Friday, 25 June 2004

The context of career development

Experiences
I have been one to say that if my career depended on primarily what my manager thought of my prospects, I would be a basic computer technician in a Further Education college having done 14 years of service.
That is no exaggeration because; there are people who I met at that college who are still there contributing to the heritage and stagnation of the college, becoming fossils of never changing permanence.
My view of career development is radical and driven, you have to be number one in the reckoning about where you want to go and any assistance you get along the way should be viewed as a bonus.
Dependencies
Where an individual is in a permanent or full-time employment contract, your progress in that organisation is limited by the limitations of your line-manager’s vision for both him and then you, if allowances are made to entertain others in the manager’s quest for the top.
However, if there is good managerial oversight, there is a possibility of other people seeing more of your abilities and potential than the person you generally report to.
Progress in an organisation is monitored through an assessment of your abilities, your achievements, the benefits that have accrued from your service and what is considered your potential to bring more value to the organisation.
Being able to assess these parameters can be taught in the first three areas, the last however, requires natural management abilities that include leadership, the ability to appreciate properly excellent performance, mentoring skills and the selfless promotion of good personnel regardless of where they eventually end up.
That horrible interview question
I once attended an interview where that dreaded killer question was asked. What do you see yourself doing in 5 years time? To a confident, assertive and resolute person who has taken time to review where they want their career to be, it is a poisoned chalice to be handled with care.
Unfortunately, a 45-minute interview session is hardly long enough to judge the response of the interviewer. Well, I put in a 5-year project of improvement of skills, knowledge and influence, basically, I should have moved on and up in 5 years.
The retort came that I was going after the interviewer’s job. To which I answered, "I am only after your skills set". However, that was a revelation, that interviewer manager has probably never really given thought to where he expects to be in 5 years time for probably one or many of the following reasons.
  • He is entirely content with where he is
  • He has reached the pinnacle of his ambitions and sees no where else to go
  • He is averse to people who intend to improve themselves
  • He relies of on the organic/osmosis process of promotion that comes because it is there rather than because it is deserved
  • He has no ambition and will suffocate any ambitious underling
  • He probably knows nothing about visionary management
This list is not exhaustive but clearly indicates that it is within the prerogative of an interviewee to refuse to take up an offer where it is the apparent that you have been pigeon-holed before you took the job.
What you learn at the interview
It is not possible to guarantee promises or lies told to you when you interview for permanent employment contract except where you can clearly have those words stipulated in your contract.
That is to say, what effectively appears as a promise made by managers at interview has ultimately been an outright lie, promises made which are no in the gift of the interviewer. Oh! I have been lied to too many times, I wait for what is on the contract having decided if the job in itself commands enough interest to engage me.
You have to approach every job with your red-lines that are non-negotiable, whether they are up for discussion or not. This being, once you have signed the contract, you probably would never been in a good enough bargaining position after that.
Apart from what you are bringing to the job in terms of experience, expertise and knowledge these are the things you should consider to taking up the offer.
  • If you were to spend 2 years in the job, would you have improved your marketability?
    • By learning new skills
    • Assuming new responsibilities
    • Receiving relevant training that could also be useful when you leave the company
    • Had some decision making or opinion forming role when your input and initiative are appreciated and utilised
  • Are you taking up a role where your ideas are of greater import than your raw skills?
    • Brains are what move people within companies
    • How your contributions earn recognition and the respect of your peers travels through the corporate grapevine and eventually yields dividend
  • What are your manager’s prospects?
    • Whilst you cannot ask him that dreaded 5-years time question, you can probe him as to how you see the team going forward in the future and where does he thing core influence of the team would be as thing development
In essence, this should help ascertain if you are being interviewed into Great Expectations or Dead Man Walking. The last thing you want to do is submit yourself to a dead-end job.
Unfortunately, it might take some time to realise you are in a dead-end job, but you must always have an exit strategy, you first owe it to yourself and probably only to yourself to ensure you are where you want to be.
Understanding you
I was reading Re-Imagine! By Tom Peters in December and one of the comments that jumped out at me and records as very true is this.
"People … in enterprise, in government … are by and large well intentioned. They'd like to get things done. To be of service to others. But they are thwarted … at every step of the way … by absurd organisational barriers … and by the egos of petty tyrants (be they corporate middle managers, or army colonels, or school superintendents).
I had a blog on this topic, "Rules of the Manager’s chess game"
In essence, many of the things you desire to be in your organisation could so easily be thwarted by these petty tyrants who are usually, your manager and his cohorts. In my case, it has been both the petty tyrants and absurd organisational barriers which include timidity to deal with thorny issues and the political blame game of creating the worse context for providing solutions.
It simply indicates that you have to make your own decisions about where your career is going in the context of your life, rather than in the myopic view of where you are currently based.
The advantage of where you are currently based can only be significant if it positively contributes to realising that career dream, if it is a negative detour, then you have to find the right path elsewhere.
Never depend on promises as the source of your drive and ambition, because you would end up being blackmailed into positions that are untenable at first and then you will find it difficult to take a principled stance because you are beholding to your crooked benefactors.
Every decision you make should be right for you, your life and well-being depends on that first before you can be a good performer in whatever you do.
Finally, whether or not you get help, nothing in your career should depend on if that help is available, a goal is a goal; you just have to find how to get there. I for one have hardly had any help in making the giant strides I have in terms of opportunities, remuneration or influence.
I have just maintained a resolute stance in paraphrasing General Eric Shinseki - "They who hate change would hate irrelevance even more" You change to change the world.
I cannot afford to be irrelevant, so I embrace change, changes that hopefully would help me realise more of my potential in the quest to be the best in my field.

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