs and creating new opportunities and challenges, whole industries are being ruthlessly buffeted by the winds of change, companies are under relentless pressure to constantly “trim the sails”, workplace trust is being continually eroded, pension fund levels are dropping, etc, etc. If you crave some sort of workplace security, the modern work environment  actually presents a pretty bleak picture for you…

So, if workplace security is more perception than reality and the workplace is increasingly volatile, how does one go about “controlling” their career?

It comes back to the notion of security: the only real security is self-security.  Real security comes from being fully aware of how you can help others accomplish things that are important to them, and learning how to translate your help into something you meaningful to you. In the world of work, this holds equally true for employee or for free agent/contractor, the only difference being the terms of the contracted engagement.

So, taking control of your career stems from your knowledge of what you bring to the party that is truly valuable, your understanding of who can benefit from your capabilities and interests, and your ability to make the business case for translating those abilities into a commercial agreement (salary, benefits, work environment, etc.) that is acceptable to you.

I don’t know how you feel about it, but I certainly don’t see the above “translation and negotiation” process being the focus of  most traditional job-seekers pursuing posted jobs.

And when we are gainfully employed, do we maintain control over our careers by being constantly aware of how conditions are shifting, how our capabilities are developing, and  proactively managing this “expectation setting & management” feedback loop? Not very likely — mostly we just hope for the best and assume that things will play out for us OK. So when trouble does come it often catches us by surprise — the layoff notice, the enforced salary cut, the benefits reduction, the shrunken pension fund. And we’re shocked, insulted, and hurt. We didn’t see this coming, and we weren’t prepared for it. How did this happen to us, we ask?

The short answer, of course, is that we stopped managing our own career and left it to somebody else, in the hope that they would take care of us. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

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