Why You Need a Career Strategy, with Bruce Hazen

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 217:

Why You Need a Career Strategy and How to Do It, with Bruce Hazen

Airdate: November 13, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I interview a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

Do you know where you want to go next in your career?

Many people let events — a layoff, the arrival of a new boss, or the posting of an interesting job  — drive career decisions.

Our guest today says the people who find the most satisfying work take a different approach. They ask and answer key questions about who they are and what they want.

Here to talk about this is Bruce Hazen. Bruce is a career and management coach. He’s also the author of Answering The Three Career Questions.

Bruce joins us in person in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon.

Bruce, here’s where I want to start, why do you need a career strategy at all?

Bruce Hazen:

The way I like to describe the use of a strategy is it prevents you from spending your life finding one job in a row. That’s the disappointment I think many people look back on is realizing they raced from one job search to the next when dissatisfaction or a layoff came along, and they didn’t really assemble a career, they just assembled a series of jobs.

Mac Prichard:

Well, many of our listeners, they need a job right now; what would you say to someone who’s got bills to pay and says, “I don’t have time to put together a career strategy,” Bruce?

Bruce Hazen:

Strategy begins when you have a job, so when you have the security you need from a paycheck or stability from a job, that’s when you need to start strategizing about what will come next. Because we know that jobs change; they go away they come back. It’s while you have a job that you need to start thinking strategically.

Mac Prichard:

I want to get to that but let’s go back to that listener who, through perhaps no fault of their own, is unemployed or was unhappy and had to leave, and they’re out there looking for their next gig. Why do they still need a career strategy?

Bruce Hazen:

I think that the most important thing about having that strategy as you’re searching is it guides your search. It causes you to look in the right places for the right work, as opposed to something that’s convenient or appears first on your job radar. So, I encourage people to ask and answer 3 questions, as a way to think about their strategy at this time.

Where are they in their careers at this time? And those 3 questions really compose the strategy.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, let’s talk about those three questions in a moment. Let’s go back to the person who’s in a position, maybe they’re early in their career, 5 or 10 years, or perhaps mid-career or getting close to retirement. Talk to our listeners more about the benefits of having a career strategy and helping someone who does have a job plot their next move.

Bruce Hazen:

Well, one of the things that is discouraging or tiring about a job search is going about it in a random way. Meaning spending too much time on Internet sites, not having strategic conversations with your networking partners.

The strategy helps you use your time more efficiently by focusing your attention on the kind of work, not necessarily just a job, but the kind of work you want to be doing and choosing those networking partners, choosing the kinds of websites you visit, choosing the kind of research that you spend your time doing.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to a listener who might say to you, “Bruce, I don’t know what I want to do in 3 years, much less in 20, 30, or 40 years,” however much time they have left in the workplace?

Bruce Hazen:

I don’t think it’s necessary to have a grand plan that has all your milestones laid out for the next 3 to 5 to 10 years. The marketplace of work changes so rapidly. I’ve often found in interviews that I’ve been on when somebody’s asked me the question, “And what do you see yourself doing in five years?”

Mac Prichard:

That’s a classic, isn’t it?

Bruce Hazen:

That’s a classic and it’s an invitation to make up stuff because, frankly, you don’t know what you’re going to be doing in 5 years.

What I’ve told employers who’ve asked me that question is, “I intend to be doing the work that this organization needs at that time and I plan to develop myself and align myself with that work.” But I can’t tell you what it is five years from now.

Mac Prichard:

You’re not suggesting that people work out some master life plan with step-by-step changes in jobs and employers. Tell us, so if that’s not what it looks like, tell us more about what it does look like.

Bruce Hazen:

I really encourage people to have a sense of their professional identity. Their professional identity, as I describe it to them, is your way of describing what makes you not like other people who do the same work you do.

It’s your occupational essence and if you can describe that to begin with, it gives you the advantage of then being able to align that essence, that uniqueness, with work that’s a good fit for it.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend people describe that essence? How can someone do that? Especially someone who’s not working with a coach.

