Friday, May 3, 2013

Career Makers, Career Breakers

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know…should I stay or should I go?
-The Clash

One of the questions I am often asked is: “So is this a good career move?” And my usual answer is: “Well, that depends.” So what things do make or break a career? Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you my thoughts from the perspective of a headhunter as well as from a guy who made some maker and breaker moves during his own career in the transportation industry.

Career Maker #1: Enjoy the ride.
Several weeks ago my blog entry addressed the fact that work life is hard and it’s not always fun and games. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be miserable. If your job is making you miserable, do something about it. Check yourself, fix the situation or change jobs. Life is too short to be miserable in your work. And if you are truly unhappy, your career will be short and your life will not be very long either.

Career Breaker #1: Not being who you are.
It’s hard to “enjoy the ride” in your career if you have to put on a mask every day. Ultimately, you are who you are. And if who you are is a bad fit for the job or the company or maybe just your boss; it ain’t gonna work. If it’s a temporary bad fit, i.e. your boss is just passing through on his way up to the next rung on the ladder; you may be able to suck it up and survive. But if it’s a long-term bad fit situation, get out. If it means changing careers, do it…if you can. If it means changing companies, do it…if you can. I realize that some folks are trapped and for various reasons, they have to do what they have to do and be who they have to be in order to keep working. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, but that’s just the way it is sometimes.

Career Maker #2: Work for the right people, not jerks.
You may be in the right job with the right company, but if you are working for a jerk (or jerks); your career is at risk. There’s no way to win with jerks. If the jerk likes you and takes you under their wing, you will likely go down with the “jerk ship”. Jerks are eventually found out and punished. You don’t want to be on that team. Don’t stick around for the train wreck. If the jerk doesn’t like you and is out to get you and is in a position of power; run Forrest run. You are burning career daylight and just wasting time. Go elsewhere as soon as possible…do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Career Breaker #2: Not being strategic about your career.
This is a biggie and volumes have been written about career strategies. But, let’s just consider one critical strategic element: your choice of industry or functional specialty. Technology, innovations, competition, regulations, demographics and geo-political events are among the many things which can make or break your career. As an example, one of the few things I did right in my career was to get out of the unionized LTL market after de-regulation in the early 1980’s. I was still early in my career and while it was tough to walk away from above average pay and benefits (yes, even the managers were paid above market back then), I did not see a long-term upside in sticking around. I ended up in the non-union truckload segment which turned out to offer many more opportunities for advancement (some of which I squandered, but that’s another story for later in this series.)

No one has a crystal ball and you can never be sure, but when all signs point to negative trends you really need to think about where you are working, your position and what’s going on with your customers. There are some really smart (and lucky) folks who go against the tide and are successful contrarians. But, for the most part, if your industry or your company or your customers are fading away, you need to seriously evaluate your options.

We’ll continue next time with more Makers and Breakers.

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