Career Path

The Career-Saving Checklist

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison’s three questions to answer before deciding whether to stick with your current job or find something else.

It’s not about the money. Really.

Of course, you need to get paid—and you should be rewarded for your hard work. But you can’t take a job only because it pays more. You need to think about what it will do for your career trajectory.

Still need to be convinced? Korn Ferry research shows that learning is the number-one determinant of a person’s earnings for life. In other words, the most important aspect of any job is what you’re learning to better position yourself for the future.

Many people lose perspective when it comes to how others make money.

A case in point: Bryan was a teacher I knew a few years ago. Although well-liked by colleagues and respected by parents and students, he was fed up with his salary. As he saw it, so many other people were making much more money, why shouldn’t he?

It was the early 2000s and the housing market was heating up. Bryan saw so many people making tons of money in mortgage lending (you know where this is going…).

Through mutual connections, Bryan reached out to me and we met for coffee. “I can’t believe all these people are making this kind of money,” he told me. “How hard can it be to write loans all day? Anybody can do that.”

Many people lose perspective when it comes to how others make money. What they assume is easy is usually very difficult. Mortgage lending, especially in those days before the financial crisis, was all about having a network of potential clients.

Bryan assumed he could easily parlay his connections with other teachers and parents into a client base. Plus, he had been told the mortgage company would provide support and training to build his client relationships. Long story short: there was no help, Bryan had no network, and soon after quitting his full-time teaching job, he knew he had made a huge mistake.

His losses were considerable—financial and personal.

Moral of this cautionary tale: Make decisions in the context of your overall career path. The decisions you make today will affect where you will end up tomorrow. And there is no greater impact on your future than what you learn and the skills you develop.

This bring us to a checklist so powerful it could save your career—or, at least, help keep you on track.

1. Is my work meaningful?

Ask yourself: Are you engaged in what you are doing? Does the organization you work for have a mission/vision/purpose that you can support and feel aligned with?

2. Who am I working for?

Your boss has the biggest single influence on your career development. Ideally, you work for a boss who is invested in your development, mentors you, and makes sure you get assignments that broaden your skills and experiences. A key consideration in any job is who you are going to learn from.

3. Am I learning?

This one is huge although, sadly, too few people think about it. Are you gaining new skills in your job (and, if so, what are they)? While it’s impossible to predict the skills that will be needed in the future, one thing is certain: If you don’t learn, you won’t grow, and if you don’t grow, you’ll never progress.

With every job, focus on the learning opportunities. If you do, you’ll be better positioned for the next move and the one after that. It’s the secret to sustainable success: if you’re happy, you’re motivated, and if you’re motivated, you’re going to outperform. And a large driver of being happy and motivated can be learning.

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