Guest Author

Am I On The Right Career Path?

Source || Dr. Pallab Bandyopadhyay

In a society which is becoming fiercely competitive, millions of young men and women follow a dream which is not their own. But the path to happiness is to find your very own “career anchor”.

During the three decades of my professional journey, many young men and women have approached me seeking career guidance. One simple question that I regularly hear is: “I don’t know which career I need to choose…technical or managerial? Can you please tell me which will be good for my career growth?”

Many a times, after probing, I found that many of these young men and women suffered from the phenomena of managing mixed expectations. Let me try to explain this in detail.

Let’s take the example of a young software engineer who I met sometime back on the recommendation of one of my old childhood friends. This guy was his nephew and my friend felt that even after two years in his first job, he was still confused. After I met him and spoke to him for a couple of hours, I found the young man was unable to manage expectations from various people and was therefore stuck.

For example, while the organization (a large IT services major) that he worked for, wanted him to continue to work on the project as per customer requirements, his own self-expectation was to look for an opportunity to work on a platform which he picked up and preferred while studying engineering. He also felt he could really excel in that area, provided the organization gave him an opportunity to explore such a role instead of the current one which he was forced to work on at a customer location. Unfortunately, he was afraid to talk to his manager about this.

On the personal front, the situation was no different. While on the one hand, his parents (especially his father, a bank manager) wanted him to stick to his present job and grow steadily, on the other, his peer group (essentially his batch mates and friends) talked about looking for other opportunities at onsite locations, which provided instant societal recognition coupled with quick monetary and tangible rewards in terms of salary, bonus and other perks. I could see these multiple expectations were wreaking havoc in the young man’s mind and he was possibly on the verge of a breakdown. Compounded with this fact was that he was staying alone, away from his family in an alien city where he did not have too many friends. And even if he had a few, he was hesitant to open up and speak to them.

According to Dr Ed Schein from MIT, since both individuals and organisations exist in the context of the society, it is important to recognise that the societal culture and its value system would ultimately influence both organisations and the various individuals in terms of what is considered to be a good career. The concept has meaning to both, an individual pursuing an occupation (the internal career) and the organisation trying to set up a sensible growth and development path (external career) for the individual.

Thus the core of the internal career is the individual’s self-concept within the context of organisations and occupations, whereas the core of the external career reflects one’s own perception of the organisational and occupational contexts themselves. Famous career researchers Derr and Lauren defined the internal career as primary, subjective and owned by the careerists, and the external career as objective and reflecting a real world of constraints and opportunities in organisations and occupations. As, aptly put by them:

“Internal career is ‘What do I want from work, given my perceptions of who I am and what’s possible?’…External career is ‘What’s possible and realistic in my organisation and occupation, given my perceptions of the world of work?”

Against the backdrop of these thoughts Douglas Hall arrived at a new definitions of career: “Protean Career”. The term Protean is derived from the name of the Greek god Proteus, who could change shape at will. As Hall put it:

“Whereas in the past we decided to look more at the external career, the actual jobs or positions that a person holds over the course of the career, what seems to be more important now is the internal career, the person’s perception and self-constructions of career phenomena.”

In this context of changing perspective of career, emerged a new contract between an employee and the employer, which is primarily psychological in nature. This term “psychological contract” is defined as a set of natural, often implicit, expectations between the employer and the employee, which functions like a contract in that if either party fails to meet the expectations, the impact could be serious leading to de-motivation, turnover, lack of advancement or termination.

Dr Ed Schein’s development of the “Career Anchor” concept in assessing career orientation of individuals is a breakthrough in career research in terms of shifting its focus from external to internal careers of individuals. According to Schein, a person’s career anchor is his or her occupational self-concept consisting of

  1. Self-perceived talents and abilities (based on actual successes in variety of work settings);
  2.  Self-perceived motives and needs (based on opportunities for self-tests and self–diagnosis in real situations and on feedback from others); and
  3.  Self-perceived attitudes and values (based on actual encounters between self and the norms and values of the employing organisation and work setting).

The most important thing to note here is that the anchor is a stabilising force—the values, motives and needs that an individual will not give up, if forced to make a choice. Research has shown that there could be nine different career anchors that guide us to go forward and stabilize in our own career. The million-dollar question is how many of these young men and women know what their career anchor is? Unfortunately, social desirability is a big factor in our society, where we follow others, and others’ paths to success. In a society which is becoming fiercely competitive, it is quite natural that millions of young men and women follow a dream which is not their own and often derived out of parental or peer pressure.

But our world is changing and changing very profoundly. It is moving from probabilities to possibilities, from function to task and projects, from jobs to roles, and organizational lives are becoming far more short-tenured and disruptive. To keep pace with such unprecedented changes in the work environment, career preferences need to be driven solely by deeply embedded life interests of an individual. Young professionals need to understand that one can only excel only when he or she loves his or her vocation.

They need to search for a career that truly enables them to perform tasks that arise out of their deep personal interest and makes them happy and contented, rather than determining what somebody else is good at and use them to achieve title, position and other socially desired tangible rewards. As aptly put by career researcher Shepard, “the things that you can now or potentially could do with excellence, which are fulfilling in the doing of them, so fulfilling that if you also get paid to do them, it feels not like compensation, but like a gift”.

Originally published @ swarajyamag…click here

PallabDr Pallab Bandyopadhyay is a leadership architect, career coach, change and transition specialist with 31 years of professional experience. A doctoral fellow in HRD from XLRI, Jamshedpur, and trained at NTL, USA, he is engaged in HR consulting with many large foreign and Indian MNCs and start-ups in the area of leadership coaching, organization development, long-term capability building, strategic change, organization design and alignment.

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