What Matters Most to You? How To Think Critically About Your Next Career Move

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Feb 17, 2022

If someone asked you right now what you want your job to look like by the end of 2022, how would you answer? Similarly, can you picture in your mind what your desired career path looks like, and what milestones you need to reach as you continue down that path? If you cannot answer these questions, or if the answer seems a little fuzzy, non-descript, or unattainable, don’t worry… you aren’t alone. Particularly within talent acquisition, the majority of people stumble into recruiting and sourcing ‘by accident’ and discover along the way that they love some aspect of it. But it doesn’t have to end there – it’s important to figure out what keeps you on your career path and how far you want to go on it. And, whether or not it’s time to get on a new path! 

It’s been estimated that less than 3% of Americans have written down any goals, and a huge 92% of people fail to achieve New Year’s resolutions for change. While I’m not here to talk specifically about goal-setting, the concept of it works quite well when thinking about where you want to take your career. The first step is thinking about what you want and why. Thinking about what you want – what you REALLY, REALLY want – in a career requires identifying what matters most to you so you can prioritize spending time on activities and in roles that will bring you closer to them.

Thinking Critically Will Help You Develop Your Career Path

Thinking about your career path is a big deal, no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s by design or out of necessity, there is some soul-searching involved when making a move. No one is going to care as much about your career growth as you do, and therefore you should be the one investing the most amount of time and effort in determining what that will look like. While your manager can help you chart a course, you owe it to yourself to spend some time thinking about what will get you where you want to go, and why. In Alice in Wonderland, when Alice happened upon the Cheshire Cat, she asked, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The Cheshire Cat responded, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” to which Alice replied, “I don’t much care where.” The Cheshire Cat said, “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” 

While we won’t always know which specific path to take, it’s helpful if we know the direction in which we want to move. Thinking critically about our own careers means thinking about all of the possible outcomes, directions, and solutions that could result from the path(s) we may take. That’s why you must also identify your ‘why’ components – the things that will motivate you to choose different paths.

No Two People Are Motivated by the Same Things

It’s important to recognize that you – like every other human being around you – are unique. We each have different life experiences, even if we grew up in the same places, attended the same schools, or were even raised in the same families. No matter how similar you may think you are to a group of friends or colleagues, you’re still uniquely YOU. This means that you may be motivated by different things than others around you. Back in 2012, a work colleague shared with me a secret of our talent acquisition trade that changed the way I approached ‘sell’ conversations with candidates: there are generally only 5 categories of motivating factors that would cause a candidate to change jobs:

  1. Money (e.g. salary + bonus)
  2. Benefits (medical coverage tends to be a big one here)
  3. Work/Life balance (being able to devote ample time to the people you love and/or in the places that make you happy)
  4. Career growth/Influence (e.g. educational/skill-building opportunities, ability to share your knowledge internally/externally, formalized career growth paths)
  5. Innovation (e.g. working on interesting projects and/or with great colleagues)

Understanding this opened my eyes: how many times do we dive into a candidate call head-first with our own agenda without first understanding what would cause that candidate to consider making a move? Pro tip: a simple way to start this conversation is to ask, “What are you less than 100% satisfied within your current role?” (I’ve yet to meet a candidate who said “Yes” to speaking with me who was 100% happy…) 

Now, flip this around, and think about what motivates you in your current role? Do you feel you are adequately compensated? Do your benefits meet your/your family’s needs? Do you have an appropriate balance between work and personal time? Do you have opportunities to grow your skills and do stretch assignments? Do you get to be creative in your role and/or do you have a supportive boss or teammates who work well together? Take a moment to answer this question honestly about yourself, and be as specific as you can be.

Different Life Seasons Will Adjust Your Motivations

A good thing to keep in mind is that your motivations will change multiple times over the course of your life. For example, when I was early in my sourcing career I was super motivated by career growth and being able to influence others. The title was really important to me because I wanted to be seen as an equal to my recruiting peers. At some point, money became a big motivator for me because I wanted to increase my earning potential – I had bills to pay and I wanted to be more independent! At the current stage of my career, work/life balance is what motivates me the most. While I’ve always been a proponent of flexible work environments, the last couple of years has opened my eyes to its importance for ongoing mental and physical health and being able to care for those I love. I am heavily motivated by being able to step away for a couple of hours to take my mother to a doctor’s appointment, and being able to encourage similar flexibility for my team. Different people and situations will come about and shift your life priorities. Recognizing that this will adjust what motivates you is important for helping you to stay on track for whatever is next in your career – and to recognize when you may need to make a change to do that.

Run Toward Something Good, Not Away from Something Bad

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they’re pursuing career moves is ‘settling.’ This is more likely to happen when you haven’t gone through the exercise above of understanding what motivates you personally. When you haven’t clearly defined what matters most to you or what’s missing in your work satisfaction, you’re more likely to run toward ANYthing that looks different from your current situation, resulting in settling on whatever is in front of you. Make the evaluation process bi-directional, because as much as other teams or companies are trying to decide if you’re the best fit, you should be doing the same. If you’re looking to try a new role with your current employer, ask the leader of that team lots of questions about it – how is their team different/similar to others, how success is measured (and why!!), what is contributed to the greater organization, what skill-building opportunities can be pursued, can you try a stretch assignment first, etc. If you’re interviewing with other companies, make sure whatever role you want to pursue has been defined to your satisfaction, as well. Poorly defined roles become the “task rabbits” for everyone else and this generally won’t help you stay on your career growth path. 

The bottom line is: don’t sell yourself short by simply running away from a less-than-satisfying work situation, take the time to identify an amazing, well-suited opportunity to run toward. This brings us back full circle to understanding what truly motivates you.

Summary and a Critical Thinking Exercise

You control your own destiny. Don’t rely on your manager to set your career path for you – think about what you want to do and why by identifying what motivates you in your work. Be vocal with your manager about what you want to do and ask for help in crafting a plan to accomplish that. Be open to shifting priorities that will come and go from your life, and don’t be afraid to change your motivations. And lastly, if you’ve determined it’s time to move on to something else, run toward something that inspires you instead of away from something that’s less than satisfactory.

To wrap up, I challenge you to practice critical thinking with the following questions. Do your best to answer each question honestly and specifically.

  1. If you feel 100% satisfied in your current role, what do you consider the ‘next step’ for yourself? If you don’t feel 100% satisfied, what is standing in the way of you pursuing something different?
  2. Have you shared what your career aspirations are with your manager? If so, can you say they are truly what you want, or are they what you think your manager wanted to hear?
  3. If you lack growth opportunities within your current role, team, or employer, is it because the opportunities are not available at all? Are they available but you have not made your manager aware of your aspirations? Is your manager aware of your aspirations, but you have not yet developed an action plan to pursue?
  4. Will gaining the experience you need to reach your next level require you to venture into an unknown space, a new function and focus, or further education? What would this mean for additional time and/or financial commitments?
  5. Are you purposeful in devoting time to your own growth and development? (i.e. do you have specific time blocked on your calendar vs. squeezing it into free moments)  


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