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Have you ever pondered this question?  What are you doing here, in this current place of employment?  What are your intentions?  Is this a “job” for you or is this your career?

By Jennifer Johnson

A job can be classified as one where you punch in and out daily and tend not to think about it before you get there or after you leave.  It’s a means to an end.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being job-focused.  But there is a mind-shift that must take place to transition thinking  from job-focused to career-oriented.

What’s a career? A career is vision of your future that is living and breathing; it will sometimes zig and zag with no clear ending destination.  A career takes conscious nurturing inside and outside of business hours.  One thing that is certain is that there is no set formula and you will set yourself up for disappointment if you think you have it all figured out.  If you’re actually able to answer the question “where will you be in 5 years?” (and stick firmly to that career path) then you are the exception!

Having worked with many people on who have been various career tracks in multiple industries over the years, I’ve noticed several common traits that are shared by individuals with a career orientation mindset.

Openness to Opportunity

First, none of these people knew exactly where they were going to wind up professionally.  They were open to opportunities large and small and welcomed the opportunity to educate themselves on the possibilities.  I met a woman a few years ago who had her mind set on getting a brand-name firm on her resume as her next step; for some reason she thought this was what was required in order to move forward. After talking with her, she opened her mind to possibilities and actually found a fit in a firm she was not considering previously.  When you are regimented in your thinking, you overlook possibilities.  Some of the very best opportunities for you could be those that are under the radar.  While you need to find the right place to shine – international firm, regional firm, (whatever that means to you) – don’t rule anything out based on pre-set expectations you’ve designed for yourself.  You might miss out on finding a place to practice your craft at your highest and best.

Self Knowledge

Second observation: career-oriented professionals tend to be very aware of their own strengths and limits.  They have a realistic/honest approach to what is right for them based on their skill set and interests. They are the first to say “no, that’s not a good fit for me” when thinking of their next career step.  Recently I met with a candidate whose experience had been 100% corporate in the 8 years of her career to date.  I suggested that it might be a good fit for her to have the chance to round out her portfolio with some litigation experience as this could poise her for leading a business development team with people who work on both transactional and litigation practices.  She thought about this and decided that she really had no interest in leading a team of people at that level.  She’s staying focused on corporate and being an expert in that area.  I respect this self-awareness tremendously.


Final observation: being highly networked is a common trait of career-oriented professionals.  They know what is going on beyond the “world” they move around in daily.  They tend to be actively involved in their industry associations and serve as thought leaders.  You’ll find them writing articles and serving as sources in publications.  They are usually serving on panel discussions or leading training programs for their peers.   And, they know, you’re never too junior in your career to have your voice heard – [tip: start early (with your manager’s approval) and keep the momentum going over the years! ]. These highly networked professionals tend to also be involved in organizations outside of “work” where they can meet professionals from other industries in an attempt to glean ongoing perspective from the outside (of their industry) world.  The more people know you and see you as a professional, outgoing, trustworthy person, the more opportunities will come your way.

So, how do you cultivate a career-oriented mindset?  Start by assessing your strengths and limits.  Ask for feedback from your managers (both past and current); take an ongoing inventory of the tasks you enjoy most and least during the day; and, invest is temperament training to get in touch with your natural tendencies such as Myers-Briggs, DISC or training programs that teach you about emotional intelligence.  These tools will supplement your practical experience.

Expand your professional view-point.  Step outside your current professional world and network with professionals who work at firms that are different in size, geographic focus and practice; this will give you an insight into what could be next for you.  Also, seek out an active role in an industry association and in a non-profit that speaks to your values.  These are all wonderful next steps to shift your mind from “job” to a thriving career.

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