When was your wake-up call?


I like to think I found the best first job as a professional engineer. It was in my field of expertise and in an area where I always wanted to be. It also meant some travel and to make it even better, my company was investing heavily in me.

My first job meant going through six months of classroom training of which the second half was in my company’s headquarters. Accommodation fully paid, plus extra cash for other basic expenses. Upon completion, guess what: another six months of “on the job” training.

A year later, I transitioned into a new role. When I met my boss, he gave me my “career plan” for the year, which essentially said where they wanted me to be and which courses they wanted me to take. About eight in total. Not too long ago (unless you ask my kids, of course) organizations were “career parents” and as employees, we were, to a great extent, their “children”.

A few years after, I was in a meeting with our Regional Vice President. As a way of offering a vision for our company, he said we should not expect much more training; in fact, we should actively seek alternate ways to keep our skills current.

That was my wake-up call. While it felt great to have someone else plan, fund and support my career, I had to adjust to the new normal. In a very short time, I became a “career orphan” and had to take control of my own future, making me a “career owner”, as it should be. A year after this meeting, I began my executive MBA to acquire the tools I would need to support my career goals.

Though I spent the first half of my career in an environment with a 20% unemployment rate, I have seen the most significant changes and instability in the second half: I have lived through two mergers, one of which became a “de-merger”. While my wake-up call happened fifteen years ago, I’m still surprised that so many of the professionals I run into have yet to receive theirs.

People say times have changed, but very few translate that into action. Let me be more specific. One day someone I know called to tell me that, after a lengthy search, he had found a new job. It was a contract position, but he was back on his feet, a good position to be in if the job became permanent. I advised him to build an internal network of allies so that he’d be visible, desirable and aware of how goings-on inside the organization might have an impact on him. But he didn’t follow through. A few months later he found himself looking again. This situation repeated itself twice more under very similar circumstances.

In a subsequent conversation with him, I discovered this person had very little knowledge of networking. Limited use of networking tools and techniques and a small internal network relegated him to a pool of other look-alike potential candidates from whom he had failed to differentiate himself. By not raising his profile he diluted himself, his brand and his unique credentials and attributes in the eyes of the organization. He still thinks he was making himself visible so he could be discovered. The organization thought otherwise.

Getting a hold of your career is much more than pressing the “apply on line” button. It means having the ability to read the industry, key players, roles, colleagues, potential bosses, related extra-curricular activities and a plethora of other skills to anticipate where the puck will be. Unfortunately, like this person, what many fail to see is that career building may have a start, but rarely an end.

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