Bruce Hazen:

It’s difficult and unnatural for a lot of people who have been used to looking for work by responding to job descriptions that other people have written, and so they’re constantly matching themselves, or should I say mashing themselves into job descriptions that have already been written by someone else. They’re not really looking for work that aligns with them, they’re looking to fit a pre-described job description.

Mac Prichard:

So what’s the better way to do it, Bruce? Rather than react to someone’s job description, what should someone do instead?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, here’s something I find is particularly true for experienced, mid-career or late-stage career people; professionals at those stages, I often tell them, you’re as likely to create your next job as you are to find it. So, start looking for well-aligned work rather than just searching for jobs that have already been named and described by somebody else.

Mac Prichard:

How do you do that? What are the concrete steps that one can take to find that work?

Bruce Hazen:

The first thing is having a really firm grasp on your own skills and experience and abilities; also, your own interests.

Mac Prichard:

How do you see people, you either work with or your peers, get clear about their skills and abilities?

Bruce Hazen:

Two ways that I’ve worked with people to acquire that information for them. One is in the dialogue process, the questions I ask, the kinds of dialogue we get into. The questions that I push that they’ve maybe never been called to answer before, that pushes them beyond the level of their current thinking about themselves, and especially their accomplishments.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s jump into those questions and I want to be clear, you don’t need a coach to do this, to play along at home. This is a process that anybody can go through on their own, isn’t it?

Bruce Hazen:

They can do it on their own but I really recommend people find, if not a career coach, a trusted other. Because I call my office, “the think out loud laboratory,” because I’ve found over and over again that when people hear their own thoughts out loud, they start to either understand them better or be able to express them in new ways to other people and that process never refines itself that way if you’re doing it all in your own head.

Getting outside your own head and having to articulate your own thinking about yourself, about your interests, about your skills, and about the work you want to do is part of the process of getting insight into yourself.

Mac Prichard:

Could this person be, not just a coach, but perhaps a trusted peer?

Bruce Hazen:

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Bruce Hazen:

One thing that I do caution people against though is, your partner, your spouse, they have limited patience to listen to you talk about your job search over and over and over. They also have possibly an abundance of interest in, let’s say, making you feel good about your search. They aren’t always the most objective people to talk with.

Mac Prichard:

Okay so if it’s not a loved one, it probably should be a friend or…

Bruce Hazen:

A peer, a friend, somebody in a professional association who is years ahead of you, perhaps, and has gone through their own developmental experiences and work experiences that can be a very valuable backboard to bounce off ideas of your own and hear your own credentials up against their stories. Professional association membership is a fantastic resource at a time of a career transition.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about those three questions. I want to jump into the first one before our break. What is the first question that someone should ask when thinking about creating a career strategy?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, I’ll preface it by saying, the three questions in total are what I use to help people understand their current relationship to work, and that’s really what career strategy is, understanding and managing your relationship to work over a lifetime.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so what’s the first question, Bruce?

Bruce Hazen:

First question is, “When is it time to move up?”

And by “move up,” I mean, is it time to progress, it could mean also get a promotion, but are you in work that you enjoy, in an organization that’s a good fit, but possibly some of your discontent or some of your restlessness is due to the fact it’s time to progress to a higher level of responsibility or complexity in the work you’re doing.

And people very often come to me with one hand on the ripcord, as I like to say, they’re ready to leave the organization completely because of a sense of dissatisfaction or frustration, and many times there’s no reason to leave at all. The frustration comes from the fact that they haven’t really asked for new work. They haven’t really progressed, they haven’t done some of the developmental work necessary to get better work, but it may be available to them right inside the current place of employment.

Mac Prichard:

Why don’t people look at internal opportunities first? Why do they want to exit immediately?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, two reasons. One is, some employers are very weak at doing development discussions and planning with people. They don’t provide the resources. It’s not a discussion that comes up.

The second reason is that many people have, unfortunately, developed a habit of leaving as the solution to everything that bothers them about work. They’ve never really heard the three questions as a strategy planning device. They’ve only heard, “Revise your resume and leave.”

