Careers are like bringing up children. They have to be nurtured with long-term planning and sacrifices. People believe their career is the responsibility of their organisation or their manager. But, no matter what organisation you work for, your career is your responsibility.
Companies can provide the framework and training to acquire skills but the initiative lies with the person on where he wants to take his career. Companies have to deal with far too many issues external to the organisation and often career development falls by the wayside.
Before you choose a career, figure out what type of work your personality and skill is best suited for. Since we spend up to 80% of our waking hours in work place it's important that we enjoy what we do and feel sufficiently challenged. If you are in the right career you will win—if not, you will stagnate, struggle and be frustrated.
Job hopping is not career building. A career is built over time with all the experience gained along the way. If you make the most of the experience you gain that will be more valuable than any stock, bond or fund you may have invested in. The kind of attrition figures we are seeing today defy logic. This trend disrupts business continuity and leads to very high training, replacement and productivity costs. There are too many employers running after a limited talent pool. But when the hiring frenzy slows down, many of today’s job hoppers will be the losers because they would have not nurtured their career or put in any thought into where they would land up in future.
Another disturbing trend I observe is of people considering employment as an entitlement. They want more but are not willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. The attitude is: if my current employer cannot give me what I want, I will quit. But career is not about money alone—skill acquisition and learning matter as much.
The job market in India today is similar to what was seen in the Silicon Valley during the dotcom boom. During the boom employers were looking for bodies to fill seats—it didn’t matter if these were the right bodies! It was only after the bust that these very people were suddenly found to be misfits. They got laid off in thousands and had the most difficult time getting reemployed because they had not developed their skills.
Once you are on a chosen career path don't think that you are done. It's imperative to keep learning so that you don’t get obsolete. Your achievements are your stepping stones for the future. I cannot overemphasise the importance of networking in career management. Our careers are like a PR campaign and the goal is to be known by as many people as possible. Never underestimate the value of mentors. Look for people who can guide and help you in your career.
While your career does define you to some extent, it is not the be all and end all of your life. Find a life outside of work. A right balance of life-at-work and life-after-work is the way to build sustainable careers.
(The author is a Country Head of Watson Wyatt)