Over the course of my years in higher education and corporate talent management, I have developed ideas on how the early job choices we make, propel us to career destinations we later embrace or regret.
My ideas are based on observations I have made about individuals’ self-awareness and my perspectives on the human search for self-affirmation through a vocation. Hence, I created a framework that corresponds to the timeline of decisions we make along the way that are not necessarily deliberate, but inevitably set the tone for our career fulfillment. The ideas described below are most applicable to those who are in the pursuit of a profession that requires a college education.
Our Pathfinding 20s
Most college students will pursue a major imposed upon them by parents or one of their own choosing. The exploration process of choosing a major leads us to questions like “What am I good at?” “What skills do I have? ” Or the existential favorite, “Who am I?”
Asking those questions during college and attempting to answer them is an important exercise that, for many, marks the beginning of the lifelong competency of self-awareness. After college, we start making job choices that may or may not be aligned with career plans we have or may not have. In our 20’s we still don’t know what skills we have but we jump into the professional world and try to figure things out as we go along.
Eventually, as working young adults in our post-college 20’s , we begin to get real time feedback on what people think of our work, our skills, and the first iteration of our professional persona. If the feedback is positive, then we are galvanized to keep on doing much of the same that corresponds to our goals at that time. If the feedback is negative, we may get discouraged and our career outlook becomes harder to envision. Usually, this is the phase when “imposter syndrome” creeps in for many which has less to do with actual self-confidence levels and more just about our rapid evolving sense of our professional persona.
At this juncture, regardless of good feedback or bad feedback, we may decide to re-tool ourselves either for higher level of responsibilities in our current career path or aim for a different profession altogether. Either direction is likely to lead to pursuing a graduate degree which feeds the hyper competitive job markets of MBAs , JD’s and other professions relying on a credentialed talent pool.
Our Working 30’s
In our 30’s, we begin to see our skills reveal themselves on the job. By this time, we either happily or grudgingly accept what skills we do have and start to consciously align them with our ambitions. It is during this crucial life-cycle that we create a track-record that becomes the foundation for our future credibility as subject matter experts above and beyond our career path. This cycle is when we should become hyper aware of what our true ambitions are and begin to act accordingly to pursue our career goals as quickly or as methodically as we choose.
40’s and Beyond
You worked hard at honing your craft the last 15 or so years, but by the time you enter your 40’s, no one really cares what your skills are in this cycle. The skills you used in your 30’s have now morphed and aggregated into something bigger–your expertise in terms of cumulative industry knowledge. For example, if you worked in various marketing roles at three pharmaceutical companies since the age of 31, now as a 40-something professional, your value proposition to other employers is actually about the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, not so much about your marketing track record. Ultimately, this industry knowledge becomes more valuable than functional know-how. Business professionals who find a “home” in a given industry have a better chance of becoming the sought-after enterprise leaders that, because they truly understand the big-picture of the external and internal forces specific to that industry, can convert that industry know-how into optimal operational decision-making and strategic execution.
By using these life-cycle frameworks to examine our career paths and professional development, we can better appreciate the importance of liking the industry we choose (by our 30’s) so that we can maximize our relevance as leaders and even innovators for that industry, regardless of the career path we took to get there.
Ultimately, the ideal destination for all of us who pursue a career is to reach a level of career satisfaction that taps into our “passion” and validates our sense of purpose beyond our ties to family and our loved ones.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pedro Gonzalez boasts a distinguished career as a talent recruiter with Siemens Advanta Consulting where he recruited MBAs from Wharton, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Columbia Business School, and Ross School of Business. As a career advisor to MBA students at noteworthy institutions like Drexel University, University of South Carolina, and University of Tennessee-Knoxville, he has directly mentored 500+ MBAs. Through decades of providing business development and career services consulting, Pedro generated a passion for talent management and aspired to bring together high-potential businesses and students to achieve symbiotic goals.