In the last of three interviews, we ask Ed van der Sande why now’s the time to steer your own career. And who exactly is the person who can help you. (It might not be him.)

First off, why should people take responsibility for their own careers?

Well, companies are investing less and less in talent development because of the short employee cycle, now just four to five years, according to a recent PWC report. Furthermore, there are now lots of Generation Xers in the market, but too few jobs, so one needs to distinguish oneself.

I don’t mean to say a career should only be about climbing the ladder. Do what you want to do. But a job being ‘fun’ and ‘challenging’ are wrong ways to define it. I would say ‘be aware of what you are doing’. If you are aware, you do not allow yourself to be steered. Be in the driver’s seat.

Does this require a different mindset?

These days, most people ask for help on all fronts, but they do very little themselves. We tend to leave it to a large extent to the employer who has a talent management programme. The hope is they’ll sit down to talk to you and you’ll be included in the programme. "But if individuals want to steer it themselves, they will need to take much more responsibility in the career area" What it comes down to is that you need to be aware of what you are doing, what you are good at and what gives you energy. And you need to keep thinking about that. It’s not bound to a certain age, but it does become easier to plan your career after the age of forty. By then, you should know better what you are capable of and you accept it more.

I call it your periodic inspection: ensuring that you know what you’re good at, what makes you excited, what causes you misery. Not with the aim of changing, but to get better. Before the age of forty, it may also be necessary to think about where to improve. The advantage is that if an offer comes along, you can assess whether that meets what you actually want. But, even more important, is that you are more likely to know whether you have to look around for another job or not, either at your current employer or somewhere else.

How do you go about it?

Start by looking for a beacon of truth, someone who can be your coach. It’ll be someone who you respect, and with whom you can have a conversation once every two months, free of charge. He/she will exchange ideas with you about the career you would like to have, what your next steps could be, what to think about, and what to do better in your current role.

It’s not about whether the relationship with that person is good, but whether you feel comfortable in your own skin with them. That has an impact on your performance. There is a thin line in-between, so you really have to trust the person you talk to about your career. You have to feel that what you discuss with that person stays with that person. And if he or she gives you advice and/or says ‘you talk rubbish’, you won’t regard that as an attack, but consider and accept it. "This person, call it an impresario, will look for opportunities, and say ‘you can very much be the CEO of this or that company, but you will have to become better in the following areas’.” You can expect your impresario to not only tell you that, but also offer you the tools to achieve it. It’s not ideal, but it is certainly a step. Ultimately, you have to join an agency, that you pay, to look after your interests. These are not here yet, but they will be.

If you buy a mortgage, you see a mortgage advisor and you are happy to pay that person. Going on holidays, you ask a travel consultant. You do that with everything, but with your own career. That is really incomprehensible to me.

Why is this not happening now?

Basically, because of uncertainty. We never talk about it. How often is there ever a group discussion about what to do when you are thrown out? We are not talking about uncertainties in that area here in the Netherlands. That is the real issue.

I notice too often that people say ‘no, I'm still fine’ when I offer them a role, and then they come back three months later saying ‘I don't really like where I’m at, and what you told me made me think’. Too late, because that was all there already. Three months ago, I had a role for you then, but not now. Or maybe people have not thought it through, and only start to think when I ask them something. That is a waste of everyone's time.

So, ensure that you are fit for future. Take charge. We do that for companies, why not do it for yourself too?

Ed van der Sande

Ed van der Sande is the Managing Partner of the Dutch office of Odgers Berndtson, where he leads the Business Services & Technology practice. Ed is a trusted advisor to a number of organisations in...

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