How to keep focused on your career objective
Many of you, when you first come to us, think you know what you want to do. I have written about that before – how, in fact, often you don’t really know at all, but you have a set of received ideas that others have given you about what you “should” do… However, once you have done your thinking, your reflection, your tests, your brainstorming and more, you will get to the stage where you have a clear career objective. This may take many forms…
For some, it will be “seeking a role in investment banking, where I can use my analytical skills, especially with a focus on data and deals”. For some, it will be “seeking a general management graduate programme, in an international environment, where I will be culturally challenged daily”. And for yet others, it might be “wishing to join a longer management training programme, mainly about sales and marketing, where I can rotate through several different contexts before choosing the right one for me”. There is no “right” objective, apart from one that is right for you. And in some cases, that objective might be quite open: I can think of some of my clients who are looking at roles in Operations, in Marketing, in Sales, in General Management, and this is quite coherent. Every single different objective is right, when it feels right to you.
Sometimes, you may find it difficult to define the objective at the outset. And that is OK. You may have some vague feelings, but not be sure. You may not yet be comfortable with this idea that in the UK, you can choose to work in a field for which you have not specifically studied… that can feel uncomfortable, as it is not what you were raised to think, but if you look around you, you will certainly see history students applying to be M&A analysts in Investment Banking, and you will see physics students applying for Marketing programmes. We have this idea that study broadens your mind, teaches you to be analytical and critical in your thinking, and then the theory is that you can apply those things to a new career, by learning the context and the content quickly.
If you are not yet sure, you need not panic! Think of what you would do if you suddenly “needed” to find a boyfriend or girlfriend, having never yet had one! Would you know exactly what you were looking for? Probably not, right? So, what would you do? If you had some common sense, and a little bit of courage, you would start dating, wouldn’t you? You would have coffee with a few potential candidates for your heart, and you would see how you felt about each one. Having a coffee does not kill you, and nor does applying for a job or exploring a career area that you are not yet convinced about! Try a few different ideas, test them out, have fun with them, and do not be worried if they do not all feel right! They will not all be right, but you can learn as much about what you want if you can identify what you don’t want! In fact, many of us have managed our entire careers by eliminating the factors we don’t want, rather than actively knowing what we do want!
So, once you know, or you are approaching certainty about your objectives, then you have to figure out how to keep on course. First of all, you are obviously lucky if you have a coach who can help you do that! That is what we are here for, to make you accountable, both to us and more importantly to yourself! To keep you focused on what you are doing, making progress and becoming a better person.
However, there are distractions, like academics, family, travel, activities and all the other things that you know you also need to be doing. How on earth can you fit it all in?
Well, firstly, make a plan! Planning is the key to so much of success, so I really recommend that you learn how to do it. If using an app makes you feel comfortable, then do that! If you like pencil and paper, that is fine too. The important thing is to be making the plan – with timelines and clear outcomes defined.
Find a balance between your academic outcomes and your search. You may well think you want to get a top class grade in your studies, but if you can only achieve this by working 16 hours per day, then it might not be worth losing the opportunity to search and apply for jobs! A “Distinction” may well be of value in China, but in the UK, it is honestly not so important. A “1st Class” is not frequently much more valuable than a 2:1, so think carefully before dedicating yourself to so much study that you don’t have time for anything else! If you delay your job search, you multiply reduce your chances of success.
Do not be afraid to review and revise your objectives. Many start by wanting to work for a globally known brand, in the top 3, and then realise that might not be the most realistic way. Or your tastes might change, as you experience different possibilities. Feel courageous and make the switch if that is what is needed.
Further, make sure you do a little bit each day towards your new career. It does not have to be a lot. When you have a chunk of time that you can choose to spend as you like, ask yourself the question: “will this be bringing me closer to my objectives?” If yes, then go ahead; and if not, then have a good think about your priorities, before you make your decision.
And finally, accept that there will be imperfection. You will make mistakes, and you will, for sure, be rejected. These are just life lessons, and should make you stronger, not sadder. This job search is an adventure, and will surely take you to places you did not even expect at the outset. Enjoy it!