View from HR: Taking charge of your career means knowing what you want and being focused

Young men and women tell me they lack confidence in their careers and employer choices. Too often they jumped on an educational escalator and got off in a place that does not fit them.

Stop grousing and take charge! Make next year your best ever!

What do you want? For just a minute, take your eyes off the free food (or the bad coffee) and the cool offices (or old desks). Forget what your friends are doing and where you heard people make lots of money. None of this means anything, really. What matters is who you are, what you do best and how you can get there successfully.

Do you want to lead or manage people? Is partial or total ownership of a business important to you? Will hyper-performance and skill in your chosen field reward you? Do you need recognition, new challenges, consistency, flexibility, maximum income, being in the know, customer contact, time for discovery, hands-on work, community impact or just being outside? Running from the wrong job is not the same as running toward the right one.

In your own way. Most often, we stay in the wrong job because of a mental hurdle we put in our own way. That includes a “lack of education.” There are millions of successful, happy, productive people with modest educations who did a great job of figuring out what they wanted and where it was offered. Can the right education advance the right career choice? Of course. But education alone will not make the right choices for you.

Can you get it here? Once you know what you want, and remove your own hurdles, do you know whether you can get the right role with your current employer? A great way to try out a new career path is a different role in your workplace. Good employers want to keep good talent even if it means a job change. Especially if you can adapt quickly: A reputation for agility could be your most important career asset.

Your manager is not helpful? Find the manager with a reputation for helping and make an appointment Monday morning.

What about there? I just met a young man who found the job he wanted, in the industry he wanted, with the employer he wanted and in the city he wanted. It took him nearly a year (while he listened to lots of second-guessing). He is already making plans to start his own business when he gains enough experience.

Should everyone take a year to find the right job? No, but everyone can put more effort into targeting the employers and types of work that fit them best. Get this part right and most of the rest will take care of itself.

Make it your best year ever when you know what you want, clear your hurdles and get focused. No one else cares more about your success than you.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit