Career Advancement: Asking the Right Questions

by Carrera, Phyllis Tuesday, January 02, 2007
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“The one who asks questions doesn’t lose his way,” so states an African proverb. Yet while undertaking a job search or career move, most individuals spend an inordinate amount of time preparing to answer questions, anticipating other’s needs and wants, before taking time to consider their own. In our quest to convince others that we’re ready to climb upward or onward, we often fail to ask ourselves, “Is this truly what I want? Is this career path right for me?”

I find it fascinating that the word “right” originates from the Latin, rogare, which means “to ask.” According to Webster’s, the word “right” has many definitions, but the one that strikes a cord in me simply contains two words: genuine and real. A simple definition, yes, but a not so simple question when asking ourselves what’s the next right move in our career. What job would genuinely fulfill me? What real talent of mine wants to be expressed? What am I no longer willing to tolerate? In what ways do I want my work to change; my life to transform? What trade-offs am I willing to make to do more of what I love?

Real questions beget real answers. Yet many people refrain from asking themselves these simple, yet paradoxically complex questions, choosing instead to stay the course on a path that’s already well known. It seems easier to cling to a stable career, even if the work or culture of the company doesn’t fully satisfy. The burden of change appears to outweigh the promise of life-altering growth.

Changing careers may appear burdensome, but consider the burden we bear when we stay the course in an unfulfilling job or workplace. If you can’t quite follow my logic, let me offer a few examples.

A few years back I was working with coaching client who was determined to change her life. She was exhausted from a grueling travel schedule, feeling like the pace of Corporate America was killing her. She had no clue how “right” she was. A week after she had found the courage to say “I quit,” she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, the doctors caught it early. Within six months she was cancer free and had landed a job as a consultant in higher education – working less hours for more pay. Now tell me, isn’t it interesting that when I had asked her what she really wanted, she had answered, “I’d like to pursue an advanced degree.” One of the perks of her new job was burden-free tuition.

More recently, a friend and former client stopped by to celebrate a recent promotion. She had accepted a position with a previous employer – a 1.4 billion dollar corporation whose culture had significantly changed under new leadership. Before the new CEO came, she left, believing that her advancement opportunities were limited by an impenetrable glass-ceiling. Truth was, they were then, but not now. It was hard to resist when her former boss wooed her back with a twenty-five percent salary increase and a commitment to promote her to Vice President within a year or two. I find it fascinating, that prior to him ever contacting her she had once again asked herself a simple, yet paradoxically complex question: What are my chances of being promoted to executive management in this 18.3 billion dollar corporation? The glass ceiling wasn’t nearly as thick, yet the field of viable candidates certainly was.

Both women found the courage to ask themselves the “right” questions. Simple, yet paradoxically complex? Certainly. Burdensome? I’ll leave that answer up to you.