Career nuggets I’ve learned along the way


About 2 years ago, I changed jobs after 6+ years with my previous employer. Following this move, I had so many people reach out to me asking for career advice in one form or the other. First of all I was honoured by the gesture because I realized that people respected my counsel and obviously found me to be someone with a relatively dependable sense of judgment. Even today, I find myself regularly sharing with other people, the career insights that I have learned from my personal experiences.

Often times, people who are actively engaged in the workforce find themselves at different crossroads in their careers. Typical drivers for this include; lack of job satisfaction, dissatisfaction with current pay and benefits, or just a general feeling of discontentment with status quo.

Deciding whether to leave your job and move on to something else is a very important decision and should be done with careful consideration. Today, I want to highlight 5 essential points to consider in relation to your career.

  1. Focus on building skills not tenure: What you deliver on the job, your ability to add value and solve problems is determined by the skills you hone whilst performing that function, whatever it may be. This is acutely important. I tell people, if you want to build your confidence on your job, focus on mastering your craft. Deep knowledge and understanding of what you are paid to do begets true confidence. Think about it, the times when you have felt unsure of yourself at work are likely to be when you were new at something, new role, new tools or new systems introduced.

In similar analogy, the times when you were nervous about a presentation, are probably times when you didn’t feel familiar with the content enough. Imagine if you were being asked to present on a subject you are very comfortable with, say, for example, your family – you wouldn’t have to perform several dry-runs before the presentation; it would more likely than not, come naturally to you. The same goes for your job, when you master it and develop your abilities by delivering results, that turns into your currency; and that’s what ultimately makes you marketable.

Tenure is important but not paramount. The fact that you have worked in a company for so many years does not automatically mean that you have increased your external market value. If you are hired based on length of experience but lack the requisite skills, it is only a matter of time before you are ‘found out’. So while the clock is ticking away and increasing your employment tenure at a company, you should also ensure that your skills are constantly being developed and refined in tandem.

  1. Lean in: My career perspective changed forever when I read the book ‘Lean In’ by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Let me say that even though the book was primarily addressed to women in the work place, there are so many pearls of wisdom that everybody can learn from irrespective of gender. I will speak here to 2 ‘Aha’s’ that I gleaned from reading the book:
  • Leaning in: in this respect, Sheryl referred to ‘sitting at the table’ or to clarify her point, ensuring your voice is heard and that your opinion counts. Don’t always feel comfortable taking the back seat whilst reveling in obscurity. If you have an idea, an opinion, or a point of view, share it! With a firm voice, and the conviction that you have the right to do so. Confidence is an attractive thing… it will take you places. It’s pertinent for me to make a distinction here between active contribution and participation at work and just plain unnecessary fascination with the sound of one’s own voice. When you speak up, speak up to make meaningful contribution, not just talk for the sake of talking… nothing is more transparent to senior leaders than a person who usurps every ‘airtime’ opportunity for self- promotion.
  • It’s a jungle gym not a ladder: Some people will never get promoted on their current jobs; that’s a fact, which, in some cases, is already signed and sealed by management. But these people have a lot of potential and desire to take on more responsibility and lead at a higher level than their current role allows them. For such people this is where you probably should start looking out of your present company. You don’t have to climb the proverbial ladder up your current employment and wait in line for a step up that will never materialize. Swing from your current job to another one that meets your career needs and fulfils your desire for a better position and greater responsibility.
  1. Be holistic in your assessment: So you’re tired of your current job and need to change jobs not only badly but urgently. I get it. The one thing I would say is that you need to have everything in the right perspective. Let me explain: for example, if your reason for wanting to leave your present job is that you want more money; you should also consider all the other nice things that your current job offers besides money and how they fit in your hierarchy of importance. If you are a parent of young children and flexibility of time plus the ability to close from work and return home to your children at ‘godly’ hours is of high importance to you, and you find that flexibility in this current job, you need to have that in your list of non-negotiables when looking for a new job. One job might pay much more but give you little to no personal time, another job may give you loads of personal time but your bank account isn’t smiling. It’s all about what are you willing to trade off. You should also consider the company you are joining – what leverage does that add to your marketability? You should seriously consider if you’re about to make a move from a fortune 500, Dow Jones Index Company to an indigenous company with no pedigree to speak of. Not to say those types of move aren’t advisable, but that it depends on what is on the table – each case will have its unique circumstances.

The best way to approach this is to start by asking yourself: What is most important to me and in what order? It could be position, flexibility, type of industry, the ability to utilize creative skills, etc. whatever it is, have that ‘list’ somewhere and work with it when taking that decision; it will help you with the right perspective to avoid a situation where you make a wrong career move that you live to regret. Usually, you won’t get everything you want from that new job, so you have to know upfront what is non-negotiable and what you are willing to give up.

  1. Learn from ‘The Gambler’: Do you know that song from Kenny Rogers titled: ‘The Gambler? Part of the chorus goes like this:

‘You’ve got to know when to hold on, know when to fall down, know when to walk away, know when to run’

Morale of the Lyrics? It’s all about timing! It’s the same with your career. Sometimes, things get really messed up at work, you are no longer motivated, you have a horrible boss (who isn’t changing jobs any time soon), opportunities for both vertical and horizontal moves are drying up fast and you are just extremely unhappy in your job. You need to be able to tell when it’s time to move; get up and go find some fresh inspiration.

Or it may be the reverse; you are well positioned in the company, you have the ears of the people that matter, are able to influence significant outcomes by virtue of your role and a promotion is all but announced yet… take advantage! This is probably not the best time to court a head-hunter; stay the course, don’t get unnecessarily derailed.

  1. Have a CV with a personality: Finally, if you decide that you want to put yourself in the job market. One of the most important counsels I can offer is this: make sure your CV captures attention. You must learn how to write a good CV. A CV is not just a chronological arrangement of your educational and vocational experiences; it is a document that tells prospective employers ‘Look at me; see what I have accomplished, and you really should seek audience with me’.

A poorly written CV will not get you the return phone calls you are looking for. Trust me, I know how many CVs I have passed up simply because the writer didn’t seem motivated enough to tell a good story. Why is highlighting your Local Government Area upfront of such crucial importance to you? Or indicating at the top of the CV what Nigerian tribe you belong to? Or your marital status for that matter? And if all you have to list under your hobbies is ‘singing’ and you are applying for a senior position in a respectable firm (that is not in the entertainment industry), could you please consider not including a hobby line item?

Your CV should contain your most significant accomplishments and should tell a story about what kind of resource you are and the value you are likely to add. It should be brief but powerful (my advice is no more than 2 pages (even if you have 20 years’ experience). The most salient information should be deliberately highlighted and you should consider amending your CVs to suit the job you are applying to. I don’t mean you should falsify your CV – but one job may require more from one aspect of your experience and you might want to rework your CV to accentuate that area more.

You want a new job? Your CV is a very important tool to achieving this– don’t just put something together that lacks thought and effort – it shows up eventually in the ‘lack- lustreness’ of the output.

Bina Idonije        

8 comments on “Career nuggets I’ve learned along the way

  1. Honestly, the CV part cracked me up, but you actually hit the nail on the head there. I guess most people are in their jobs because they are too scared to made that move. Some are actually there for the money and ditch job satisfaction and fulfillment. I think it’s that moment where decisions are to be made that can be the scariest for a lot of people, probably not sure of what is out there. I believe if we give our best where we are(invest in ourselves ) then we can florish anywhere. Thanks Bina.

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