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July 12, 2011 / mbolke

Evaluating Your Next Career Move? Consider these 5 Keys

Leaders often ask me how to evaluate potential career opportunities.  While timing is an important variable, it’s not everything.  It is, however, one of five keys to consider when deliberating a possible career move:

1) Self-Awareness: Will the new role play to my strengths? Many people take a new role because the title or the money seems like an advancement. However, if you’re not in a position in which you have the ability to exercise your strengths most of the time, you’re likely to face burn-out, or worse, hurt your reputation by derailing your performance.  You may possess strengths in a particular area that you haven’t had a chance to exercise and are unaware that you have.  One of my favorite resources to use with clients who’ve never taken a strengths inventory is the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths.  No time to read it?  Take the abbreviated route by going to Strengthsfinder, and completing the on-line assessment for a nominal fee.  Am I over-using any of my strengths?  It’s not uncommon for leaders to “do what they’ve always done” when advancing or changing roles, which may not be the best approach.  In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith uses a witty style to address 20 interpersonal behaviors that potentially limit a leader’s future success.  Not sure what perceptions exist of you in your organization?  Consider taking a 360 assessment, which polls colleagues for their view of your contribution and produces a confidential report for your review. Tag a trusted advisor or hire a coach to go through the results with you and help you map out a game plan for addressing blind spots.   Is there a gap that I need to fill?  If you are in a front-line manager position today and your end-goal is to land an executive role, know what skills and experience you need to gain in order to get you there.  While it’s not necessary to master areas of deficiency, it is important to gain experience managing those areas successfully.  Start examining job postings now for positions at that level so that you can seek out opportunities that give you exposure to areas you may need one day.  The majority of VP-level jobs, for example, require past success managing a P&L.  If that component is missing from your resume, be sure that budget responsibility is part of the job description of your next position.  You may even be able to request to add that piece to your current role.

2) Know the landscape: Are there potential obstacles that I need to face? There are things that happen at work that can have a significant impact on the journey toward success: a lack of resources, aggressive competitors, office politics, economic recession.  Though not always pleasant, it is important to look down the road and anticipate what could go wrong, so that you have a chance to develop a plan to make sure it goes right.

3) Willingness to take risks: Really ask yourself if you’re ready to step outside of your comfort zone, knowing that it may be…well, uncomfortable!  What is my tolerance level if things don’t go as planned?  Don’t mistake enthusiasm for preparation.  Be sure you’ve thought through a few options and have a parachute in the event that you need to make a quick course correction.  Before launching my consulting practice in 2006, I saved up enough cash to cover a year’s worth of expenses – just in case.  Thankfully, I never had to dip into those reserves, but I had a lot more confidence knowing the money was there, and it gave me the opportunity to try new things and to be more selective in earning client relationships.

4) Having the right support network: Do I have people in my life who will lend more than a listening ear? Having a network of family, friends, and like-minded professionals who will provide encouragement, speak truth, share best practices, and collaborate with you is a critical component of a successful career.  No one can go it alone. With the explosive growth in social media, the concept of networking is easier than ever. The number of Americans who belong to at least one social network has doubled in the last two years. Consider joining group discussions, forums, and re-connecting with people through on-line communities. Be sure to be a contributor so that the people you count on for guidance can also depend on you.

5) Finally, is the timing right? Admittedly, this one can be a deal-breaker. No matter how high you climb the corporate ladder, you still have only 24 hours to make each day count.  When assessing a potential career move, consider your priorities and the priorities of those who share life with you.  How will the demands of learning a new role have an impact on you? Often, determining if the timing is right has a lot to do with being able to have the first four keys in place.

Every spring a small bird family builds their nest in one of the flower baskets hanging on our back patio.  One year, I got to witness the baby birds fly for the first time.  Each bird had a different response to being pushed out of the nest by its mother, but my personal favorite was the one that didn’t even try to fly.  It landed as quickly as it could and then walked across the grass to join its mother and siblings that were waiting in a large bush at the opposite end of the yard.  This sweet little creature lacked self-awareness. He had hidden talents – flying – that he hadn’t yet discovered.  He didn’t know the landscape.  There were dangers that he was unaware of – like the neighbor’s cat who was often on the prowl in our yard.  He lacked the willingness to take risks.  He would’ve reached his potential sooner if only he had tried to use his wings. One clear advantage he did have, however, was the right support network.  His devoted mother continued coaxing him until he eventually joined his family in safety.

The next time you are ready to make a career move, consider these keys in addition to evaluating the timing of the opportunity.  Landing that next milestone role when it’s a good fit for you and the timing is right can be incredibly rewarding.  Oh, and watching baby birds fly for the first time?  Priceless.

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