I graduated from college almost 20 years ago with my degree in Chemical Engineering. Most of the open jobs were with oil companies drilling on the north shore of Alaska. After having spent 3 years interning in renewable energy I didn’t want to go rape and pillage the Alaskan wilderness. The other options were limited. Caterpillar was hiring in Peoria, IL but that interview started with a large man with a large hat scanning my 22 year old self and slowly asking, “So little lady, why would…YOU…want to come work for Caterpillar?” I didn’t get a second interview. The other opportunity for me was to go work in the hugely growing world of computer programming. I’d taken a few programming courses, I liked them, and I was offered a job with a huge consulting firm in Chicago. They said I was smart and they would train me to code. I’d be surrounded by people my own age. It seemed like a great opportunity, but why?
Your first real job offer. Do you remember it? Did you spend a lot of time figuring out if your job was a good fit? Did you wonder if the corporate culture fit your needs? I didn’t, or I didn’t evaluate my opportunities consciously beyond “How much do they pay?” Twenty years later, I know that for me, that’s one of the last questions I need to ask myself.
Last year I was invited to a women’s networking event where the featured speaker was going to present on “Women entering the C-suite.” The presenter was a woman, 5 years younger than me, who was a career coach that charged between $15k – $45k per person to coach women into finding C level positions. You know, for those of us dying to become a CIO, CFO, CEO, or COO. Personally, I have no ambitions in this direction but I have friends who do, and there was free food and wine, so I went and what I learned was eye opening.
This woman, who had to make 3 times my salary, explained that in order to reach your career goals, you first have to understand what you want out of your career. She then challenged us to make a list of things that we want out of a job. I have no real notes from this discussion, because I have since lost the notes I took in my daughter’s notebook with her colored pencil, but I have a strong recollection of our list. It looked like this:
- Learning opportunities
- The mission
- Potential for advancement
- Leadership opportunities
She then told us to pick the top three things we wanted out of a job and shared her choices. She picked money, potential for advancement, and leadership opportunities. She went on to tell us that she owned her own company because she wanted to be the leader of whatever she did, and her goal was to make enough money so that she could have three homes when she retired at 45: one in Aspen, one near her family, and one on the ocean. She wanted to be able to use these homes to host her family and live out her days in luxury. Those were her C-Suite career path values.
If the notepad with googly eyes wasn’t enough of a clue that I’m not destined for CTO, her list solidified my lack of interest. Mine said: mission, flexibility, and friends. I want a job where I can go every day and know that what I’m doing is making a difference in the world. I need a job where I can go to my daughter’s Halloween party, or coach her soccer team. I want to go to work everyday with people I really care about and who care about me. Don’t tell my boss, but money and benefits aren’t even on the list. Of course, I want to make enough money to support my family and keep our house, but our needs are pretty simple. I don’t want three homes. I don’t want to retire at 45. In fact, I dream of a life where I can work into my 60s or 70s, but be able to take sabbaticals have opportunities to pursue other passions mid-career.
Okay, so what’s the point of all of this? Well I’m a manager, and I have conversations with people who say things like:
“I need opportunities for advancement. There is nowhere to go in this organization.”
“You don’t respect my skills here. I am a great software developer, but I can’t move up without content knowledge.”
“It’s your fault that I don’t have enough work to do. That’s a manager’s job.”
“I’m an expert. I don’t need to change.”
“Just tell me what to do.”
The truth of the matter is that those are all valid opinions and statements and these people are really unhappy. The other truth is that those complaints cannot be resolved at my company. For example, in my job family there are six levels and I was hired at the third one. In twelve years I’ve received one promotion. I have grown and developed, but unless I want to get a PhD, I only have one more promotion I’ll ever get. The “I need opportunities for advancement” person is doomed for disappointment if they don’t leave. We aren’t going to create new promotion levels. Sometimes you can’t make your needs match what your company provides.
The flip side are the people who say:
“I never want to work anywhere but here.”
“I don’t jump out of bed excited to come to work everyday, but I’m always happy to be here.”
“I really appreciate all the opportunities here.”
“This really is an amazing place.”
Same job, just different people. What I find fascinating about management is that every person is different, and what is stifling to one person is invigorating to someone else. The job isn’t bad and the person isn’t bad, there is just a mismatch. Of course it’s hard to leave a job, but you spend at least 8 hours a day at work. If you can, try to find somewhere that can give you what you need. If you can’t leave at least there is some solace in understanding why you are unhappy.
List out your three must haves from your job and think about if your needs are being met. Then think about if it’s possible to make your needs met given the corporate culture. If you don’t know how to answer that question, find someone you trust who you think might know and ask them. If you can’t make your needs align, do you get enough out of the job to stay without being completely disgruntled, or is it time to find another job?
If it’s time to find another job make sure you are going somewhere that can meet your needs. As a manager, I try to be very upfront when I hire people about the culture of our team and our organization. I explain what success looks like and what we expect from teammates. I am honest about what’s amazing and what sucks about the job. I don’t want to hire someone who will hate their job, and no one wants to work at a job that they hate. If you interview for a new job and don’t get that kind of feedback ask.
As a worker, I try to evaluate my values from time to time and make sure they align with where I see my company going. If I do find my needs are no longer being met, I’m realistic about expecting wholesale changes to my workplace to make me happy. For example, I hate bureaucracy, but my current position is awash in it. However, I can take a step back and realize that my three key values are supported by my workplace and for now I can overlook the things that suck. It’s empowering to know that you are putting up with something for a good reason.
Thoughts and comments on the new Monday Management posts are appreciated!