| Early in my career I worked
with an experienced, highly regarded design engineer who
continually stated he would change assignments or companies
for a nickel-an-hour salary increase.
I thought this a strange comment, as a nickel an hour
didn't seem significant enough to warrant changing jobs,
but I was young and hadn't really given much thought
to my career path. When I finally asked him about his
statement, he explained he was trying to teach me to
understand and master my unique set of talents and capabilities.
This way I could leverage them throughout my career
to obtain the best assignments or offers.
Thus, he taught me the need to become a recognized master
in what I did. As I made career choices over the years,
I came to realize that this advice is what drives me to
deliver or exceed my customers' expectations. If I can't
do that, then the value of my services diminishes and
my negotiation space shrinks on future assignments.
people's careers I ask them to define and write
down one to three things they must have in an assignment,
and as many wants as they wish.
Other mentors would influence my career development,
but this engineer's advice, as well as my own learning,
has become the main source I draw from when talking
to engineers of all career levels.
What do you (really) need?
When I coach and mentor people regarding their career
aspirations, one of the areas we discuss in great detail
is the short- and long-term "musts" and "wants." In
analyzing people's careers I ask them to define and
write down one to three things they must have in an
assignment, and as many wants as they wish.
We then compare their list to the must and wants of
potential assignments to see if there is a match. This
has become an interesting and revealing exercise as
I see people begin to clarify what is of vital importance
to them (a must) and what are they willing to negotiate
to get a new assignment (a want).
I was recently working assignment planning with a
subordinate and was engaged in the must/want discussion.
She indicated her primary must was that she had to have
a reduced work schedule assignment. She indicated she
was having a hard time finding one. I suggested she
apply for a full-time assignment. If after the interview
she felt she could do the work on a reduced work schedule,
then she should explain to the hiring manager that if
she were offered the job she would only accept it on
a reduced work schedule basis. She didn't like my idea,
as others had told her the hiring manager considered
all the listed job criteria "musts," and if she were
offered a full-time job she would have to take it.
She reluctantly decided to try my concept and bid
on a full-time assignment she felt was right for her
career. During her interview the hiring manager indicated
she had the correct skill set for the assignment. He
believed that she was the correct person for the job
and he wanted to offer it to her. She then negotiated
with him to accept the job, but as a reduced work assignment.
The manager indicated he had never thought about the
assignment in this way but agreed to her condition/must.
Thus, the hiring manager's perceived must was really
a want, and there was more room to negotiate the assignment
than she had originally perceived.
Do as I say
Sometimes, as managers, mentors, and coaches, we need
to re-examine our career "musts" and "wants," and the
actions we're taking to achieve them.
I was discussing career coaching with another manager
not that long ago, and we talked about our approaches
to coaching people regarding assignment planning. We
learned that our coaching patterns were similar. And,
as the conversation progressed, we discovered we were
also both looking for new assignments -- but not following
any of the advice we were giving to others on how to
manage their careers or obtain new assignments. After
a long pause in our conversation, we agreed it was time
to walk our talk, and follow our own advice.
Career development by definition is a long journey.
As we help shape the careers of others, it does us no
good to forget that our own careers will continue to
develop -- whether we take charge of them, or let others
shape our future.