Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Career transitions: From anxiety to performance

I'm careful to separate careers from a given job, or even a series of jobs. My definition of career is as follows:

A career is the ongoing development of skills, attitudes, and relationships that lead you into and through various professional positions and objectives.

This definition indicates that you're developing your career, whether you're working or not. It separates career development from a specific job, or even a series of jobs. This is important for the person in career transition, as it allows you to understand that the professional relationships and experiences you have with past jobs will carry into new jobs--even if the specific job or career direction changes.

It's important to note that if you find yourself in career transition, you're not alone. More important, your career hasn't stalled. It's simply another stage in your overall career development, a time for re-tooling and learning more about yourself, your industry, and setting some achievable objectives.

Transcendent skills

If our value to our employer were only in those skills directly tied to a particular job function, we'd be in trouble. There's always someone better, cheaper, and faster. If there isn't currently, there will be.

We actually bring a whole set of experiences and other, more transcendent skills, to our jobs. Unfortunately, we often fail to identify them--to our employer and to ourselves. These transcendent skills are utilized in virtually every job we take, and are typically cumulative--meaning they continue to develop regardless of the roles and jobs we take.

The most notable are the "soft" job skills of communication and interpersonal relationships. However, problem solving skills, analytical skills, and management skills (either projects or people) also fall into this category. Often we do these as part of our day-to-day tasks and fail to recognize how they bring value to our jobs, and hence to the organizations we serve.

If our value is only the most recent technical skills we've learned, we're no more valuable than the most recent graduate of a crash course in the same technical skills. Because of the rapid change in technology, we'd find the most relevant experience someone could bring to the table would be 3-4 years. This is a scary thought, but fortunately isn't the case.

If you're in career transition, you must start thinking about your value in terms of the whole spectrum of skills you bring to the table. What transcendent skills (abilities) have you used at virtually every job, and in every role? What has made you the most valuable for the organizations you've served? Chances are it isn't just the technical abilities you possessed.

Talent transfer

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is an underlying truth that emphasizes my position on talent transfer. Talent transfer is quite simply the ability to transfer technical knowledge from one technology to another--giving you a head start on the new technology and removing the anxiety of learning and adopting the "next hot technology".