What's more important for your long-term career goals? Do you want to find a job and accept whatever comes along, or do you want to keep yourself focused on the big picture, search for a better job, and work towards building a successful career?
There is no question the job market is challenging, no matter what point in time it is as many industries are struggling to sustain employees and grow their businesses. Those of us who work in higher education, especially the field of distance learning, have watched this industry change dramatically over the past few years. And every month it seems you can read about another business or industry making layoffs, leaving many valued employees searching for new positions. I have seen this too as a resume writer, having written resumes for clients who have not needed a resume in many years.
For those who are employed now, along with those who are searching for a job, employment represents a basic need. For many people this need is related to a source of income. For those who are unemployed, this need may force someone to accept a job even it is not the best option. In other words, the first job (or any job) that comes along may be accepted whether or not it is a good career fit. If it wasn't, the process of searching for a better job begins or continues. This is usually the reason why many of the resumes I've seen include a list of jobs which are short-term in nature.
This is also directly related to a trend I've observed, where many of my resume clients place more of an emphasis on jobs they've held, rather than looking at the development of an entire career. There also seems to be an uncertainty about when a job becomes a career. I have coached my clients to develop a different viewpoint and look at jobs from the perspective of how those job opportunities are contributing to an overall career plan. When someone is able to change how they view their career, along with the jobs they have held, they are able to transform their attitude and self-beliefs. They are able to become a much stronger job candidate by having a clearer vision for their career.
What is a Job?
Because employment is related to a personal need first and foremost, it is easy to focus only on that job and the conditions experienced. A job may be something a person takes out of necessity and hopes will get better over time, which can result in feeling trapped if the conditions are intolerable or the work requires a skill level far below what has already been developed. As a career coach I've seen some people develop a sense of helpless and self-resignation over time, especially if it seems there is no way out. Some of my clients have worked in the same job for many years and their self-belief has become so limited it is conveyed in the tone of their communication and disposition.
What has to be done first is to change the perception that a current or previous job represents who that person is as a potential candidate. This is also related to the problem with chronologically written resumes, there is an emphasis placed on what the person is doing right now rather than take a long view of his or her career. Everyone is a summary of all of the jobs they've had, even if they have only had one long-term job. A job, or series of jobs, is all part of a bigger picture and that is a person's career plan.
What is a Career?
A career is defined as an occupation, which a person can have more than one of during their lifetime, or change as their interests evolve. I have had many roles, including educator, writer, resume writer, career coach, curriculum developer, and the list continues. All of these job titles are related to the mission established for my career. When you are developing your career, you create a long-term focus and view each job from a perspective of what has been learned and the skills you developed or acquired. Every job contributes to that career in some manner, even if the job offers nothing new or challenging, or confirms you are ready to find new employment or a new occupation.
For example, my occupation has always involved teaching and helping develop others, regardless of a job title. I went from a corporate environment as a manager of training and development, to an academic environment with responsibility for leading and developing faculty, along with teaching students instead of corporate employees. With every job I viewed it from a perspective of how it contributes to my career, whether each job was perfect, imperfect, beneficial, long-term, or short-term. This means I do not have to ever dwell on a job that was unsatisfying as I am focused on the bigger picture and what I can do to continue to develop my career and occupation(s).
How to Develop a Career Focus
If you can change how you view your career, even if you plan to change your occupation at some point, you will find immediate benefits. The development of a long-range view will help you to feel in control of you career, even if you are presently working within the least desirable circumstances possible. Instead of seeing a job or series of jobs as having no value or representing a failure of some kind, you begin to focus on the skills and knowledge you possess and are continuing to develop. The following steps can help you to begin to develop a career focus.
Step #1: Define Your Present Occupation.
If you frequently change jobs and there isn't a clear path established for the jobs, it is helpful to define the bigger picture of what you want to do with your career. If you have been in the same job for some time, or held several related jobs, you may find it easier to describe your occupation. It is also possible that some jobs can define your occupation. For example, teaching can be described as both a job and an occupation; although there are other education-related occupations that a teacher can work towards.
Step #2: Develop a Vision Statement.
