Career Dilemma

Today, there is an abundance of career choices. With choices comes confusion. We will discuss a few common career dilemmas out here.

1. Depth vs breadth (Specialist or Generalist?)
It is one of those eternal debates where both sides bring strong arguments to the table. There are enough successful generalists and perhaps an equal number of successful specialists. It’s important to know what suits you better – after all, the discussion is about your career and not a philosophical debate.
My personal take is simple -- build your career on a strong foundation (the way multi-storied buildings start with a strong base). Invest in understanding your natural talents and focus on building a career based on those talents. At the early stage of your career, build specializations on your chosen areas of strength. Later you can focus on being a generalist. Even a generalist should have a high degree of competencies in one or two areas.

2. Want vs Need
I always wanted to be a teacher but have been successfully persuaded to study engineering (which I don’t regret!). Studying engineering was more of a response to survival instinct! In deciding on your career moves, you can’t ignore your immediate needs. Pay close attention to your needs but be well aware of your wants and desires. In a career span of 40+ years of active work life, you are likely to get enough opportunities to meet your needs and wants. Include your needs and desires in your career plan.

3. Fast track career or work-life balance
As we are all aware, there is no free lunch. A fast-track career demands 200% engagement with your job, long hours and a much deeper commitment. Since everyone has only 24 hrs a day, longer “work hours” means fewer hours for life outside work.
It is an extremely difficult choice when you are asked to trade off watching your children grow (it’s one of the best experiences in life) for an accelerated journey in the corporate ladder and vice versa. Clearly, there is no right or wrong answer here. It’s about making an informed decision and finding the right balance depending on your personal context and desires. What should be avoidable is getting into denial mode and believing that you can get the best of both sides (head and tail) in a consistent manner.

4. Investing on higher education (PhD/MBA) or gaining additional job experience
Investing on higher education (while in a job) happens because of one of two reasons – a) emotional desire for higher professional degrees or certificates and b) rational choice of investment for career progression. When the primary driver of the decision is career progression then it simply boils down to doing a thorough analysis of the opportunity cost and the trade-off therein. One needs to look at a longer-term career plan and how the advanced degree fits in there. If the reason is of the first type, then do not look for a logical answer. It is important to have clarity on why you want to pursue an advanced degree.

5. Stability of income vs Chasing a dream/cause
If you are already employed with a relatively stable job, you become so used to a regular paycheck that you don’t even remember it! When you have financial responsibilities (feeding your family, EMI for a house loan or tuition for your children), an assured regular income is extremely important. Starting an entrepreneurial venture to chase your dream is filled with risks and uncertainties, and certainly does not provide an assurance of a regular paycheck. A practical approach could be to create a fund (to generate a regular flow of income) first, before embarking on an entrepreneurial venture.

6. Fixed career goal or diversity of experience?
There are two popular types of career development models – a) lighthouse model and b) string of pearls model. In the first model, career planning starts with a fixed end goal (the lighthouse) in mind. One may set a life goal (e.g., running a business as a CEO, owning a business or becoming a world-renowned technologist etc) and work backwards. In this model, the entire process of career planning starts from the end.
A string of pearl model, on the other hand, assumes a series of career assignments connected by a common thread of purpose. Here there is no end-of-life career goal.
You need to make a call on which one suit you better. In today’s fast-changing world, opting for a lighthouse model may be a little difficult as it is hard to plan for the very long term. A more realistic model would be to divide the entire career into several segments (5-10 yrs each) and have the lighthouse model for each segment. More on this in a later blog..

7. Switching jobs – too often or never?
On one hand, the average life of employment with the same employer has come down to 2-3 years (in the IT industry). On the other hand, hiring managers are regularly turning off resumes with too many job changes. Is there a perfect balance? – unlikely so.
Job changes should be driven by purpose and not by a pre-determined number or duration. It’s silly to think that one must change job every 1-2 years, it’s equally silly to hang around with the same employer just for the fear of change. Since jobs are means to achieve career goals, any job change must be well thought through and should be aligned to broader career goals.

8. Job stability or Job satisfaction
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if you can have all the good things in life and no evil? In the real world, every job comes as a package. You are unlikely to find too many packages filled with job stability and job satisfaction together!!

Making the right career decisions is not only becoming increasingly important but also getting equally difficult. Sometimes you may wish not to go through this difficult decision-making process. Unfortunately, you can’t run away from this… neither you should. Making the right career decisions is the gateway to success and happiness in your life. I wish you all the best.

~Dr. Susanta Misra