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Passion, People and Principles

Perspective on Careers

post # 306 — February 9, 2007 — a Careers post
  1. The cold, hard, truth is that you’ve got to look after yourself.
  2. You can’t assume that anyone is really looking out for your best interests (in spite of what they may say.)
  3. There may be a human resources department in your firm, managers, coaches and a mentoring system. But don’t get fooled. Your career is up to you and you alone.
  4. No one will tell you what experience you should be obtaining, let alone help you get it.
  5. If you want a specific experience, ask for it.
  6. Better yet, just go grab it.
  7. Do not expect that you will be promoted because you deserve it – it is unlikely that anyone is really keeping track.
  8. If you want to be promoted, ask to be promoted.
  9. Generally, things do not come to those who do not ask for them.
  10. None of this means you should be rude, disrespectful to others, or fail to be a team player. It just means don’t be naïve.
  11. In spite of what they may say, it’s up to you. You’re on your own, kid.
  12. Manage your own career. No one else will.

Anyone disagree that this is both the right philosophy to have and the cold, hard reality?


Stephanie Lunn said:

As a human resources person, I always tell people to drive their own careers because they know exactly what they want and exactly what they can achieve in a realistic time frame. Always ask the employee to set their own objectives because 1) they’ll remember them 2) they only have themselves to blame if they can’t achieve them. However, I do feel that managers and hr departments should keep track of careers, promotion and be the employee’s voice at the senior management table. That’s part of managing people, keeping the best talent and it’s in the best interest of the company. Otherwise, it’s a dog eat dog mentality.

posted on February 9, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Ah, Stephanie – you’ve put you’re finger on it. You say “managers and hr departments SHOULD keep track of careers, promotion and be the employee’s voice at the senior management table.”

No argument from me there. The question is – DO they? The point of my post is to say that the percentage of companies where that actually happens routinely is very, very small.

posted on February 9, 2007

Stephanie Lunn said:

Hi David – I think the reason so few companies do keep track of people’s careers is that it’s about investment of time energy and money on a long term basis. That a real commitment and needs to be driven from the top with support from the hr dept and managers. Also, long term investment always needs some explaining to the stakeholders and the finance dept. It’s short term win to raid the employee development/training budget but a long term tragedy to the company. I don’t understand why it’s not routine. If only people would read why companies end up in Forbes 100…

posted on February 9, 2007

peter vajda said:

My read is that most of these items come under the heading of “self-responsibility”, an honest and conscious and adult place from which to approach life, living, and work.

Attaching a (my read) “negative” flavor to them (your cold, hard facts…don’t expect…, don’t be…, etc.), IMHO, could reflect a “victim consciousness” from which being self-responsible is now wrapped in a negative, begrudging, “woe is me!” mindset that only serves to support one’s anger, resentment, and unhappiness in the workplace, or in life.

Being self-responsible means that, yes, I may be in a workplace where I need to be proactive, ask for what I want, know that some guidance may not be forthcoming and need to seek it out, etc. and all may not be “fair,” but, being self-responsible, I have made the choice to be there and how I choose to “do” and “be” while I’m there, and know the cold hard facts as you call them are indeed a part of life.

And, as we understand in my coaching work, life is choices. It’s whether one chooses to go into life with one’s eyes wide open or one’s eyes wide shut that makes a huge difference as to how one approaches one’s life, and one’s life at work.

“Seeking” and “asking” and “being self-responsble for one’s life” can be viewed as prime opportunties for growth, development and maturation, or as punishment, being victimized and as a no-win death sentences. Depends on how one chooses to view life…and life at work and moreso, why.

posted on February 9, 2007

James Cherkoff said:

I think that’s spot on, particularly in competitive consulting businesses. I can remember when I realised that I could just, ‘grab it’ and what a relief it was that I didn’t have to just wait and wait and wait….

posted on February 9, 2007

Stephen Downes said:

My experience is that if you leave your career in the hands of others, they will actively damage your career. So I think some of the points should be even more strongly worded.

For example:

You write, “No one will tell you what experience you should be obtaining, let alone help you get it.” Strictly speaking, this isn’t true. They will recommend al sorts of experiences – company training courses, for example. But they will be the wrong experiences.

And you write: “Manage your own career. No one else will.” Again, someone else will. They will tell you what you should do, what you are allowed to do, and what you should not do. In so doing, they will manage your career into the ground.

The point here, too, is that you should do more than what you were simply hired to do. But not necessarily more for the company. When you are at work, working on your career, you should understand that you are working, first, for your own benefit. Any benefit the employer gets out of it is an exchange of mutual value. And the employer should never get everything.

As they used to say to people climbing around the rigging on the high seas: one hand for the ship, one hand for yourself.

posted on February 9, 2007

pd said:

you could have simply said ‘a career is something to be made, not inherited’

posted on February 9, 2007

Tom Future said:

Why did you write the same thing twelve times?

posted on February 9, 2007

David (Maister) said:

I don’t know. Poetry?

I’ll try to reist the temptation in the future!

posted on February 9, 2007

Shaula Evans said:

Throw a rhyming couplet on the end, David, and you could make a case for a sonnet.

“If this be error and upon me nailed,

I never writ nor no man ever billed.”

posted on February 9, 2007

Lisa Guinn said:

This is a good list. For one thing, it doesn’t assume that other people are out to get you. Other people are out for themselves. In some professional firms, the situation is obviously competitive — my attempts to move up may have direct negative consequences for others.