Once you have developed a description of the occupation you are presently working in, you should develop a vision statement for your career. This doesn't mean you have to describe what you will be doing for the next 20 years or that you have to settle on a particular occupation. However, consider what you want to work towards in the long-term. For example, are there various types or levels of jobs within your occupation that you can work towards as you gain additional knowledge and/or skills?
Step #3: Develop a Short-Term and Long-Term Career Plan.
Once a vision statement has been established you can develop a career plan and this will immediately help shift your mindset, creating a sense of control for your career. As a career coach, this helps many of my clients overcome a sense of helplessness in their career, even if they do not have immediate options to explore. A career plan involves establishing short-term and long-term goals that are related to your vision. While this does not mean it has to be a fixed plan and one that can never be adapted or modified, it does provide a starting point to work from and this creates a proactive mindset.
Step #4: Develop Job-Related Milestones.
With a career plan established I also encourage my clients to develop job-related milestones to maintain a focus on their plan and vision. For example, if the short-term goal is to develop new skills, as a means of advancing in a particular occupation, a milestone could be a 90-day check-in to determine if those skills are being acquired.
If those skills have not been acquired the next steps can be decided upon, ranging from asking for different assignments on the job, looking for other positions within the same organization, or finding a new job if the current position offers no further long-term value. These milestones are reminders, and provide an opportunity to reflect upon the career plan to determine if there are any changes to be made.
Step #5: Conduct an Ongoing Skills and Knowledge Self-Assessment.
When I first ask my clients to describe the skills and knowledge they have now, I often receive a response that is very similar to a job description for their present employment. When you have a career plan developed, and a long-range view of your occupation, you will also have a fairly good idea of the knowledge and skills required to advance within this occupation.
You can use this as a form of measurement for your existing skills and knowledge. It also helps you determine what you have gained, or could possibly acquire, from your present job. Every job held throughout your entire career has contributed to the knowledge and skills you possess now and that is what you should consider as you evaluate what you have and what is still needed.
Step #6: Conduct a Professional Development Plan.
It is not uncommon for people to sign up for classes, workshops, or seminars without relating it to a career plan. You will find it to be much more beneficial to utilize these developmental opportunities as a means of furthering your occupation, and being strategic in the decisions made to invest your time. You may have a job that requires professional development, and that may necessitate taking workshops or seminars which do not appear to be relevant or necessary. However, it is still possible you could learn something or make a professional connection with someone in your occupation.
For the development of your occupation and career it is helpful to establish professional opportunities as part of your plan and include it in your list of career or job-related milestones. When you are able to view your career from these perspectives, you will create a mental shift away from your present job to your occupation as a whole and the goals you have established for yourself. You will find this gives you more of a purpose to your career and eventually you will develop a sense of self-actualization as milestones and goals become fully realized.
If you decide to change jobs or careers you will speak to potential employers with a sense of confidence in your talents and abilities, as you will be presenting your career from a perspective of being highly capable and possessing transferrable skills, rather than just needing a job. A person who has a career plan and goals is a much stronger candidate as they have a clearly defined sense of self.
Whether or not your current job is the position which will sustain your career in the long term, you should put in your best effort. A job is part of a career, which means every position gives you an opportunity to learn and grow, whether or not you see the immediate value. You and your career are naturally evolving, and as you do so, you are gaining valuable input about your interests, aptitude, talents, and skills. Sometimes the wrong choices and worst circumstances can cause a person to learn the most about their abilities by forcing them to reevaluate their career goals. The best advice I can offer for you now is to take care of the present job, and develop goals or a mission statement for your career, so you have vision of the direction you are going.
I hope you read and believe in the power of your ability to succeed in your career,
About Dr. J
Dr. J's Mission: Teach, Write, and Inspire Others as an academic educator, leader, author, writer, and mentor.
Dr. J has been working as a remote, telecommuter in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Chief Academic Officer, Dean, Faculty Director, Dissertation Mentor, online instructor, faculty workshop facilitator, and faculty development specialist. Dr. J also has significant experience with curriculum development, having developed hundreds of courses for corporate training programs, along with bachelors, masters, and doctorate college degree programs.
Dr. J founded Afforded Quality Writing in 2003 to offer skill-based resume writing and strengths-based career coaching. Dr. J helps hundreds of clients each year by providing a well-written and highly effective resume, along with instilling in them a renewed self-confidence and sense of purpose.
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