Over time, we humans tend to develop generalizations about the way things work in life. These perspectives are informed by our own experiences, combined with those that we observe or hear about from others around us. In many cases, we also mix-in strong notions of self-doubt, which make our assumptions about the world around us especially limiting.
The realm of career development isn’t immune from these generalizations. In fact, many of us operate based on myths.
We come up with conclusions about:
- How we should or shouldn’t represent ourselves
- Whether or not we’ll stand out in the crowd
- How hard or easy it will be to get a job or a promotion
- Why we are or aren’t advancing in our organization
- How successful or unsuccessful we’ll ultimately be
Here are nine common generalizations made about career development, with my best myth-busting responses:
- “I Can’t Stand Out”: Many people assume it’s not possible to stand out in the crowd of other career seekers, or within the context of a workplace team. Yes, I agree that competition is intense. Actually, one could say that competition has only heightened as the job marketplace has gone digital. That said, I believe it’s fairly simple (although not always easy) to stand out in a crowd that tends to lean more towards mediocrity than not. Some key strategies include: a) Know and articulate your unique personal brand, with consistency, b) Make communications personal, c) Listen for what matters, d) Pay attention to details, e) Exceed expectations, f) Be proactive and resourceful, and g) Anticipate and prepare
- “A Standard Resume & Cover Letter Will Do”: Time and time again, I work with clients who have utilized standard resumes and cover letters, but haven’t taken a few basic steps to maximize their impact. For example, do your resume and cover letter look consistent (i.e. With matching headings, formatting and style)? Have you had at least two people proof-read your materials? Have you made the effort of finding out to whom you should address your cover letter? Does your resume highlight your unique qualities and skills in a clear way? Have you properly adapted your resume and cover letter for a particular position?
- “I Need to Graphic Design-ize My Resume to Stand Out”: Some job-seekers conclude that, to stand out, their resume should include multiple fonts, graphics, colors and/or images. In my experience, a clear, concise, easy-to-read resume trumps any fancy looking document. The busier resumes typically find their way more quickly to the circular file (the trash!). Why? They are usually harder to look at, understand, read and absorb.
- “I’m Stuck”: Most of us experience the feeling of being stuck at some point along our career development journey. However, in my years of coaching clients, I’ve seen that there are virtually always more options available to people than they can initially recognize. Being stuck reflects the presence of a blind spot, a fear, or a lack of clarity about what’s most important.
- “It’s Their Fault!”: When we do feel frustrated and stuck, it’s very easy to blame others. We come up with assumptions or conclusions about the intentions of coworkers or supervisors. It’s a lot harder, and usually more telling, to look within yourself for answers. What are you doing that might be contributing? What can you clarify with coworkers or supervisors through direct and open communication? Have you clearly communicated your desire for change or advancement? Do you know what it will take?
- “Relationships are All that Matter”: Relationships do indeed matter…a whole lot. But don’t get caught in an assumption that relationships are everything. Beyond your interpersonal connections, you have to cultivate a strong sense of credibility, a track-record of measurable results, and the self-awareness to know what opportunities will best match your strengths.
- “I’m Entitled to More!”: If you find yourself thinking or saying this phrase, it’s time to step-back and get curious about what lies behind it. This statement hands power and blame to other people, rather than taking personal responsibility for your own career development. It’s not only a surefire way to stay stuck and increase your frustration, it’s also off-putting to your supervisor and colleagues. When it comes to your career, I don’t believe you deserve anything. We all create our own opportunities, or lack thereof. The only way you’re going to get closer to that thing you want is to put aside expectations and approach the situation with more openness, curiosity and careful listening. What expectations might you be missing? What opportunities exist in your organization for advancement, and what experience or skills do you need to get there? If there aren’t advancement opportunities available in your current environment, then get active in pursuing another route.
- “I Don’t Know What I Want to Do or What I’m Good At”: This is sometimes thought or said in moments of exasperation, or when facing big transitions in life. Or, it may be an honest recognition of a real lack of clarity. Either way, I feel like it’s often expressed as if the confusion we feel is a permanent state. In that way, it can be used as an excuse for staying stuck, or as a way to justify to ourselves why we haven’t been successful. The thing is — it’s not a permanent state. Even though our wants and strengths can shift over time, there are definitely tools and resources available for finding clarity. You can take a behavioral or strengths assessment. You can work with a coach. You can lean on the feedback of friends and family members who have likely observed certain preferences, themes and strengths. Regardless of the resource you choose, you’ll probably need someone or something to help catalyze a different sort of self-reflection or awareness-building.
- “I’m Just Need to Find that Perfect Job”: Just like the “perfect spouse” or the “perfect home,” the “perfect job” doesn’t exist. Beware of the trap of perfection. It will send you on an endless hunt for something that doesn’t exist. All the while, you’ll miss the chance to discover deeper fulfillment in what’s already around you. Finding a more fulfilling or rewarding job is more about alignment than anything else. It first involves knowing the values, relationships and impact that are most important for you to honor and create. Then, it takes the courage and intention necessary to choose a job that is more aligned with those ideals. At the same time, realize that every job will involve some undesirable or misaligned aspects.