Our proteges know that we at Protagion are strong proponents of understanding ourselves, our aspirations, skills, passions, interests, strengths and weaknesses, in order to achieve our career goals. So much so that ‘knowing yourself’ forms the foundation of the self-directed component of our career management platform, including the Journey of Self-Discovery.
This post explores career self-reflection, specifically clarifying your career and job aspirations in your own mind. This includes looking at where your career is going, what your transferable skills are, what interests, excites and motivates you, and what you actually want from your career.
It is based on a podcast discussion between Elayne Grace, the CEO of the Actuaries Institute in Australia, and Lesley Traverso, director of the Talent Insights Group in Sydney. Lesley has experience of the United Kingdom, Middle East, Asia and Australia, is heavily involved with the actuarial profession in Australia on topics from Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to diversity, and is currently completing her Masters in Culture.
While the podcast was aimed an actuarial audience in Australia, we feel its messages are highly relevant for all professionals globally. It touches on broadly-applicable elements like upskilling ourselves, career transitions, and engaging with our employers about our goals.
As Elayne says, we can often be more influenced by what we see in terms of jobs being advertised rather than doing the pre-thinking about what we actually want. This approach is reactive by nature; instead Protagion recommends an active approach where we define our short-term needs and longer-term aspirations.
Lesley advises that active reflection involves taking stock of ourselves: “Look at what you have enjoyed in your roles to date, look at projects you’ve been particularly excited by, take a look at what’s happening in other parts of the marketplace that you’re perhaps not aware of, think about where you can transfer your skills into directions that are interesting for you, and look thoroughly internally at what might be available there as well.”
The benefits of this active self-reflection can also feed into your curriculum vitae (CV) / resume and the interview process itself. In Lesley’s words: “If you take stock of where you are and what you want to do, by the time you get to writing your resume,.. you’re able to articulate that much more clearly. Also, when you get to the interview stage, if you’ve taken [some time] to think about yourself, you’ll be able to articulate that to the person who’s interviewing you. They will then see you have a genuine interest in that particular role. And you won’t be… interviewing for a role that perhaps you didn’t really want.”
Elayne emphasises the importance of putting in the effort to understand ourselves: “You actually have to take the time, because we’re so good at giving time to [the] job, giving time to work, but you really need to pencil the time out and go ‘This is stuff I need to do for me’...” Lesley builds on this: “Everybody is so focused on achieving that next objective for the boss, that they forget about themselves… Start coming above the parapet, look around at what’s going on in the market, read different publications… and allow your mind to work on that over [time] as well.”
One of the lessons from our self-reflection might be that we need to work on improving some of our skills, perhaps because new skills are needed to work in the area we want to or because our existing skills have aged and need refreshing i.e. building our skills might become a specific career goal.
Lesley shares a few examples: “Where can you upskill? Perhaps you need to think about how you communicate differently; how you might want to be able to stand up in front of people [and present your ideas]. Perhaps try something like Toastmasters to develop those particular skillsets… Have a look at where the market is going and how well you are equipped to move forward. Also remember that no one person can be good at everything – it’s as important to develop your strengths.”
Bear in mind too that most interviewers will ask how you can demonstrate a particular skill, using examples from your career so far, certificates, projects or showpieces, depending on the skill itself. Thinking about how you could evidence your expertise is good practice while writing your CV, including building a portfolio of work if possible.
The discussion on skills moves onto transferring skills from one area to another. Elayne argues that a lot of people are transitioning into new roles, “whether that’s from one practice area to another, whether that’s into broader management, whether that’s into wider fields” i.e. switching into consulting, contracting or even a startup, or transitioning between specialisms or professions are further possibilities for career goals.
Thinking through our transferable skills helps us to present ourselves in the best way for opportunities in our desired area. Lesley says there are lots of examples of people who’ve made a switch successfully, and advises us to “think creatively about how you can use those skillsets you’ve learnt in one discipline into another… What have you learnt? What are the similarities between the two [areas] that you can use your skillsets in?”.
Engaging with your Employer
Elayne and Lesley also discuss the value of involving your employer in the process once you’ve defined what you’re aiming for. Their input can also help you to refine your thinking. “Part of the self-reflection process is having a conversation with your employer, talking to them about where you want to get to in your career, seeing what can be done [there] to maybe change something to enable you to get [what you want]: a different department, a new project, different responsibilities. It’s so much better to stay and get what you want, than it is to move,” says Lesley. This is testament to Lesley’s interest in her candidates’ success and her long-term outlook, in contrast to many traditional transactional recruiters who push their candidates to move companies in order to earn their commission.
Elayne emphasises how we should take responsibility for our own careers, instead of waiting for our boss (for example) to propose something. “You’ve got to be really self-driven, take the time to reflect and know what you want and lead those conversations [with your employer] at those reflection times” - she expands on this using the example of year-end reviews / performance appraisals.
People that I’ve seen that have made really strong progress in their careers have been those who’ve had regular sit-downs with their boss, who’ve discussed their career and where they’re going next: What do I need to learn? How can you help me to get there?”
They explore too what to look for in a manager, and how important it is when choosing a role to opt for a manager you feel you have synergy with, that can help you develop best: “choosing an employer comes down to choosing the people”. In practice, though, you may not have the boss you chose as they may later move into another department or leave the company.
Lesley emphasises that a good manager is one “who’s able to have those conversations with you, who’s able to think about where the employee is going to go next, how can I help to develop this employee, rather than just focus on the task at hand.”
Listen to the full 20 minute podcast below: