by Frank Burtnett
Career satisfaction and success don’t just happen. They are the product of a process that people experience over time. The most recent Society of Human Resource Development (SHRM) job satisfaction survey indicates that 81% of US workers in 2013 reported overall satisfaction with their present employment, unchanged from the previous year.
That means that one in five of us state openly that they don’t like what we’re doing. While many careers will make the occupant utterly despondent, others stymie or limit the ability of the individual to achieve true satisfaction. People who haven’t benefited from the services of a professional career counselor are left to their own devices and the results can be wide-ranging.
No one ever explains the warning signals of career dissatisfaction and failure or the corrective measures that can get you past these challenges. In other words, we learn every day of the things that will lead to sickness and death, but little about what may make our lives miserable. Increasingly, our nation is paying greater attention to mental wellness, but not sufficiently tying, in my estimation, that wellness to the workplace which is often the source of most of the difficulty.
The result is that too many make career errors of two varieties—the things we “do wrong” and the things we “don’t do,” both likely to have a significant impact on career satisfaction and our emotional well-being. Either form of error can produce harmful results.
Career development is a process that parallels human growth and development, a series of unique experiences that span childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and the senior years. Our ability to understand what is happening or will happen can determine the degree to which we can guide or control (be proactive) or mend and fix (be reactive) what is occurring in our work lives.
Add to this the very important fact that our work-life influences our non-work life and the reasons for understanding career development grow in importance. Some counselors and psychologists point to the quest for work-life balance as a driving force among the millennials—those born in the last part of the 1900s and joining the workforce since 2000.
This same balance was not demanded by the Baby Boomers who were very loyal to their employer and willing to do most anything to advance their career. The Gen Xers and Gen Yers that followed began to alter worker attitudes and balancing life and work is today a driving force among the younger members of the workforce. Rather than work-life balance, I prefer to promote life-work balance by giving the larger portion of our existence a place of primary importance. Both are achievable, but attaining life goals includes achieving career and work goals.
As one passes through life, career development involves experiencing of a series of eight stages: self-awareness; exploration; goal-setting; decision-making; knowledge\skill acquisition and competency attainment; job orientation, entry and adjustment; growth, mobility, and maintenance; and finally, wind-down, adjustment and exit. Sounds complex I realize, but like most of our life transitions, each stage is manageable, if we know it is occurring. The problem is—most don’t.
A major consideration about this series of career development stages is that they seldom occur in linear, one-stop-and-move-on fashion. They are often repeated as we recycle through our life experiences and discover more things about ourselves and the worlds (i.e., work, social, etc.) in which we live. As each individual ages and matures, they change and emerging characteristics (i.e., interests, achievements, values, etc.) complement our sense of self-awareness. The person who entered their career in their early twenties is not the person most will be when they reach thirty-something. And by the time winding down and retirement are getting close; they may not even be recognizable.
Beyond knowing that your life and career follow a series of stages, it’s important to know career errors can be classified into identifiable behaviors—things we need to monitor and manage to ensure our personal needs are met. These errors are typically manifested in the following:
- You lack quality information
Never has the “you don’t know what you don’t know” axiom been more relevant than as it relates to career development. Satisfied and successful people are curious people, life-long learners—each seeking to understand how the world is changing around them, both inside and outside of the workplace. What are you doing to keep abreast of changes in your own work and what signals are your antenna picking up about the new careers of the future?
- You don’t have good tools or practice good behaviors
Abe Lincoln is credited with saying that if he were given six hours to cut down a tree, he’d spend the first four sharpening his axe. How sharp are the tools (i.e., resume, cover letter, etc.) and strategies (i.e., job identification tactics, interview techniques, etc.) that you are going to use in the exploration and decision-making process? Do you know how social media can be used to facilitate job change and career mobility?
- You fail to learn from good and faulty decisions
Individuals make hundreds of educational and career decisions over the span of their lives. Some work fine—others are a disaster. Each, however, is a learning experience. In addition, any decision requires an investment in making it successful by the decision-maker. Are you making that investment or just crossing your fingers hoping for the best?
- Your timing is atrocious
Time is a constant—you can’t control it—you can only control how you will use it. Choosing a career, finding a job, growing in one’s career should be planned events. What have you done to prepare for, transition into and evaluate the career events of your life?
- You are unsuccessful at managing or controlling the career development process
Many fail to employ the proactive and reactive skills necessary first for job survival and then to facilitate career growth and mobility. If you don’t want to be locked into the same position for the next decade, what steps are you taking to grow and advance? If your job were to suddenly disappear (i.e., downsizing, termination, etc.), how equipped are you to recover?
- You fail to use the people positioned to help you
Licensed and certified professional counselors in schools, colleges, government agencies, community service organizations and in private-practice environments are trained to help people navigate the myriad educational and career experiences across the life span. Competent recruiters and staffing professionals are present throughout working America who can help you learn about, apply for and find your first or future jobs. What have you done to utilize their services?
Errors will not disappear. The renowned scientist Albert Einstein said; “A person who never made a mistake—never tried anything new.” Some of the errors you will make or have already made will be your best teachers. Learn from them! Career satisfaction and success, however, will have a better taste if you make fewer and know how to remedy those that you do.
Dr. Frank Burtnett is a veteran counselor and counselor educator and the author of Career Errors: Straight Talk about the Steps and Missteps of Career Development, published recently by Rowman and Littlefield.