Where I work, the environment is not overtly competitive. Nevertheless, the list still applies. You still have to look out for yourself. That’s just life, and taking good care of your self. Like bathing, exercise, health and everything else.

Why do we give so much control of our lives to others? I’m not sure, but as I’ve gained life experience, I try not to do it!

posted on February 9, 2007

Merusavarni said:

I work for a BIG-4 consulting company that avowedly values people and diveristy. Yet it is amazing how bad i feel every time i take a look at whether i have a future in the organization. Before i elaborate let me just say David, that i find myself to be doing the opposite of each and every one of those 12 points you have listed :)

THere are many things i had screwed up like assuming that even when i am working hard and showing results, i needed to SHOW/MARKET them to everyone who mattered. In our organization, it is a group-based appraisal system as opposed to the boss doing it on an individual basis. It is not a 360-degree appraisal system. So though it sounds like a system in line with very fine democratic traditions of the free world, too many cooks in the appraisal is too much of a spoilsport…

Anyways, i have been told that i was naive and immature to have ignored the politics of BOGU (Bending Over and….) w.r.t my boss(es) in my organization & department. For my part, i had on more than one occasion spoke my mind out on several issues that i have always found my bosses not taking in the right spirit at all….all the while i was doing it i got a feeling that it was my “duty”, part of my value system blah blah….today i look at where i am standiing w.r.t career progress and where those who did not think of any “value systems” and did a lot of BOGU are – i had lost the race….

And by bosses i was talking just abouyt those in my line of business..the HR dept. is practically non-existent..and even if they exist it is UNLIKELY they will ever support my case over that of my bosses….

Inspite of all of this drivel that goes under the name of career progress/selling yourself etc…, i think one should try to be one’s own self and do things that one considers as his/her value system…atleast they should give it a try…and if it does not work, then they should QUIT working for that organization..and this process should continue unitl one finds his/her “dream company”….its better tom first find if there is anything clsoe to that dream company before hand, if it is possible…reduces a lot of stress…

posted on February 10, 2007

Ed Kless said:

This could open a big can of worms, but not only do I agree with David, but believe he is justified in saying “the same thing 12 times.”

When are we going to recognize that Ayn Rand was right in a lot of ways – “The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.”

posted on February 11, 2007

Wally Bock said:

I submit herewith the First Law of Horn Tooting: “You are the only person you can count on to toot your horn.”

posted on February 11, 2007

Janet H. Moore said:


Points 5, 6, 11 and 12 especially ring true, from my observation. I work with many lawyers who want to break into the international field. Sometimes law firm or corporate politics keep a lawyer from getting to work on international matters. Other times, lawyers don’t get assigned to international matters because they lack international experience—yet they can’t seem to get the requisite experience within their own workplace.

Yet, these obstacles can be surmounted. Time and time again, I have seen proactive lawyers break into the international field through careful strategizing, frequent career moves, rebranding and sheer determination. Sometimes these lawyers were handicapped by poor law school grades and other impediments. Perhaps they gained their valuable “international experience” through pro bono or consulting work, or perhaps they took a business position which would give them international exposure. Sometimes they zigzagged in their career towards a job with international responsibilities. Yet, through dogged determination and creativity, they now have international careers.

So, as your points 5 and 6 articulate, grab the experience that you want/need if asking for it doesn’t work. Then, per points 11 and 12, take your job into your own hands, looking outside your current job if necessary to gain experience.

posted on February 12, 2007

Terry said:

David, this is exactly the mindset that I’ve grown, over the past few years of being an in-house designer. I used to be one of those ‘head-in-the-sand’ workers who loved my job so much—as deficient as it was, in many ways—that I lulled myself into complacency. Then I lost my job—and along with it my insurance, 401K, and last paycheck.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but never again will I rely solely on an ‘employer’ for my livelihood and welfare. And I’m emphatically PRO-career-management! (That’s what my own blog is dedicated to.)

Those read your post and ask “why say the same thing 12 times in a row” are still the ones who don’t get it. It’s so important to take active control of one’s career—especially in today’s unstable work environment—that it just can’t be stressed enough…

posted on February 12, 2007

Peggy McKee said:

Dear Ed,

“When are we going to recognize that Ayn Rand was right in a lot of ways – “The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.”

You made my day – I knew that reading her work would come in handy!


posted on February 18, 2007

Darlene McDaniel said:


This is an excellent list that everyone looking to advane in their career should post. We are responsible for our career. I especially agree with numbers: 3, 7, 10 and 12.

My first promotion as a manager came when I did an internal post for a new department that was moved from corporate to the satellite office I worked in. I had no management experience, I had no knowledge of the department. I was excellent in the department I was working in and I prepared for the interview and was subsequently promoted. I will never forget when one of my colleagues asked me how I got the job. He asked me if I got permission to post out of the department. I told him “no I didn’t asked permission.” I followed the company policy for posting. I was offered an interview and I went in there and got the job! I wanted the job.

That was one of the greatest lessons in my corporate career.

posted on March 3, 2007

Anthony Katselas said:

David, i agree with you whole heartedly. Being in the position myself where my career could take what i am lead to believe is a “great opportunity” is more likely to be a big mistake. I know deep down what i want and the path my so called leaders/managers want for me is far from it.

Whats more interesting is i am currently writing a paper for my degree on the topic of personal career development and the results of all my research have supported your above 12 points like a broken record.

Keep it up David, i look forward to reading more from you.

posted on May 8, 2007