One of the most asked questions in job interviews is the dreaded “where do you see yourself in five years?” brain teaser. For most people it’s almost impossible to know where they would fit in a particular organization before actually being a part of it. For Millennials it might be a tad easier since they are looking for summer jobs as CEOs as soon as they enter high school.
But regardless of goals, generation or even industry, predicting even only the general direction of one’s career seems to have more to do with the work of a fortune-teller than a project manager. That is because the business world has changed so much over the years and promises to transform even more every day that it is almost impossible to make an accurate prediction of where organizations will be in a couple of years.
3 Considerations of modern career development
Even though it may sound like a bit of a hassle for working professionals, this situation presents not only challenges but also opportunities. It opens the door to an entirely new frame of mind when it comes to mapping out a career plan.
Moving away from the linear
Up to today, figuring out where one wants to go in their career happened in a straight line. Either after personal reflection or following a discussion with a team leader or HR professional, each employee figured out what the initial situation was, decided on the following goal and planned the steps necessary for reaching it.
There was usually a timeline, some mile stones and hopefully a successful ending to the entire process. It was only one direction and all efforts were channeled towards it. This, of course, increased its chances but at the same time made failure sting a whole lot more.
In the current organizational environment it is still good to be very aware of the present state of things but moving from there one should come up with several mental maps of possible paths to take. Rather than fixating on something it’s better to keep a constant eye out for opportunities, harbor various aspirations and prepare for a series of alternate futures; all these ensure a positive outcome – something good is bound to come out on at least one front.
Being highly specialized in a field is no longer the guarantee for success. Having the ability to learn, adapt and relearn holds a lot more value.
Going with the gut
It’s easy to assume that figuring out how to move in our professional lives has to do with knowledge, skills and test scores. While all these are not totally irrelevant, intuition and the courage to act on it are equally important. We’ve all heard over and over again those few inspiring stories of inventors or entrepreneurs who went against evidence and popular belief only to come out on top and create amazing products or develop some of the most successful companies of all time. They were scarce and they were celebrated - right now the Wright brothers, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs come to mind.
Exceptional stories will undoubtedly keep appearing yet in order to succeed each person in an organization will have to rely on intuition, develop excellent information-filtering skills and discover what strong suits they have hidden way in the back of the closet.
There are heaps of information coming in all the time and that may give the sense of being thoroughly informed. It’s important however to take some time to process it, figure out the patterns and keep only what is relevant.
Being aware of personal strengths and having understanding of context give way to great opportunities.
Embrace the ups and downs
Organizations function very similar to living organisms. They start out small, they grow (at different rates) and they have their low and high times. Some events are predictable (any product, regardless how great, will see a decrease in sales at some point) and some are just utterly surprising.
The point is to be aware of the fact that in businesses these growth curves are cascading ones – there’s the rush of beginning, the spectacular rise in success that seems to last forever, the sweet plateau and the inevitably following decline. Since this is a well-known model, businesses know to lay the ground for a new sprout when the original one is still on the rise because this way the process will be easily repeated.
Predicting the breakpoint is not an exact science but it certainly exists so without being a ‘negative Nelly’ every person involved with a certain project should be aware of the imminent need to move forward at some point.
As always, challenge also means opportunity. As far as career development goes everyone — and especially recruiting and training professionals — should keep an open mind, trust their own judgement and embrace the roller-coaster feature of today’s business world. The workforce may present a higher degree of volatility, but at the same time it’s more qualified and has greater potential than ever.