The Webster's dictionary defines the word career as “a profession or occupation which one trains for and pursue as a life work”. This definition makes two simplistic assumptions. The first, that formal training is necessary for a career, and the second that careers are for life. Implicit in the definition is also the concept of earnings that come as a result of pursuing a specific career line. Often at the altar of earnings, genuine interests or passion to do something one likes are sacrificed. The unrealised dream remains as a pain through life, unsung and unsaid, but affecting career satisfaction. Very few can escape that trap.
The world of work has become increasingly complex. It has also become more diverse and accommodative, creating new options. Today there is space for individuals to act differently from the earlier paradigm of predictable and straight progression jobs to pursue interests and earn returns.
At the same time, the risks of continuing a career are high. In a market short of talent, getting a job is easy but keeping it is infinitely more difficult. Changes in the work environment or user requirements can make an individual obsolete and derail his career. One can build an alternate pathway and still be successful, though time might be lost in the process. It is better to be proactive than wait for derailment.
To remain relevant, individuals need to constantly invest in their careers. The most critical investment is at the emotional plane. It means answering a simple question: are you enjoying what you are doing? Answering this requires deep introspection of one’s interests, getting feedback from those who observe you, attending career workshops, developing alternate interests beyond the 9-to-5 routine and improving the balance between work and life.
I am part of the Paycheck India project, which is a global research initiative to compare earnings. The research portal www.paycheck.in aggregates salary data of individuals from different careers. Individuals can compare their earnings with those of their peers and find out the earnings potential and requirements to reach that level. Such initiatives facilitate a more realistic career assessment.
The next step is to mark to the market. While a short-term measure like a job switch may register a sharp spike in earnings, the growth may not be sustained. Long-term investment in competence development is recommended. It can happen on the job or outside. IIM-Ahmedabad runs a successful one-year executive MBA programme. All participants follow a successful conventional career track and could pick jobs that are one or two notches higher. Many of them tell me that they have taken a career break and have invested money and time for long-term value creation in the same stream or where they find better returns. The programme design, which balanced the emotional and market side, ensured that returns do not trip to the career mercenary mode. Every day they walk the thin line with confidence.
The last step is recognising the relevance of the individual. In a career management guide I recall reading a mantra “Be famous for the right thing”. At the end, proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Completing the loop is necessary for an individual to obtain long term and sustained returns from career investment.
(By Biju Varkkey, professor of HR, IIM Ahmedabad)