If only – those are the two most dreaded words of professional life! If only you had done that PhD instead of taking up the banking offer. If only you had chosen a niche domain instead of the tried and tested. If only you had quit when the time was right – the list is endless.
You study, earn your degree, join an exciting investment bank in the financial hub, your career’s made. Simple right? Only on paper, maybe. Governments change, sales go through cyclical fortunes, international organizations and solid home players lock their horns in cutthroat competition, and you are in the midst of it all, trying to work your way up an ever-changing maze.
To complicate things further, your perspective of the ‘ideal’ job changes as you evolve.
At 25, the dream may be to have a corner office at the skyscraper headquarters of a global consulting firm. At 40, you might want a small office space to start off your own venture. Career, much like life itself, often flows through uncharted territories. Therefore, it’s the choices you make at crucial junctures like your specialisation, employer, location and work profile, that can make or break your career.
Here are some important things to consider as you traverse through different plots on your career graph.
Career choices in your 20s
The 20s are all about the first steps. Your first ‘real’ job perhaps and a first look at how an organisation and the industry work. Disregard what you read in management books that tell you to play it safe. The 20s are about discovering yourself.
You slogged over a finance diploma but want to try your hand at copywriting? Go ahead. Changing, innovating, this is a great period of your life to dabble in different things, helping you narrow down to the field of your choice.
“If ever there is a time in your career when you have the licence to go with your whims- this is it!”
Getting a full-time job gives you stability. But in your 20s, not having one could be a blessing in disguise. As a freelancer, you get the flexibility to pick and choose your projects. Unlike a traditional office system where you are assigned a task, here it is you who has to pitch and win contracts for yourself. Persuasion and winning confidence could be crucial skills to have as you progress in your career.
Early in your career, you might face your first conflict. You might not agree with your senior colleagues on certain decisions but may hesitate to speak up, not wanting to stir the pot. In your 20s, with a long career ahead of you, suppressing ideas only tend to demotivate you. Instead, speak up. A well presented logical counter might be just what the company needs and can help give you a leap start into the good books of the management.
Mind this, though…
- Don’t be tied – either to a company or a location. Take that offer to move to a different continent. Say yes, if you get an offer to a field you know nothing about. The 20s are all about spontaneity.
- When you are offered the job you want, don’t accept it blindly. Negotiating better pay and benefits for you right from the first step ensures a higher growth curve. Check out websites like Glassdoor before you make a decision.
Career choices in your 30s
Once the dust settles, you see things clearly. That’s the 30s for you. With a few years of work experience under your belt, you are a much confident employee, having the ability to deal with most career-related issues. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be any more blips along the way. There are still some difficult choices you may encounter.
Work profile vs pay
In an ideal world, your dream job would offer you the best remuneration. In reality, that’s not always the case. In your 30s, you aren’t just looking at an x figure in your bank like the way you did when you started out. You look for growth and job satisfaction. A good pay is a magnet but if the work profile doesn’t challenge you or help you learn enough you may have to reconsider the job.
Not all are born leaders but with perseverance and empathy, anyone can evolve into one. When you have the opportunity to lead a team, don’t shy away from the responsibility. Taking decisions, sometimes unpopular ones are not easy but it is the right choice to make for your career. Many MNCs in Singapore have in-house leadership programmes to nurture promising talent. You can be part of it and benefit immensely.
Clocking long hours at the office means lesser time with the kids. Call with a client versus taking your child to the park like you promised, you face tough choices everyday. Prioritising your responsibilities and dividing your time optimally is the tonic you need to keep both the wheels on the ground.
“Juggling work and a family is the eternal struggle.”
Mind this, though…
- The 30s are about evaluating the goals you set for yourself when you first started out. Take time out for yourself and see where you have reached and where you are headed to. If the prospect doesn’t excite you, it may be time to rethink your plans. A new domain, a change in direction in your career, or quitting to start a venture of your own, you still have time to start fresh.
If you keep thinking about that MBA you foregone in place of a job, you could opt for an executive management degree. EMBA programmes at Nanyang Business school, NUS and INSEAD among many other top international universities would be your best bet.
Career choices in your 40s
Two decades of the roller coaster ride called professional life and you’ve made it. Well, almost. This is a period of getting your dues after all the years of working in festive January, attending back to back meetings, documentation and dealing with demanding clients. The choices you make at this stage may bear no resemblance to those you made in your 20s and 30s but they are vital nonetheless.
Get better visibility
You’ve done well as a team player in your company and now is the time to raise your public profile.
Put out your thoughts for the world to read. A flattering profile in The Straits Times, a column in The Sunday Times, a couple of guest blogs and Youtube informational videos are sure to elevate you as a thought leader. Accept invitations to educational institutions as guest speaker and try to fit in a keynote address in industry events. These not only give you the recognition you deserve but also open the doors to newer opportunities.
As you grow into a stalwart of the industry, you find yourself with a wealth of practical knowledge. At this stage you are not just a manager but a mentor as well. You can choose to be the kind that truly makes a difference to young employees.
Find time to meet your subordinates, maybe in an informal setting, share your successes and failures and key takeaways. Make it a two-way street so you can get their take on things too. This could be an enriching and rewarding experience for you and a great way to give back to the industry.
Here’s a slogan you should print out on your coffee mug-You are a student your whole life.
You may have spent two decades in the industry and learnt it’s workings inside-out, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing new to learn.
Read as much as you can, interact with peers and experts and follow market trends. These tips will make sure you are always at the top of your game.
Mind this, though…
- Networking is the most underrated career skill you must choose to develop as you enter top management. Pick up your golf clubs, join a business network, attend that seminar on the outskirts of the city. You never know whom you might bump into!
- Join trade associations and Chambers of commerce for a chance to pick the brains of your industry colleagues. Become a board member where your experience and opinions can be leveraged.
Check out our other career resources:
- Should You Ever Take a Pay Cut?
- 20 Tips That Will Help You Ace Your Next Job Interview
- 5 Types of Bosses You Might Encounter and How to Deal with Them