Careers clinic: making the right career moves in 2006

January is often a time for people to review their careers and think about new directions. Life coach Steve Errey answers some common questions.

January is often a time for people to review their careers and think about new directions. Life coach Steve Errey answers some common questions

Time to move on?

I have been in the same job for some years now. I feel comfortable in it, and it allows me time outside of work to do the things I enjoy, but I feel I am capable of doing more, and that my skills are underused. I know I should move on, but find it easier to stay where I am. Do you have any advice?

The bottom line is that it will always be easier to stay where you are. Human beings are hardwired not to change, and left to our own devices we would take the path of least resistance every time. So while you recognise that you want to change and move forward, it also looks like there is a balance to be struck - between your activities outside of work which are important to you, and being challenged and having a feeling of achievement and progress in your work.

Look at what is most important to you in each area and what skills and strengths you want to make better use of, and you can then turn those things into a set of criteria or a framework for moving you forward.


Getting a work/life balance

I work in a very demanding IT role, which often involves long hours. I enjoy my work, and am very ambitious, but I realise that work is beginning to take over my life. I would like to meet a partner, but it is difficult to find the time to meet new people. How can I keep a balance without damaging my promotion prospects?

What are your priorities right now? If priority number one is getting that next promotion then that will give you a certain focus. If priority number one is getting more active socially and starting to date, then that gives a different focus to things. Setting priorities does not mean you focus on them exclusively and have to ditch everything else, they are a way for you to get going on what feels important to you while keeping everything else moving along as appropriate.

That balance is different for everyone at different times, so get clear on where your priorities are and where you want to be with each one, and check in with them every three months. That will give you a rounded and balanced focus that actions and progress will spring from.

Another suggestion is that you challenge the way you have been doing things at work. Is it really necessary for you to spend as much time at the office? How else could things be done to free up some of your time? You absolutely have the right to draw boundaries and to say no when those boundaries are pushed. Remember that you are in the driver's seat, not your job.


Too old for IT?

I will soon reach my 40th birthday after a career devoted to IT. I have read a lot about age discrimination in the profession, and whereas in the past I have found it easy enough to get job interviews, it is becoming increasingly difficult. I worry for the future as I get older. Should I consider moving out of IT?

By all means consider moving out of IT if there are good reasons for doing so. Turning 40 does not sound like a compelling enough reason by itself to justify a move, especially as you are entering a decade where you have a wealth of experience and skills and you are better equipped than you have ever been to make great choices and do things on your terms.

If you are sticking with IT, I would suggest looking at how you are selling yourself as a strong individual. What are your strengths - the things that you can do repeatedly at a high or near-perfect level of performance? What are your talents - the things that you can do naturally well and that you get real satisfaction from? What have you achieved that will help sell you as a compelling individual?

Those things are just as important as hard skills such as knowing Java or Prince 2, and those are the things that employers look for - the things that spark their interest and separate you from the pack.

If you decide to get out of the industry, that decision should be grounded in what you want to move towards rather than what you want to move away from. Too often we make decisions based on what we do not want than what we do want, and it never quite works out (new year's resolutions are a perfect example).

Look at what you want to be heading towards - what would you love to do instead? What could you do that you would enjoy or would give you a sense of satisfaction? How do you want your working week to look 10 years from now, and what is a great first step?


Lack of self-confidence

I am very able programmer but am worried that I lack self confidence. I find other people at work who are far less capable seem to take credit and gain recognition because they are much better at pushing themselves forward. I feel I am being left behind as colleagues who in many cases are less skilled than I am are going on to bigger and better jobs. Can you offer any advice?

A lack of confidence is something we all suffer from at times, and on average people rate themselves as just 62% confident, with more than 75% wanting to be in the 90% to 100% range. But here is the surprise - you are already confident.

There are parts of your life where you are innately confident - things you just do without thinking about how confident you are. Those things prove you have confidence in yourself, so it becomes a question of using that in different places and in different ways.

Think about what you do confidently and how it feels - really step into how that feels and how it affects you. That is how it feels when you are confident and when you really get to know that feeling you can step into it when you need it.

Confidence works like a muscle, and like any muscle it atrophies if it is not used. To become more confident you need to do more things to exercise that muscle. Try having one extra conversation each day that you would not normally have - speak up in that meeting when you would normally bite your tongue, talk to a colleague about your weekend or ask someone how a project went. It is those little things that start to work that muscle, and you will notice the benefits quickly.


Don't just sit there

If you are not where you want to be in your life, telling yourself that you will "stick it out" or "see what happens" is cheating yourself out of what you want from your life, and giving away the responsibility for where you are and what happens next.

Telling yourself that things "aren't too bad" is about making where you are right, instead of making where you are happy. You can wait a long time for the things you want to come along. Or you can decide to pick up the reins and do something.

So the question you must ask yourself is what is one thing you can do today that will move you one step forward?


Creating a niche for yourself

If you are thinking of changing jobs in 2006, forget about job titles. Create your next job from the inside out - look at the skills, strengths, talents and passions you want to use, what qualities the job will have (variety, teamwork, learning, travel, hours required, etc) and what you want to achieve from your next move. Then match it up with companies and roles that can offer you those things.

Steve Errey became a life coach after a career in IT. He specialises in helping 30-somethings with their career and life goals

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