You Are the Boss of Your Own Career

by Pam Lassiter

Maybe you've already accepted, or perhaps even welcomed, the fact that you are the boss of your own career. Being responsible for setting, maintaining, and adapting your overall career direction can feel pretty daunting, though. It's easier to be the boss of your own career if you do two things: describe what type of work you want to do (function) and where you want to do it (industry). These two pillars are the essential infrastructure for your career direction.

Photo courtesy of Aidan Jones
Photo courtesy of Aidan Jones

Being mushy backfires

Do you agree with the old adage you can't be all things to all people? If so, look at your resume and listen to how you describe what type of work you want to do. Are you keeping yourself open to any possibility? "I want to run an operation and use my management and team leadership skills."

Does that sentence distinguish you from the pack? I see many professionals who are too broad in their approach to the market in an effort to not lose any potential jobs. They fear that if they commit to a specific type of work or to working within a specific industry, they will be pigeonholed. If you're too specific about your desires, you'll miss out on other jobs that a company has opened that might be a fit. Right? Wrong.

The paradox is that the more you try to increase your choices within the job market by generalizing about what you can do, the less other people can be of help. Can you imagine an athlete trying to keep the sport in which she has specialized a secret? The more clearly you can describe your skills, eliminating any mushiness, the more employers will respond to you.

Companies, boards, and especially search firms want specific, relevant experience. They want people who have done the same type of work in the same industries, ideally with their competitors. This matching of industry and function between the position and the candidate is what I call the round hole, round peg fit. Is it fair? Maybe not. But it's the norm, so take advantage of its predictability and strategize to make it work for you.

This doesn't mean you can't change fields or industries. People do that all the time. It does mean that your chances of getting what you want at the level and salary that you want improve when your presentation clearly signals why your background adds value in your new field. Your audience is not interested in figuring out how your skills might fit with their company. They are busy. Do the figuring for them.

How "objective" are you?

The most common place for mushiness is in resume design. Many people are leery of placing an employment objective in the first section of the resume. But to avoid setting an objective out of fear of losing opportunities is like being a shy boy at a school dance who never approaches the group of girls. He could get a lot of responses, but he doesn't because he is not direct.

Many headhunters and human resource professionals have told me, "If jobseekers can't figure out what they want to do and tell me in the resume, I'm not going to do it for them. I'm going fast. I'm skimming. I don't have time to figure out what they want if they can't do it themselves."

Supplying an objective helps meet the employer's need and will also help you focus the rest of your resume and hone your skill in communicating your strengths. If you keep your message simple and clear using the industry's vocabulary and referring to employer's needs and profitability, you're showing the clarity that the right companies want.