Here's a story about what Warren Buffett calls the sins of omission, those business mistakes that don't appear on a P&L but can be of enormous consequence anyway -- like selling 1000 shares of stock for a profit of $5,000 when the same 1000 shares sold three years later would have yielded a profit of $50,000.
When I first became self-employed in 2001, one of the things that took me about nine months to learn was that every day when I woke up and decided what I was going to do for the day -- in a hidden way, I was deciding what I was NOT going to do. Very important. Re-read that.
That year almost bankrupted me, as I sadly mistook my new-found freedom as a license to do whatever the hell I pleased. Blab on the phone all day with my buddies? Sure. Hang out at Staples pricing laser printers? No problem. Spend an afternoon having lunch with a friend of a friend of a friend who just wants to "pick my brain" about marketing? I'll buy.
You get the idea. Drove my wife nuts as our family financials cratered.
What I learned the hard way: You are the sum of your days. You've heard it all before: If you want to have a great day, have 24 great hours. If you want a great week, have 7 great days. A great year is 52 great weeks, and a great career is ~40 great years, with each new year building on the success of the previous one. Sheryl Crow is only half right: Every day is a winding road -- but it's still important to know one's destination.
Which brings me to the point of this post: Most candidates who apply for jobs make the same mistake I made just five years ago. They have no idea what they want to accomplish with their lives and how their current job -- or the job for which they are applying -- is going to enable that ideal. Their careers are made up of mostly bad decisions and sins of omission, held together by a few of good decisions and lucky breaks. Like a roof held together with holes.
I'm not just being negative. I've been there, and I speak with nearly 150 candidates each week. Less than 10% of these professionals understand exactly what is interfering with their career progress and are taking specific steps to deal with the problem in a proactive, workmanlike fashion. So before you apply for your next job ...
Answer these 10 questions:
- Describe the best times of your career or working life.
- What did you love about your job at the time?
- What did your work look like? List the five most important responsibilities in that job.
- What were the five most important contributions you made to that organization?
- How have you defined career happiness? What is currently interfering with your career happiness, and what actions can you take to change this? (Remember that your career must blend the Three F's: Fun, Future, and Finance.)
- List three career related problems, however large or small, that you are currently facing. How are you going to deal with them?
- What are your three most important career goals currently?
- What tools, skills, and resources do you feel you need to achieve your career goals?
- What three skills do you feel that you have mastered? What three skills have you always wanted to master?
- What would you say is your greatest asset and why? What types of jobs will allow you to leverage that asset? Are there any you have overlooked?
Life is tough in the sense that the basic law of the universe is economy: You either impact the universe or it impacts you. If you don't decide what you want from your career, the people around you will make that decision for you. Not because they want to be in control of your destiny -- but because they want to be in control of theirs. In that sense, life is very much a contest of wills.
So map out the rest of your career. If not today, soon. Only after you have thought through these questions should you start applying for a new job.
Click here to receive a monthly email of Harry's latest searches. (You can opt-out anytime with just one click.)