Our careers can often feel very personal to us, and for good reason. We invest our time and energy into achieving success. Our careers are a manifestation of our ambitions, dreams, goals, and desires. Even if we do not realise it, elements of our career also help feed into our perception of ourselves and our esteem. We work hard to build, nurture and maintain this over time, and in turn it leads to an inherent sense of control and ownership.
Sometimes, however, that ownership can feel threatened or slip away from us. We may hit a plateau after climbing the career ladder for so long, or we find that we are in a vulnerable position during a period of restructuring or cutbacks. In both situations, it is common to feel as though decisions about your career and its direction are no longer within your control.
Losing career ownership is not a position any professional wants to be in, but it is not an impossible one to bounce back from or avoid. Here’s our advice on how to do just that.
First, you need to reflect and assess what caused you to lose that feeling of ownership. You might feel as though you’ve run out of road after racing full speed ahead or have nowhere left to go after reaching a certain level or the top of your organisation. You may also experience feelings of unease, burn out, or complacency as thoughts of ‘what now?’ occupy the space which ambition once filled. Alternatively, you may be content in your existing role or company but find that you face redundancy as the business heads in a new direction or scales back expenditure. Your career seems to be out of your control.
In either case, you have two options. The first is to invest your time and energy into improving your impact, value, and security within your current role and organisation. We recently shared a blog about how to take control during difficult periods, and the advice there may be of use here. In challenging economic times, when the focus shifts towards the business and you find yourself standing on less stable ground, you might feel like a pawn in a game. Your stability and security are at the mercy of someone else’s decision making, which puts you in a vulnerable position.
While you cannot control what the rest of the organisation will do, it is possible to shift how you are perceived within it. This is where strategic thinking and self-motivated action become crucial for demonstrating value and providing stability. Vulnerable executives—and even those feeling a bit stuck—may be able to chart the course of their careers in an entirely new direction within their existing role and organisation. This can be achieved by demonstrating their ability to make a meaningful impact in the face of new or emerging business challenges and to continue making valuable contributions regardless of what comes next.
For both executives in vulnerable positions and those who feel stagnant, the option of changing role or company is an attractive option. It can accelerate your career trajectory if a move is made strategically. While this option may seem daunting, it is not as drastic as you might think. The average professional will have five careers throughout their lifetime, and most often their path will not follow a linear trajectory. Gone are the days of finishing school, getting a job, and climbing the ranks of one organisation until it’s time for retirement. The modern executive will instead make a series of motivated moves driven by a multitude of potential factors such as financial gain, changes in personal circumstances, the pursuit of passion or ambition, or self-preservation. Just because you are currently on one path does not mean you have to stay there. Not every career move needs to be upwards to be fulfilling. Linear moves can prove just as invigorating and reintroduce that sense of control that has been lacking.
Regardless of which option you choose, the best way to regain ownership over your career is to invest in yourself to make your career feel personal so you understand your value to in demand external market trends. Here are some steps you can take:
But don’t forget to make some connections along the ways. Data from McKinsey shows that only 14% of professionals have grown their networks since 2020, while less than 50% reported making any effort to do so. If you fall into this camp, you could be missing out on some major opportunities to advance or enhance your career. Many job opportunities—especially at the senior level—are secured by word of mouth and peer referrals. If you aren’t engaging with your peer network and keeping them in the loop about your goals, you may be missing out on potential opportunities to expand your horizons and enrich your career.
Don’t be afraid to connect with those outside of your immediate sphere. Real growth happens when you venture outside of your comfort zone. In fact, research from MIT, Harvard and Stanford backs this up, finding that weaker social connections on LinkedIn have a greater effect on job mobility than stronger connections. Reaching out to your lesser known or secondary contacts on the platform is more likely to yield opportunities than mining your close personal relationships would be. An investment in your network is an investment in your overall career and should not be undervalued.
Rialto is at the forefront in providing insights on both individual and organisation transformational change. Our focus includes supporting senior executives to make game changing career moves with over 6,000 professionals having received support over the last 11 years globally. For more information on our executive career transition programmes call +44 (0) 20 3746 2960 or make an enquiry.
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