Did Your Career Choose You?

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the privilege of giving a series of talks to college students. With graduation season fast approaching, it was apparent that these students were worried about how to get their first job or internship. The experience allowed me a fresh perspective on the entire process of career development and led to this week’s question,

Did You Choose Your Career or Did Your Career Choose You?

Interestingly, I wrestled with a similar question when researching for “Everybody Sells”, my book on global team selling. Interviewing sales leaders from across the globe, it became clear that sales organizations were waking up to a new reality; selling to whomever is buying is no longer a recipe for revenue and profit growth. Not all customers are created equal, not all customers are profitable and some deals shouldn’t be done. We learned that the best sales organizations were starting to focus on selecting their customers instead of their customers selecting them.

Isn’t the career question essentially the same?

Dozens of students have reached out to me, following up on one of my talks. The themes are essentially the same. What do I do to source a job or internship opportunity? Or how do I ‘win’ a job over other candidates? Without exception the questions asked, “How do I get any offer?”, rather than “How do I develop the opportunity I want?”

Considering that most people will spend 2080 hours a year for 40 years of their lives in this thing called a job, picking the right track is key to our success and central to our happiness.

Over the last decade, I’ve interviewed hundreds of senior executives for various reasons. One consistent element in each interview was a retelling of their personal story – how they got to their position. The vast majority of executives share a story that started out very differently than where they ended up. A science major that ended up running one of the nation’s leading insurance companies. An engineer that ended up running one of the world’s foremost sales organizations. It’s rare to find a person that ended up exactly where they set out go.

Taking a more proactive view of securing that first job may be more important than ever. For my parents’ generation, having one, two or three jobs in a career was pretty typical. For my generation that number swelled to a half dozen. Today’s young business professionals are predicted to hold over a dozen jobs in a single career. Getting locked into a career path that typecasts what you are capable of may severely hamper future options.

My advice? Ask two questions, combine the answers and you’ll have a much better idea of what you’d be really good at and what you are passionate about:

  1. What would you do if you had all the money you’d ever need? After all the parties, purchases and travel… When you wake up and have to live the rest of your life, day-after-day. What would you do everyday, for free, because you loved it?
  2. What is your formal training?

Love travel and have an English degree. Travel writer?

Love TV and films and have an accounting degree. Production accountant?

Sure, a first job isn’t the end of the line, but it’s an important step for the next crop of corporate citizens. It seems to me that one’s career should be the result of careful consideration and deliberate development of an opportunity that suits you!

Or am I being overly idealistic? This is a BIG QUESTION and there are a lot of really smart people that read this blog.

So, I’m asking you for your help and insight.

What advice do you have for our soon-to-be graduates?