Room to Re-Shape One’s Career

image courtesy of FreePhotos via pixabay.com

Yes, I’m back. I’m still working on the article about how companies are driving away skilled workers, even as they scream they can’t find them. But I didn’t want to be off this blog for too long, and there’s something else I’ve been grappling with and coming to terms with over the past weeks that I decided to share.

I noticed, as I research companies with whom I might like to work, that I’m drawn to different areas that I was eight or nine months ago.

More and more often, the title of the job turns me off. I don’t even need to read the description. Or, I get about two paragraphs in and say, “Nope. This isn’t for me” then click away and move on.

When a company genuinely captures my attention, whatever positions they claim to look for, I dig into the research, find the right person, and send an LOI, telling them why I think I’d be a good choice for their company, either for a particular project, or in general.

I wrote a guest post a few years back about not waiting for the job you want, but creating it.

In the past couple of years, I’d moved away from that, but now I’m going back to it.

The layers between the people one would actually work with have become more convoluted. Notice I say “work with” and not “work for”. That is deliberate. I’m not at the start of my career. I am interested in “working with” even when I technically have a boss.

The issue of layers is especially deep when third party recruiters are involved, which is something I go into the other article I’m working on for this space. I have to say, all of the third party recruiters I’ve encountered in the past ten years have been a waste of space, and have certainly wasted my time (and therefore, I’m sure, the company’s time). As I track the listings for companies using third party recruiters for the past year or so, I notice they fill a job, and then a few short months later, they’re looking again to fill the same job. I suppose that keeps recruiters in business, but it doesn’t do the client companies much good.

As I noted above, I’m looking for something different now than I even was at the top of the pandemic. I’m more focused, and less flexible. Part of this is due to a recalibration of what I want and need out of my work; part of this is that I am not twenty begging for my first job, but someone with decades of experience and skills. I no longer have an interest in working FOR a company that does not value either of those, by underpaying me or by trying to shove me into a position that’s more about work no one else wants to do than about my skills.

The SEO keywords used in the position descriptions are just as likely to turn me away from a company as engage my interest.

(This article turns out to be tied to the one I’m still working on, about companies driving away skilled workers).

But even when the descriptions are accurate and the company is interesting, there are roles in companies that no longer interest me, even though they used to.

In the past, if I was interested in a company, I was willing to take on tasks out of my wheelhouse in order to expand my skills, or do something that’s uncomfortable if they agreed it was temporary. Of course, it never is; once you take on more than your job, it becomes your job. But if I overall liked and respected the company’s mission and vision, especially if it was a nonprofit, I was more likely to accept a broader range of tasks.

That is no longer true.

I know what I want my tasks within a role to encompass. If the company is trying to cut corners by hiring one person with strong skills in one area, but minimal skills along a wide range of areas instead of multiple skilled individuals, that position – and that company – is no longer a good fit. Because let’s face it, most companies WON’T train, no matter what they promise. They expect you to figure it out on your own without additional compensation. Usually on your own time.

At twenty-three, it was an interesting challenge, especially if I thought I had a future with the company.  In theatre jobs, I was always willing to take on more, because I knew the theatre was my career, and I would progress. I did. I made it to Broadway.

In non-profit work, I often took on extra tasks because everyone was working flat out more hours for less pay. But after awhile, there’s burnout. Resentment builds, no matter how committed one is to the mission, because that way of working is unsustainable.

Boundaries need to be set going in, by both parties, held, and respected. Most managers will keep assigning as many tasks as they can get away with, no matter what you agreed upon when you started.

As a freelancer, it’s often easier to hold and set boundaries. I have a contract that spells out boundaries, payments, etc. When scope creep threatens, I can point to the contract and say, “Sure, I’ll take that on; this is how much it’s going to cost.” I can also say, “That’s not part of the agreement, no.”

But as I’ve been researching a putting together LOIs and pitch letters to companies these last months, I’ve noticed what keywords turn me off instantly, or, as I read a description, I realize, “no, that’s not for me.”

At first, I was worried that I narrowed my options. I could hear the toxic reprimands we’ve all had at times: “You need to be a team player” or “Where’s your commitment to the company?” or “You need to take this on right now to get us through this rough patch” or “How can you succeed if you won’t do what’s needed?” or “Your job is to make me look good.”

Notice all of these are demands. None of them are questions to negotiate or navigate new needs as a company grows and changes.

They’re about guilt and manipulation rather than problem-solving, which is unsustainable.

 I’ve since made peace with it. Trusting my gut has always been the best choice. I’ve paid for it every time I let myself “logic” a way out of what my gut told me.

As a professional, I’ve grown in skills, knowledge, experience, over a wide range of topics. Some of those skills I enjoy using; others were hard-won and are painful to implement. Why would I make choices that increase my pain load instead of choices that make it exciting to get up in the morning and get to work?

We all hit periods where we have to take whatever’s offered in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. But we keep growing, searching, changing for what is better for us and for our situations.

It is okay to discover that what worked for you five years, ten years ago, or even ten weeks ago, no longer does. That knowledge gives you a foundation to make new discoveries and make decisions based on what makes your life better.

Liz Ryan, at the Human Workplace, emphasizes how we are the CEOs of our own companies. That’s so important to both remember and to implement. Right-to-work means companies have made the choice their workers aren’t worth loyalty. So workers need to make the choices that serve their lives best.

How have you found what you want and need from your work evolving over the past months?