Career Advice I Learned the HARD Way

Career Advice I Learned the HARD Way

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”

-Frodo quoting Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring




I heard about another organizational downsizing the other day. Now since I primarily work in the commercial healthcare arena this was just about as surprising as discovering the moon will rise tomorrow night or that ocean water is apparently salty.


For those of us in any business sector there is a certain level of inevitability associated with our world – and employee reshuffling is pretty darn predictable isn’t it?


You might want to nod your head and say, “sure” but there are a lot of folks out there who react to these company shifts with the same degree of surprise that you would expect if Godzilla suddenly appeared in their backyard selling snow cones and playing a ukulele.


“What?” they scream, “How could this HAPPEN?”


To quote noted movie mobster Hyman Roth, “This is the profession we’ve chosen.”


If you want stability – if you want certainty – choose a civil service job. If you want an adventure – dive headlong into the business world. Competition demands excellence – and excellence demands profits. Companies survive because they make choices – sometimes those choices affect the greatest of resources – human capital.


”When you step into the Road… there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”


Many of us chose to step into the Road.


I wish it was always fair out here – but then again, I wish Middle Earth was a vacation destination.


Over the course of four decades in industry – and double digits in restructures and downsizings – I finally began to gain perspective on a few things.


Hard earned lessons.


The first– and the most important – was that I was the CEO of my career. Not my boss, not my division, and not my company. It was up to me to realize my dreams – not expect the company to be the sole conduit. That meant developing a strategic mindset – not a reactionary one. This was my journey – not someone else’s.


The second– I was effectively a Free Agent – a well-commissioned “temp” whose job could go away at any time.  That meant I could never close my mind to opportunities both inside my company and outside. Never. That was tough for me – I was raised in a culture of loyalty that bordered on blind faith.  But when I began to see equally dedicated peers slip quietly away I was forced to rethink my allegiances. They were to my family and my career – and that changed things a bit.


The third– I didn’t have to go “rogue” as regards my commitments and my trust – but I focused on alliances with people and not with an organization per se. Let me explain – every company has the same language – finance and accounting; the same “blood tests” to convey their health – balance sheets and income statements; and the same master – sustainable profit.  But embedded in there somewhere is the human factor and when I began to build a ring of people that believed in me (most of them in my company but some outside) – and that I believed in – I found sanctuary. The Road got pretty dark at times – but the Fellowship of the Ring sustained me.


Here then are five suggestions I offer employees at every level in an organization to consider in their journey – from Chief Executive Officer to hourly front line worker.  I sometimes get pushback when I offer them – the same kind of resistance I might have offered a long time ago.


  1. Your job will someday end. Your career shouldn’t. Assume your current assignment is a temp job and at the end of 6 months it disappears. I know you don’t want to think in those terms. Now, get over it.  A career strategy looks beyond the confines of today and considers the contingencies of tomorrow.  If you want to be a settler and nuzzle into a warm and comfortable place in the Shire – certain you will always be OK… I wish you well.
  2. Build a career strategy and then work your plan. Five fundamental questions should inform that strategy:
    1. Where am I at today in my career?
    2. How did I get here?
    3. Where do I want to be?
    4. How will I get there?
    5. What results should I expect and when?
  3. Craft a network– get on Linked In and other social media outlets. Build your sphere of influence – your ring – aggressively. Most new jobs are sourced via networking – not conventional job postings.  If you wait until you’re “looking” – you’ve waited too long.
  4. Build a bonafide track record. Two things will get you hired in your next position – what you (and others) say about you… and what you’ve actually done. Guess which one will carry the most weight?  Every accomplishment, every job review, every accolade – hold onto it.  If your documentation doesn’t match the hyperbole – game over.  And if you’re someone who doesn’t keep a razor sharp (and updated) resume – at the ready then you’re pretty much like a lion hunter armed with a pack of Saltines and a fork – prey.
  5. Get to know a recruiter– whether that’s the “contingency” or the “retainer” version will depend on your career profile and your aspirations. There are rock stars out there and there are “meat peddlers” – find a world-class player and you will enjoy connections that can offer you more upside than you can imagine.


Early in my journey through all the mergers, acquisitions, and organizational reshuffles someone offered me perspective that has carried through today.


The company can give you a job – but it’s up to you to go out and find a career.


The Road will never be without peril – but then again, it might just be as close to Middle Earth as any of us will ever come.























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