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to talk more about this first question.

We’re going to take a break and when we return, Bruce Hazen will continue to share his advice on why you need a career strategy and how you can do it.

Bruce’s point about taking charge of your career is so important. And it especially matters when you’re job hunting.

You need to be strategic when looking for work. And to do this, you have to know what you want.

Do you know your own job search goal?

If not, I have a free guide that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

Get your copy today. Go to macslist.org/focus. It’s free.

Our guide will take you through four simple steps that will let you set your own job search goal.

Go to macslist.org/focus.

Here’s the good news about goal setting: when you know what you’ll find your next job easier and faster.

That’s because you stop trying to be all things to all employers. Instead, you’ll focus on the jobs you really want.

And that will make you a stronger, more competitive candidate. Because you send out fewer applications

And that gives you more time to write custom resumes and prepare for interviews so that you stand out from other applicants.

Wouldn’t you like to do that?

Get your free copy today of Finding Focus in Your Job Search

Go to macslist.org/focus.

Now, let’s get back to the show!

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Bruce Hazen. He’s a career and management coach.

Bruce, before our break, we were talking about career strategy and what it is and why you need it and you were emphasizing the importance of asking three questions, and you touched on the first one.

Look inside a company before you think about leaving. And what would you say to a listener, Bruce, who might be in a very small organization, with 3, 5, 10 people, and there’s not a lot of turn over?

Bruce Hazen:

In an environment like that, you may have maxed out. You may have hit the ceiling of opportunity that’s available in a small organization but it still begs the question, if you move to another job and another employer, is it still time for you to look for work that would represent progression?

Not just finding the equivalent of what you’re doing today but something that really gives you a stretch and puts you back into a more satisfied frame of mind about your work.

Mac Prichard:

You want people to focus on the skills and the work itself, not on the title and the position. In other words, the problem might not be that it’s the employer, it’s about where you are in your career.

Bruce Hazen:

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, what about question number two, Bruce?

Bruce Hazen:

The second question is the one that most people come to a career coach ready to answer and that is, “Is it time to move out?”

Mac Prichard:

This is leaving a company?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, no, not necessarily. What that question implies is, yes, it could mean leave a company, leave an employer. It also begs the question of, is it time to move out of a relationship you have with, perhaps the boss you’re working for, the team that you’re on, or the project that you’re currently working on? If it’s time to move out of one of those relationships, it may not mean move out of the organization altogether.

Again, it’s looking for a better fit and looking locally first, and then moving to an altogether exit if absolutely necessary.

Mac Prichard:

In the first instance, that first question, it’s not about leaving a relationship, it’s about looking for new opportunities. This is about, perhaps, staying, in your second question, about staying inside of an organization but ending that relationship.

Bruce Hazen:

Exactly, and moving to a different one internally, or at least examining that possibility.

Mac Prichard:

Why do you draw a distinction between those two sets of circumstances?

Bruce Hazen:

The move-up and the move-out?

So, the move up really looks at the quality of your own development in your profession. And we know that that development, that mastery is one of the key motivators of people. And achieving mastery or pursuing mastery can only be done in certain circumstances, and so mastery or progression is what the first question is about, move-up.

Move-out is more about the relationships that you have with the work and the people around you, and perhaps the organization itself, and that is, if there’s poor fit, the only option may be to leave to find better fit. It may not be available internally.

Mac Prichard:

It’s not, in the second set of circumstances, that you don’t have the skills for the job; it’s that the relationships aren’t working.

Bruce Hazen:

Exactly, you may be perfectly suited for the work but not the boss, or for your leadership role but not with this team.

Mac Prichard:

There may have been personnel changes, a new supervisor, new teammates, there have been shifts.

Bruce Hazen:

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Nothing has stayed the same.

Bruce Hazen:

There are also times that organizations, in an intense period of mergers and acquisitions, many people wind up having their organization bought right out from under them and merged into another organization that has fundamentally different operating styles and different values, and all of a sudden the “why we’re here,” doesn’t fit as well.

