Former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead.
Young professionals leave school with the intent of launching their career based on their study specialty; economics majors look for entry-level jobs where they can apply their knowledge of microeconomics and demand theory and lawyers migrate to law firms.
This may seem like a reasonable approach, but the reality is that when you begin your career journey you never really know where you will end up.
A career is an unclear destination with an unpredictable journey and a healthy dose of luck
I graduated with a B.Sc in mathematics and computer science. I took a management-trainee job and ended up as an executive vice-president and chief marketing officer without any need to use differential equations to solve a business problem.
I arrived in the executive suite after many years of strategic meandering through the hierarchy of the organization doing many things. I developed and honed the skills needed to add as much value as I could to the company’s future direction, and to be positioned as the logical choice for an opportunity when it arose.
I began as a junior systems analyst where I was required to do time and motion studies to improve the productivity of various departments. It was a job; I needed it to pay back my school loans and it was with an organization that was poised to undergo massive market change. But it really didn’t make use of my academic background, and I had no idea if it would result in a meaningful career.
It turned out not to be my destination. It was a beginning and a learning point along the way.
When you are just starting your working life, you can’t with any degree of precision determine what your career will be
I see too many young professionals unable to decide on whether to take a particular job or not. They agonize over whether it fits with their long-term career plan; they are paralyzed and can’t make a decision. They search and they search for the opportunity they believe to be a perfect match with their career ambitions. As a result, they make no job choice and have no forward movement toward any career.
The thing is, if you don’t take a job, you will never know if it fits or not. Every job in every organization presents the opportunity to make it your own and craft it into something that satisfies your interests, which typically are aligned with what you aspire to be “when you grow up.”
Find your passion
Your top priority should not be to find a job that’s consistent with what you think your career should be, but rather to look for an organization that excites you in some way and allows you to express your passion.
This is the environmental factor. If the work environment stirs a passion inside you, it is likely to be rich with opportunities and potential. If it doesn’t, it’s unlikely to produce the new challenges that feed a successful career.
Choose an organization that has a culture and history of mobility
It is critical to target an organization that has a program of moving new employees around and exposing them to different roles and various learning opportunities. As a function of being a new hire from university, I was put in a management trainee program and placed in six different positions over a 24-month period.
This experience provided me an incomparable perspective on which areas were interesting and those that I would try to avoid.
Experiencing a variety of roles enabled me to architect my career path. I targeted specific roles to acquire within a certain time period and developed an action plan to get there. My plan wasn’t all about getting promoted; sometimes it made sense to take a lateral move to acquire the added experience necessary to qualify for a promotion in the future.
Don’t fret over whether a job suits your long-term career goals. Look for an organization with a culture that gets your juices flowing and one that prides itself in providing different job opportunities to employees.
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.