Responsible Career Management: From Career Success to Career Significance

Responsible career management is the process by which professionals take the time to reflect upon their experiences and current preferences, explore career options that align with their current preferences, and secure career opportunities that generate economic, social and environmental value while aligning with their personal preferences and fit with functional roles.  This is a nice and clean concept, but its implementation is a really hard endeavor.  Its application is hindered by various factors including our definition of career success, the visibility of opportunities to get business done better, as well as our fears and individual tolerance for risk.  In this new series, I will focus on each of these factors, providing guidance and ideas to get over some of these obstacles as you design and implement your own responsible career management strategies.

Today, let's focus on redefining career success.  Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with clients, faculty members and university administrators about career management and how it relates to career success.  For most people, the definition of career success remains 'making good money while working for a reputable organization'.  This definition of career success does not put much importance on the types of functional roles that people choose, all that matters is how much money you make or who you work for.   For instance, the fact that you work at Google, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or at Goldman Sachs matters more than the fact that you might be VP of letter sorting in these organizations.  I have seen how much the prestige- and money-driven definition of career success have detracted high potential students and working professionals from asking the truly important questions of who they are, what they like to do and how they will use the toolbox of knowledge and skills that their education provided to generate value for an organization they can believe in.

As I work with my clients to re-evaluate their career priorities, most of them are quite surprised to realize that it is possible to have a functional role that enables them to spend as much time as possible performing tasks that align with their strengths and personality, and enables them to do well while doing good.  Furthermore, discussing how their career priorities fit into their lives is new to many professionals, who have been brainwashed to believe that their careers will involve personal sacrifices that are worth making no matter what.  Think about how many people you know moved to a specific geographical location for a job although they knew that this location was not a fit for them, and really regret their decision afterwards.

Having these conversations shift the focus from career success to career significance.  I define career significance as the process that enables professionals to use their strengths and preferences, along with their education, to get business done better across sectors.  Clarifying their own goals will increase their ability to articulate their responsible career goals to others.  In turn, this will enable them to receive input from multiple sources about which responsible career management strategies they can consider to reach their career goals.  Answering the following questions can tremendously help you articulate your unique career significance goals:

What do you want to do every day in terms of tasks and responsibilities? Do you like working on a variety or projects? Do you prefer being able to complete a project from design to implementation?  Do you want to provide big picture ideas without being involved in the implementation?  Psychometric assessments, such as the MBTI, CareerLeader or StrengthFinder can help you address this type of questions.  Your goal here is to understand which functional role will enable you to spend most of your time doing things you like for an organization you can believe in.  If you are a big picture person who likes variety and lots of interaction with people throughout the day, a role in accounting or in quality control might not be a great fit for you.  Instead, a role in internal consulting or strategic planning might be a better fit.

What type of colleagues do you want to have? No matter whether you work in CSR for a traditional business, or work for a social enterprise, or a non-profit, each organization will have its own specific culture and its own way of getting things done.  Being able to articulate which types of organizational cultures that are a better fit for you will help you ensure that you join an organization which culture will get energized and will render you more productive.

What cause do you want to contribute to? There are hundreds of cause you can choose to contribute to.  Whether it is women's health, children literacy, hunger relief or international development, there are a myriad of careers that will enable you to contribute to a cause you can about.  Search our justmeans company directory, or our justmeans challenges by keywords to identify causes that get your fired up!

Who among your family and friends do you want to earn the respect of through your work? That is by far the toughest one.  Acknowledging that you care about what people think about you, and articulating what your perception of their expectations of you are is a challenging task.  But it is central to enabling you to take a stand and assess the risks and possible consequences that taking this stand will have on the perceptions people you care about have of you.  For example, will people important to you think less of you if you move away, or if you turn down a job opportunity that will involve moving away from a city or community you like living in?

Of course, your answers to these questions will change and vary upon which chapter of your life you are in currently.  However, gaining clarity about which priorities you have for now will tremendously help you articulate your responsible career goals, and lay a strong foundation to design and implement your own unique responsible career management strategies to achieve your responsible career goals.  In future posts, I will address the other obstacles responsible professionals have reported facing when building a career that gets business done better.  Namely, we will focus on the visibility of opportunities to get business done better, as well as our fears and individual tolerance for risk.

As always, I look forward to reading your comments and suggestions!

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