4 questions to help you chart your career

4 questions to help you chart your career

We receive many questions about individual career matters from readers of our weekly column, but over time, we’ve found that most are in essence asking the same two questions: What should I do with my life? Am I making the right career choices?

Unfortunately, that process can take a decade or more, leading to the somewhat ironic reality that you finally discover “what you want to be when you grow up" when you’ve grown up. For women, it can be an even longer path, as having children means that their careers often involve stops and starts and flexibility-friendly digressions.

That said, it is possible to expedite your career’s progression and arrive at the coordinates you desire sooner rather than later. But that outcome takes a certain intentionality along the way, and 10-10-10— the process of weighing the consequences of your possible options in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years—can be your guide.

To run a 10-10-10 assessment of your current career path, I recommend first asking yourself four questions about your job. The answers should help you to start making meaningful career decisions.

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1. Does my job allow me to work with those who share my sensibilities about life or do I have to zone out or put on a persona to get through the day?

The key word in this question is “sensibilities": the values, behaviour and personality traits that make you feel you’re among kindred spirits. The fact is, no job or profession will ever be right for you if it requires that you work with people who don’t share your values. You spend most of your life at work—a point well worth factoring into any 10-10-10 career dilemma.

2.Does my job make me smarter by stretching my mind, building my skills and taking me out of my comfort zone?

Without a doubt, it’s appealing to hold a job where you feel like the smartest person in the room. In time, though, such efficacy can be a real career-killer. So if your career 10-10-10 involves a possible change of direction, don’t just ask, “Do I have the right skills?" Ask, “Will I enjoy the challenge of gaining new ones?"

3.Does my job open doors for me?

As contradictory as it might sound, you can be pretty sure you’re holding the right job if it has the potential to lead to another job elsewhere. That’s because careers, by definition, don’t have dead ends. They are comprised of opportunities that lead to other opportunities.

When I lecture at Babson College, I’m sometimes approached by seniors who are using the 10-10-10 process to decide between job offers. I remember one student, Kristin, who came to our meeting with a carefully prepared list of pros and cons for her two options—and a look of total exasperation on her face.

“I’m stuck," she explained. “One of the jobs would be great for me for the next year or two. It’s a little start-up. The work is fun and the people are great. But the company may not even survive. The other company has a great reputation, great training programmes and lots of upward mobility. It makes much better sense for me in a 10-year time frame. It’s such a toss-up that I don’t know what to do."

I reminded Kristin that every 10-10-10 solution depends on the values of the person conducting the process, but that didn’t seem to help. Both opportunities gave her what she wanted from life, she said—intellectual challenge, teamwork and enough money to stay afloat.

I pushed Kristin to think more deeply about her career values. “Well, I’m not big on titles or prestige," she finally said. “I’d rather have responsibility than authority." We discovered that Kristin dreamed of a resume filled with stints at small ventures where she could have true impact and, with any luck, a share in the ownership as well.

“Which job opportunity opens those doors for you?" I asked, but we both already knew the answer. Kristin soon accepted her offer from the start-up.

4.Does my job give me meaning?

Every holiday, when my kids return home from school, we start selecting their courses for the following semester. Somehow, we invariably end up having a “What should I do with my life?" conversation. And every holiday, I have to remind my kids that no one ever built a great career doing something they hated.

“Do what you love," I tell them, “and the rest will follow".

Look, the perfect job and the perfect career are only perfect if they make you happy. Something about the work—the thrill of making a big sale, the excitement of hitting a deadline with your colleagues, the reward of coaching a newcomer or helping a customer—just turns your crank. It feels important, it fulfils your soul.

Always remember, you simply cannot, and should not, 10-10-10 any career dilemma without acknowledging the “joy factor" of each of your options.

Write to Jack & Suzy

Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at winning@livemint.com Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.