4 insights to pack in your backpack when embarking on your career journey

  (photo credit: Yosi Lazarof)
(photo credit: Yosi Lazarof)

Dr. Dana Pereg, Head of the MA Program in Organizational Behavior and Development at Reichman University, and Vocational and Organizational Psychologist

As a vocational psychologist, I sometimes feel like I work in a travel supply store. I accompany people throughout different stages of the employment cycle (i.e., their trip): I meet employees and managers, entrepreneurs and salaried workers, people who are just beginning their journey and those who have already accumulated plenty of mileage. Each person needs something different for their own personal journey, but over time, I have gathered 4 insights that are almost always relevant.

These insights can be applied to the job seeker, the person weighing a career change, the recruiter looking for “the one,” or the manager trying to create an organizational infrastructure in which results are made possible when people can express their best selves at work. Hopefully you will find value in these insights, no matter what point of your journey you find yourself at.

Insight 1: Befriend uncertainty

You don’t have to know at age 21 what you’ll be when you grow up. Even at age 51, we sometimes need to reevaluate the things that once seemed so clear to us and plan out a new path. The workforce is changing at a rapid pace and so are we. Every work-related decision we make is under conditions of uncertainty. The choices we make today are always partial. It’s important to understand the field, the profession, and the role in question – read, ask around in the community, meet people, listen to interviews with professionals to better understand what the field is about, what the job entails, and what the alternatives are. If it’s possible to observe a day in the life of an employee, great. If you can get involved in a small side project in the field, even better. At the same time, keep in mind that this information won’t completely dispel the uncertainty. You still won’t know how you, personally, will experience the profession, and you can’t and won’t be able to achieve 100% assurance. Risks can be reduced, but not eliminated. Learn to act and take decisions, even in the foggiest of atmospheres. Uncertainty is part of the road conditions on your journey.

In practice: Learn, do your research, inquire about the role and organization beforehand, and be ready to make decisions even if you don’t know the whole picture.

Insight 2: Learn and evolve regularly

The shifting workforce requires us to constantly change, adapt and learn. Think about it – we often study one profession and then take on a different role, one that didn’t even exist when we were students. Some of us work and develop professionally even before pursuing a degree. The ability to develop a “growth mindset” places the emphasis on the learning curve rather than on the performance curve. Adopting a growth mindset is an opportunity for both employees and employers. A growth mindset means accepting the fact that you don’t know, but at the same time making the effort to know. It means being willing to let the waves get you wet, and then getting on the surfboard again to improve your skills.

In practice: Always make sure to be learning: take courses, listen to podcasts, sign up for MOOCs, learn from your peers, teach others, share your knowledge, read, and most importantly, open your eyes and listen carefully to the stories and knowledge that are all around you.

Insight 3: The quality of relationships determines the quality of life at work

Think of the workplace as kindergarten for adults. It’s where we compete, create, collaborate, get jealous of each other, and so on. Each of us, no matter how junior or senior, whether you’re experienced or a novice, can have an impact on the fabric of the relationships in the organization. Studies show that it is enough for an employee to have one colleague whom they define as a friend for their level of connection to the organization and the job to increase. Different people have different social needs. Remember, even if it's a job, it's never just a job. There are always relationships that you need to know how to build and how to move on from as you move on to the next stop on your journey.

In practice: Be sure to branch out and get to know more people in the organization, even if you don’t work on the same project or in the same department. In every transition (entering the organization, leaving it, being promoted, moving between teams) pay attention to the relationship aspect, and not only to the task at hand.

Insight 4: There are many roads that lead to Rome, and also to your next job

Work serves different human needs: the need for a livelihood, the need for a framework, the need for social connection, and the need for identity. There are times in life (for example, the COVID pandemic, a personal crisis, or following maternity leave) where work meets one need but not another. For example, throughout COVID, some people who were furloughed found themselves working in jobs that did not correspond to their skill sets and did not reflect the next line they had hoped to write on their resumes. To the recruiters among us: On the career journey there are side paths. Not every career develops in a straight trajectory along the main road. Pay attention to the way the person worked, to the way they dealt with responsibilities, and to what they learned about themselves and the field when they went off the beaten path.

In practice: Learn how to re-frame the blank spaces on your resume and the jobs that appear inconsistent with the professional direction you are currently striving towards.

So, no matter where you are on the trail, I hope that at least one of these insights will bring you value along your journey.

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This article was written in cooperation with Reichman University