The Power of a Career Audit!

posted by Dilip on May 20, 2019

“If you think change is hard, try becoming irrelevant!” –Tom Peters

Clients often come to me wondering about their progression in how their career is moving and what they need to do if they are not deriving the satisfaction—or modicum of joy—from their current job and from their career. In our meeting they go through all the factors that are aggravating them in how their job is sapping their energy and how they need to get out of their current job to put their career in high gear.

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow author Daniel Kahneman posits three factors that often vitiate our rational thinking and how we make the wrong or ill-advised decisions in our everyday lives, including our jobs and careers. These three elements are: Frequency with which you encounter a factor, our predilection to stay with the Status quo; and, our Tunnel Vision (FaST as a mnemonic).

In brief, the first factor, Frequency, has to do with how we get inured to something that is false or fake by hearing it often or by having to deal with it on an everyday basis. In our jobs factors such as your boss’ incompetence, your colleagues’ perfidy, your company’s archaic compensation policies and so on are often the topics of discussion in this context. When you are new to your job or group or to your company all of these factors can strike you as aberrant at first, but it does not take long for one to normalize their aberrant nature. This happens because the frequency with which we have to deal with them on an everyday basis inures us to their initial shock value; this is how we normalize the aberrant. Groupthink is an outgrowth of this way of normalizing.

The second factor in how we make decisions—to stay or leave—has to do with our natural tendency to “go with the flow” rather than to “rock the boat.” This, in essence, is because of our preference to maintain the status quo. We often evaluate the pain of having to go through an arduous job-search process and getting ready for all those tricky interview rounds, always wondering if your campaign will become an open book for everyone because of your frequent time-offs and coming to work all dressed up to attend those interviews. Sometimes contemplating the very thought of dealing with these shenanigans constrains many would-be job seekers to abandon the idea even before it comes to life. So, continuing with the status-quo seems like a safe bet, and so we continue in our suboptimal, even dreadful jobs without taking any meaningful action to make a change. Some fantasize that someone important will discover their profile on LinkedIn and hire them over the phone, without even calling them for an interview!

Tunnel vision is the third factor that is often a major impediment to making a meaningful change in jobs to pursue something in a new direction—even a career change. Those who are contemplating a move to change their job or career often are hamstrung by their tendency for linear thinking.

Liner thinking—as contrasted with systems thinking—is a mindset that limits you to look only at the cause-and-effect relationship narrowly in a complex system. In a complex environment, such as a typical ecosystem that surrounds a candidate venturing out for bigger or greater opportunities one must consider how different elements within this ecosystem can play a vital role in giving you the many benefits not readily apparent when you are constrained by the limits of your linear thinking. Your network’s support, changing job requirements, evolving economy, new opportunities, hiring managers willing to look beyond the obvious, serendipity, and so on. If you adopt system thinking, on the other hand, you’ll be forced to view the relationships among the myriad factors that make the whole system. When such a system is working for your all you need is just one or few of these factors to tip the scales to your advantage, and voila!, you are in!

To reinforce this very point, I was able to make four career changes during the past 30 years using this very advantage. Each time I took the leap I had no idea that I’d succeed, but each time some serendipitous factor came to my aid and things worked out. Full disclosure: I am not blessed with any particular gift of serendipitous outcomes; we all are equally gifted with such endowments, if we take the first step to venture out!

The Power of a Career Audit

Anyone can apply the FaST concept to career decision-making by using an honest, objective, and in-depth career audit as a tool, if not as a panacea. Although many elements of such an audit can be something we subconsciously churn in our heads frequently, writing them down and assigning them specific values allow you to create a “balance sheet” that can provide you the impetus to make a rational change, rather than one based on “fast thinking” or even on an impulse. The following table is a good model for creating such an audit tool:

Driving Factors (To leave)

  1. Lack of career progression
  2. Clear accountability for success
  3. Culture of blame
  4. Opportunities for development
  5. Lack of overall leadership

Constraining Factors (To stay)

  1. Risk of uncertainty
  2. Preparing for job change (interview practice, coding skills)
  3. Fear of exposure (looking outside)
  4. Taking too long to land
  5. Lack of good network

I’ve merely listed five items for each factor just to show the tool’s design. You can add as many items as you want, except that do not make this audit too unwieldy. To complete this audit, you can assign a scale from 1 to 10 by attributing the right weight to each factor and then have another column of your ability to make a change to each of the factors, again on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, your ability to change a company’s culture is low (“1”) whereas, your ability to make a change in how you grow your network is high (“8”) by putting some effort into it over time. You can complete this audit by tallying each of the factors with the right weight and come up with a score that will give you some insight on your readiness for change. Then you can decide what you need to do next with that score and develop your own action (or inaction) plan.

Changing employers is not easy. Job change is hard. Career change is even harder. This is why I have said in many of my previous blogs: Change employers every 3-5 years, change jobs every 5-7 years, and change careers every 10 or so years if you want to stay in charge of your own career.

Good luck!