By ANNA TAN
Envision the Future
Write an essay of 200 words about your ambition – what do you want to be when you grow up? The nun’s soothing voice gently nudged me to see beyond the lessons for the day. With my eyes peeled to the clock waiting for the alarm bell to signal lunch break, I broke my gaze and turned my attention to Sister Teresa.
My first lesson in envisioning the future! Wide-eyed and in awe of the nobility of the teaching nuns to impart their knowledge and educate us, I quickly decided that my essay would be about my aspiration to become a teacher.
How many of you are in careers as a result of your admiration for someone, that you just wanted to be like them? If your answer is “yes”, you are not alone. Now and again, we have the luck or opportunity to meet leaders who become our mentors and role models.
Whilst my admiration for the teaching nuns remained intact, I switched gear and abandoned my ambition to become a teacher. At my parents’ behest, I studied accountancy. Coming back from university, I got myself a job as a bean counter fulfilling my parents’ wish for a practical and safe line of work.
My mother’s contention was “as a qualified accountant, you will always be able to get a job; after all everyone needs someone to count their money, right?” People talk about “helicopter” parents in the Gen Y context; I guess I already had a helicopter mother growing up in the 60s. I later found out that becoming an accountant wasn’t my dream job, and instead I was living my parents’ dream! Once the realisation struck, I blazed the trails in search of my dream job.
Of particular importance in finding your dream job is to do some soul searching. First, are you aware of your strengths and weaknesses? Second, do you know your personality type, your preferences, what makes you tick, what does not motivate you? Finally, is your work utilising your strengths or are you in a role that requires you to regularly fix your weaknesses?
What happens when there is a disconnect?
In the organisational context, imagine you are in a job which requires you to be steadfast – carrying out repetitive tasks day in and out with a high attention to detail. You have just completed a psychometric assessment and your profile described you as someone who craves socialisation, enjoys a variety of work and prefers a strategic planning role. What do you do now?
Well, if your profile is at odds with your work requirements, the conflict between your identity and your outputs may cause high levels of anxiety and frustration. But make no mistake; even if your personality and strengths do not match your job, it doesn’t mean you cannot perform; it just requires more effort.
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How do I know this is right for me?
Ki, an accounting degree holder, was not looking forward to becoming an accountant although she was targeting only roles that required her numerical skills. As I listened to her concerns, I sensed that beneath the poised, confident exterior there was a mass of doubts about what was right for her and uncertainty about what her dream job really is.
She was articulate and analytical in her thought process, striking me as someone who would enjoy front line work. With a gregarious personality, she would be a strong ambassador promoting products or ideas for the company she ultimately chooses. To help her and many others like Ki narrow down their choices, I had a dream job conversation with her. Amongst the questions I asked were:
Her response demonstrated a drive for success, customer service orientation and a need for active engagement and interaction. We ruled out research, operations and back office work and shortlisted roles which she would enjoy such as sales, client service, marketing and product development. I know for a fact Ki has now moved on to a relationship management role in an international bank – a job she enjoys, one which she did not initially think was possible.
Desperately seeking best talent
In the course of my human resources career, I have had the opportunity to meet many talented folks. I am particularly interested in those who pursue successful careers different from their education background. Their talent profile usually exhibits a high level of learning agility, risk taking and adaptability to step out of the norm and explore the right fit that can sometimes be far removed from their earlier choice of studies. One such case remains vivid in my mind. I was headhunting for a senior director in talent management and whilst the caliber of most candidates was high, one CV stood out as exceptional.
Trained as a food technologist, Imran started his career as a quality assurance co-coordinator for a food company. Initially his job was in the technical realm where he performed routine lab testing, materials handling and supply chain tasks. His “technical” boss ensured that he was well indoctrinated in the five Ms of manufacturing – Man, Method, Machine, Measurement, Materials.
Then came the opportunity to lead a union negotiation which resulted in a successful conclusion of a new collective agreement. Needless to say, his finesse in handling the union members and ability to defuse the tense negotiation did not go unnoticed. Imran added another feather to his cap when he was appointed change champion to lead a new project. His accomplishments were recognised when he was offered a lead role in employee relations.
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Path of least resistance
As we chatted on what was the tipping point for his career change, Imran shared his “AHA” moment. “Choosing the path of least resistance! I realised I have a flair for influencing and leading people so I maximised these capabilities to get things done through others. By focusing on my strengths, I was able to reach my goal faster and with less stress! His answers to the following questions assured me of his fit both for the role and organisation culture.
What do you love most about your work?
What do you dislike or want to avoid?
What do you value? What is important to you?
What is your preferred working environment?
What are your strengths? What are your interests?
What are some examples of how these (value, strengths, interest…) play out in your work?
Alas! Imran’s journey voyaged from a love of science to a passion in “Man” (as in the five Ms). His self awareness enabled him to make a career switch which optimised his innate talent. The rest, as we say, is history as he has continued to become a very successful HR professional.
Carpe diem – seize the moment!
A career is a long-term journey, more a marathon than a sprint. I have learnt a lot about my “dream job” since my school days when I would pencil in teacher as a career choice. Looking back at one’s dreams throughout the years provides insightful clues on the motivating factors, inspiration and career choices to date. The most talented may not always be living their dream jobs. If you are fortunate to be in a perfect role for you, you are truly blessed and you know exactly what works for you!
If, however, your dream job is not yet a reality, take some time to learn more about yourself. Take a psychometric assessment, solicit feedback from others or if you have a mentor, have a career conversation with him or her. Ultimately, bagging the dream job involves knowing yourself better, sharpening your professional capability and stepping up your learning agility on areas which you have a natural flair for. Seek out opportunities and experiences. Broaden your relationships and networking with colleagues and mentors. When the opportunity presents itself – seize the moment, grab your dream job!