Mac Prichard:

What about the third question, Bruce?

Bruce Hazen:

Third question is about, “When is it time to adapt your style for greater success?”

What this is getting at is the notion that you may be in a place that you like, you may be doing work that you’re well-aligned for, but you can tell you’re not getting the success or the traction that you want inside this organization. And for insightful people, they very often realize, “It’s not everybody else’s fault. I’m either doing or not doing here that I need to adapt, I’m just not sure what it is but I want to stay. I want to do better. I need to know, what are the most critical things that I can do quickly and most responsively that will make a difference in my success?”

Mac Prichard:

The change has to come from inside. There’s learning that has to be done.

Bruce Hazen:

Exactly, they can use the coach very often to help them identify circumstances or environmental circumstances around them that are limiting or blocking their success or that are confusing them and they’re approaching it inappropriately. So the coach can be helpful but ultimately this comes down to more of a coaching strategy, not a job search strategy.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how people can use the answers to these questions to plan a career. What does someone do who goes through this process and how can they apply this information to their career planning?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, I love to tell the story about a client I worked with about six years ago.

A very experienced financial professional came to me; she was at a VP level in a technology-driven company. Very experienced, and her initial question that we identified that she thought she wanted to answer was, “Do I need to adapt my style? I think I’m doing something wrong here. I’m struggling, I feel frustrated.”

When she really described her set up with the team she had, the kinds of processes she was setting up, she was actually doing extremely well as a leader. Making really good judgment calls, coaching people well, and I said to her, “You know, the more we talk about this, I think you’re spot on. I understand you’re frustrated but I don’t think we need to change you. Tell me about the environment around you and your boss.”

She went on to describe the set up she had with her boss and I realized there was a real problem. He had given her a lot of responsibility but had given her little authority. He had taken on a role that she really should have had as CFO, but he wasn’t really managing it well, just giving the work to her.

At that point, she thought, “Well, then it’s time for me to move out. I want you to help me with my resume. I need to leave.”

And I said, “Well, wait, you’re doing really well with your team, you’ve mastered the work really well, you’re doing everything at the CFO level. I think the question you really need to ask is, is it time for you to progress to the next level? Do you really need to put together the business case for you getting the title of CFO and moving into that role officially?”

And she reluctantly had to admit that she really was qualified, she really wanted the job, she just didn’t know how to diplomatically confront the CEO and ask for the job. And that became the work we did together, was put that strategy together.

She really went through all three questions and really came up with an ideal solution.

She did, by the way, get the CFO role, and had she not looked at all three questions, we would have ended on either a coaching mission, which would have been a waste of both our time, or a premature leaving of an organization where she had years of success, potentially, ahead of her but she would have prematurely pulled the ripcord and left.

Mac Prichard:

Do you find, Bruce, that many people just pull that ripcord and don’t do this kind of work?

Bruce Hazen:

Yes, absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

How does that affect a person’s career over time?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, I call those folks, the ones who have sort of victimized themselves by spending their careers finding one job in a row. They very often wind up in their next job and they carry forward a certain amount of dissatisfaction from the previous job, a certain amount of frustration, maybe a little bit of an attitude problem but there’s always the honeymoon in the beginning and getting to know new people and new organizations.

That excitement, if you will, or that honeymoon does end, usually in about three to five months, and then we’re into the make a difference, make progress happen, get the work done, and they find themselves back with the same frustrations that they had a year ago because they haven’t really strategically managed their relationship to work. They’ve simply found a new address and brought their frustrations, if you will, and given it a new address rather than a real career solution.

Mac Prichard:

What about the people who are listening who are between jobs? Again, how can they apply these three questions and the lessons that result from answering them to a job search?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, I think one of the advantages when somebody does experience a layoff or the end of a job, for whatever reason, and they’re in between, they have time to think in ways and address questions that they don’t have when they’re rushing from Monday through Friday and staying late at work and taking the to-do list to bed with them.

This gives them a chance to think about the three questions, so if we go back to that story of the financial professional, were she not fully employed, we could have and should have addressed the exact same three questions.

