Theme: The Top 5 Biggest Obstacles to Getting the Career You Want

February 24, 2010

by Gayle Cross

Paid work plays such a dominant role in our lives. It takes up most of our energy, occupies us for most of our waking hours, and often gets more quality time than our partners and children, leaving very little for ourselves.

If your job isn’t right it can feel as though your whole life isn’t right. You’re either at work wishing you were somewhere else, or at home worrying about the next day back at work. Whichever way you turn, work looms large on the horizon, with only temporary respite. But don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be this way.

I have compiled a list of the top 5 biggest obstacles to getting the career you want that I have come across in my coaching practice. The good news is that you can overcome all of them . . .

1. Obstacle: ‘I’m not enjoying my job, but I don’t know what I want to do instead!’
Solution: Start with what you don’t want.

Many people are very clear about the reasons for being dissatisfied at work – be it a non-communicative boss, long hours, or a lack of opportunity to develop new skills. What stops them moving forward is not being able to articulate what they’d rather do instead. This is not a problem – start with what you don’t want.  

Compile your list of complaints, dislikes and issues with your current situation. What annoys you the most? What wouldn’t you miss? What aspect of your job leaves you cold? The more specific you are about this the better. So for example, instead of saying ‘I hate not earning enough money’ decide how much more you want – ‘I hate being $400 a month short of what would make me comfortable’. ‘I hate the long hours’ is very general, but ‘I hate working after 6pm most nights’ is much more specific and helps you pin down what the real issue is.

Then think carefully about what changes you want to make – what is it you do want?

What does your ideal job look like?

2. Obstacle: ‘I feel unfulfilled by my job, but I’m too old to change direction now.’
Solution: Market your experience (you have more to offer than you think.)

People are now living, and working, much longer than they used to. Most of us are now expected to keep working until we are 65, or beyond. In your life time you will have plenty of opportunity to switch career several times, so what is holding you back?

Historically the culture of age discrimination in the workplace was rife in this country, but the demographics of the current population are such that this has to change. The UK is facing a massive skills shortage which will really impact businesses during the next 5 years. 16-29 year olds already comprise only a quarter of the workforce, which puts the ‘30 plus’ generation in the majority. This means that employers are being forced to recognise the benefits of maturity in the workplace.

In 2005 the Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said:

‘. . . to thrive in a competitive market British business increasingly bases its employment and training decisions on talent not age. Employers know they cannot afford to ignore the skills of any worker – young or old.’

Regardless of your age, you are valuable – and never too old to learn new skills. In 2004 the Reverend Edgar Dowse was awarded a PhD in Theology from Brunel University – aged 93!

Ask yourself:

Where do you want to be in five years time?

What do you want to be doing?
That time will pass anyway, so what’s stopping you . . .

3. Obstacle: ‘I don’t have the right experience and qualifications to pursue the career I
really want.’
Solution: Recognise that you are unique and all your skills and talents are transferable.

You may be clear about what you want to do, but you may also be very clear about why it is impossible. There are a hundred reasons why it will only ever be an impractical dream – not having the ‘right’ experience and qualifications to name but two. Having doubts is natural, but if you let your lack of confidence take over you are resigning yourself to more of exactly the same – forever. Who says you are too inexperienced or under-qualified? After all, someone will be out there doing exactly what you have always dreamed of – so why can’t it be you?

Those filled with self doubt are often making the mistake of underestimating themselves and the skills they have to offer. Rather than focusing on what experience you lack, think about what you have done. Everything you have ever done, from your first Saturday job onwards, will have developed marketable skills that are transferable from one profession to another.

Think again about your experience – the things you offer, but take for granted, are often the things an employer will value the most. Do you think everyone is as punctual, reliable, enthusiastic and committed as you?

Finally, think of a project you really enjoyed working on – what made it enjoyable? What did you find most satisfying about the work that you did? What is really important to you about the work that you do? Starting to understand what you value about your work – be it making a contribution, exceeding expectations, team building or achieving goals – helps you to understand what is unique about you and what you offer a prospective employer. It is also an important step in overcoming the fears that currently hold you back.

What unique experience, talents and skills do you have to offer?

4. Obstacle: ‘I don’t have the time to find a new job.’
Solution: Invest in your own future by making your job hunt a priority.

If one of the reasons you are considering a career change is the ridiculous hours you are working, then finding time to job hunt could in itself be a problem. However, remember that everyone else is in the same boat – everyone has the same amount of hours and minutes in the day, it’s just that some are more focused on their priorities than others.

Hopefully by now you have decided what it is you dream of doing, however making that dream into a reality requires action. Now is the time to invest in yourself and your future. Take the time to investigate your options, sign up for the latest job alerts on the internet, read up about your chosen career, and talk to someone who is already doing it.

If you ‘don’t have the time’, it’s like saying you don’t think you’re worth it.

What makes you think you are not worth investing in? Who will suffer if you don’t act?

Making another excuse is usually a sign of fear – fear of what the future holds, fear of failure, or even fear of success. If this is you, think about who can help and support you as you make changes?

What will it take for you to make time for your own future?

5. Obstacle: ‘I basically enjoy my job, but the hours are killing me.’
Solution: Decide what would make you feel more in balance, and ask for it.

Okay – so this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but one of my clients actually resigned from a job that she basically loved because the hours and the travelling got too much. She was motivated, successful and well-thought of, but she was not prepared to go to her boss and ask for a degree of flexibility in the way she worked in case he said no, so she resigned instead. This is an extreme case, but it does go to show that when you’re feeling tired and stressed you are often not at your most rational.

This woman’s employer had every reason to want to keep her as an employee, it was in their interests to show a degree of flexibility, but she didn’t dare ask. Often this can be as a result of the working culture we are exposed to, the ‘get there early, stay late, show you are indispensable’ way of working that employees and employers alike mistakenly think shows commitment and increases the chances of promotion.

Wrong! To be effective and productive at work requires balance – and that means different things to different people. Only when you feel ‘in balance’ will you be at your most productive and creative at work.

Employers have had to take on board the new 2004 guidelines on Stress Management from the Health & Safety Executive – they have a responsibility to you and your wellbeing, so go on, ask for what you want. If they are really not prepared to meet you halfway, then it may be time to consider the alternatives . . .