Five questions to ask yourself before asking for career advice

11 December 2019 -

Person writing on post it boardCareer advice can be useful – but only if you know the answers to these questions

Mark Rowland

You can’t join an organisation and wait for an opportunity to open up anymore; you must be proactive if you want a satisfying career. However, before you go to anyone for career advice, there are five questions you need to ask yourself to make sure you get the right answers from your mentor or advisor.

Question one: Why do I work?

To get to the heart of what you want from your career, you need to think about what motivates you. This goes beyond money, as Helen Tupper of career consultancy Amazing If points out. “Once people earn over a certain amount of money, it won’t do anything more to motivate them.”

So it’s important to know what motivates you beyond the salary: what drives you to work? Amazing If asks its clients to come up with a mission statement to help define what matters to you about work. It’s not always easy to define – Tupper recommends creating either a vision board or a ‘manifesto’ to help work it out.

For a vision board, select 10-15 images or quotes that appeal to you and display them on a board (you could use a Pinterest board as well). Once it’s done, you can draw some insights from it. “It might be: ‘there's lots of happiness on here, there's lots of achievement or lots of competitiveness’ and you might say: ‘that's why I work: because I want happiness and achievement.’”

The manifesto is five-ten statements of intent to help focus your mind on your values. “It might be: ‘I always come to work to learn and be better than I was the day before.’ It might be: ‘I believe in a workplace that is diverse and fair’. It's the sort of compelling statements that help you to show up as the person you want to be.”

Question two: Where do I want to be?

With question one, you’ve done the hard part, but you need an ultimate end goal in mind. It doesn’t have to be a job role, necessarily. You might want to be your own boss someday, or work in a very creative role. Either way, you want an end goal in mind when talking about your career options.

“If your goals aren’t clear to you, when you get a knockback, which will happen, you need to be able to pull on those reasons why you’re doing it to keep you in the game, otherwise, you might end up giving up, or move to a different company when you don’t need to,” says Chris Argent, a former CFO who mentors people on modern career paths. “By working on your aims, you’ll have greater focus and resilience.”

Question three: What are my strengths?

It’s tricky to do, but you need to be able to define your strengths in order to make an effective career game plan. It’s easier said than done – we’re not always good at defining what we’re good at. Try asking people that you trust, such as a line manager or mentor, to assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re aware of your weaknesses or areas that you’re trying to develop, you can use them to determine your strengths. Simply ask yourself: why are you weak in those areas? Then flip them on their heads; perhaps you’re not so good on details because you’re a creative, big-picture thinker.

Once you know your strengths, you can use them to help reach your career goals. As you progress up the ladder, a demonstration of your strengths will matter more and more.

“Think curiously: what's it like to work in this environment? What are the jobs? Are they good use of my strengths? Could I be at my best here? What would I need to learn to be better? Doing that proactively helps people to break out of constrained thinking,” says Tupper.

Question four: What are my career red lines?

It’s important to understand where your limits are when it comes to your career. Are you willing to travel for your work? How far are you willing to go? What are your personal priorities? If you don’t know your limits, you can end up taking on too much work, or putting up with a working culture that doesn’t fit you, your values or your strengths.

Question five: What resources do I have available to me?

This could be the people around you – within your network, your team, or your manager. It could be the training and development available to you. It could be previous experience you’ve had in your life or career.

“People think you have to have the answer to everything in order to be credible, especially when you’re early in your career, but you don’t,” says Argent. “Focus your strengths and bring them as hard as you can, then use your network and your team to plug any gaps. I know what my skills are, and I’ve got my network. Networking is very important, it can open a lot of doors.”

For more advice on setting goals and putting together a career plan, log in to ManagementDirect.

Image: Jo Szczepanska Unsplash

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