Let’s say she had prematurely pulled the ripcord and left and come to me to talk about why she left and how to find the next job. The same three questions that she could’ve asked herself, those same three questions would apply.

Mac Prichard:

But there would be a different result because she’s no longer at the company, so she’s not going to pursue the promotion.

Bruce Hazen:

What she could have examined or what we would have examined, let’s say she had left, is looking at that first question, is it time to adapt your style?

We would’ve reviewed the circumstances and probably come to the same conclusion, that she was doing really good work with her team and with her leadership style. She pulled the ripcord, so she did move out but as we describe, as she would’ve described the circumstances and especially that relationship with the CEO, we could’ve, once again, identified, you know, “There was a relationship there that you never really tried to fix or change. What if you had…”

And then we could’ve done the hypothetical but nonetheless, walked all the way through, here in the “think out loud laboratory.”

We could’ve played it all the way through, to say, “Supposing you had gone to your CEO and made a very good case for a promotion, not an exit strategy but a promotion.” Once again, I think in her case, she would’ve recognized, “That’s really where I wanted to be, it’s where I deserved to be. I just didn’t know how to present the case.”

Mac Prichard:

How could someone apply a conclusion like that to a job search?

Bruce Hazen:

Now, we look at, “Well, what’s next? Should you be looking for an equivalent of the job you had at a VP level?”

And the answer is, “No, you should be looking for a CFO role. One that includes that level of responsibility, so let’s look at what types of companies your experience can roll right into at that level.”

And find those kinds of connections, those kinds of open job descriptions, and talk to those kinds of people in your network to get the kind of referrals you need into that kind of work and again, as a very experienced professional, expect to maybe create the job of CFO, not just necessarily find it already waiting for you and open.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation, Bruce. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Bruce Hazen:

Well, I think the three questions have taken me into the healthcare field, where the same questions are waiting to be answered by physicians, nurses, hospital administrators, healthcare professionals of all kinds, and it’s, again, a field, an industry, that is going under enormous change on a regular basis because of both regulations, laws, changing values, and changing medical methodology.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about you, your book, and your services by visiting threequestionsconsulting.com.

Now, Bruce, you’ve given us a lot to think about today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why you need a career strategy and how to do it?

Bruce Hazen:

I think the number one thing I want to prevent is people reaching a mid-career, or even a late-stage career, and looking back and realizing that they’ve spent that valuable time just finding one job in a row with minimal amounts of satisfaction and simply going for the open position. Whether it fit or not.

Mac Prichard:

Here’s my big takeaway from my conversation with Bruce: it’s the importance of not thinking about the next job but thinking about your career as a whole.

You’ve got to have a plan, just as you’ve got to have a goal for your next position, but don’t make that goal for your next job drive your whole career planning. Step back and think about the big picture.

Now, if you’re struggling with setting your own job search goal, and it’s hard to do, we’ve got a resource that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

It’s free and you can get your copy today by going to macslist.org/focus. Again, that’s macslist.org/focus.

When you’re job hunting, you will hear “no” almost every day. How do you keep your spirits up in the face of that kind of rejection?

Our guest next Wednesday is Elizabeth Borelli. She’ll explain how to deal with job search rejection.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Do you let things like job postings, layoffs, or irritations at work drive your career decisions? If you’re ready to find more satisfaction in your next job or career move, Find Your Dream Job guest expert Bruce Hazen says you need a well thought-out strategy. You can find a job that aligns with your career goals by having a clear understanding of your skills, experience, and interests. Bruce also shares how to know whether it’s time to leave a company or if there are changes you can work towards that will make staying more fulfilling.

About Our Guest:

Bruce Hazen is a career and management consultant and president of Three Questions Consulting. He designs career strategies with the mission of reducing suffering at work, increasing career satisfaction, and helping people think ahead in their career approach.

Resources in This Episode:

  • Are you ready to stop finding “one job in a row?” Bruce’s book, “Answering the 3 Career Questions,” will help you develop a strategy for your entire career.